How To Be Frugal In College
One of the most important lessons that I’ll take away from my time in college is understanding how to manage my finances. I’ve never considered myself a “starving college student” since I was fortunate enough to have parents who could support the cost of my tuition and living.
But as I approach closer to graduation, I know that my parents won’t continue being my Uncle Sam for the unforeseeable future. In an age of easy access to credit and my own personal fan boy yearnings for the latest Apple gadget, being frugal is a trial of labor. Spend less money than you have; it’s really a simple equation and, you don’t have to be an economics major to understand it.
I am by no means a money-saving financial guru by any stretch of the imagination. However, I’ve come across a lot of great tools and solutions over the years that has helped me manage my finances more effectively. Whether it is creating my own budget or opting for generic brand items at Target, there are plenty of ways to be smarter with your money.
- Mint - Track and monitor all of your checking, savings, and credit card accounts in one central, location. Mint will save you the hassle of visiting the various banking websites you have accounts with, and its intuitive interface makes navigating your finances a breeze. I’d also recommend creating a budget as a way to keep an eye on how much you are spending each month. I have a “food” budget which I use to monitor my spending on groceries and restaurants.
- Billguard - Don’t you hate it when you come across an unexpected charge on your debit or credit card bill? You probably have to call the bank and ask about this new fee, right? No thanks! I’d rather clean up a cobra pit instead.
Billguard is free to use like Mint. By analyzing millions of consumer billing complaints, it can identify fraudulent charges on your bill and help you get your money back. The great thing about it is that it relieves a lot of the pain of monitoring for incorrect charges to your account. Seamless automation at your side.
- Get a job - Spending money you’ve earned is a lot harder than spending someone else’s money (aka, your parents). It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I was finally able to secure a paying job. As soon as my first paycheck arrived, my spending habits changed dramatically. I became a penny-pincher, although my parents would probably disagree with that claim. Eating at restaurants was no longer as attractive. Instead, I cooked at home more often. I stopped buying packages of water bottles every month and got myself a Brita filter. Being economical and environmentally conscious? Double win!
Since my parents now believed that I was on the path to financial freedom before I turned 20, they stopped providing money for things other than my tuition and living expenses. In other words, buying things like food, supplies, and even books was now my responsibility. In retrospect, I’m so glad they did that.
- Look for educational discounts - It’s amazing what your .edu email address can do. Here are some examples:
- 500mb of Dropbox storage space for each referral instead of 250mb
- Six free months of Amazon Prime, and 50% discount afterwards
- Access to free Microsoft software if your school has an MSDNAA account
- Free account with Prezi
- Free account with Lucidchart
- Free account with Autodesk
- 50% off of Evernote Premium, although it must be in groups of at least 3 people
- Discounts on Adobe Creative Suite software
But what happens when you graduate? Will I lose all of these awesome benefits? Lifehacker offers some advice. I’d recommend checking with your school’s policy on what happens with your email address when you graduate. Some schools allow you to forward your emails to another address.
- Amazon’s Subscribe & Save - If you’re not best friends with Amazon now, we need to talk. Besides being the online storefront for practically anything you’ll ever need, Amazon is a great place to save on things you might purchase like books, electronics, and other items.
Not too many people however know about Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program where you can subscribe to have frequently purchased household items like soap, toilet paper, and mouth wash delivered to your address. Amazon will even give you an additional 5% discount on top of already heavily-discounted products. Once you’ve subscribed to a product, you can schedule a regular interval to have it shipped to your address automatically, saving you time and money.
- Buy international edition books - This advice might be obsolete within five years with the emergence of e-books. In the meantime, if you’re still keen on sticking with traditional textbooks or your professor requires it, try and purchase an international edition of your textbooks. They tend to be 50-60% cheaper than buying the regular version, and the only noticeable difference is that they typically have a paperback cover.eBay is typically a better option than Amazon for finding international edition books. Don’t try going to your local bookstore though. It’s illegal for them to sell it in the United States!
- Be wary of impulse purchases - I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to Target or Trader Joe’s and returned home with 3-4 more things than I had planned on buying. Here’s a rule: if you see something you want to get but hadn’t planned on buying, write it down, and wait until the next day. If you still have the same urge to buy it, then go ahead and do so.
- “Hey! You got a Costco card? Let’s be friends!” - Imagine a world where loaves of bread can only be purchased in pairs, where free samples of food await you at every corner, and where you can buy enough toilet paper to last you an entire year.
This magical world is none other than Costco. To enter this splendid kingdom, you must possess a rare commodity owned by few college students: you need a Costco membership.
So, go find someone who has one. Once you do, become his/her “friend.” Unethical? Just think of it as networking.
About the Author:
Tony Hue is currently a senior at the University of California, Irvine majoring in Business Administration, with a minor in Informatics. In 2009, he founded a tech blog called LonePlacebo which has failed to provide the financial rewards necessary for early retirement. You can follow him on Twitter @tonykhue.