A New College Student’s Guide to Saving Money on Campus

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was enjoying that special summer between high school and college. I had graduated from high school, of course, but I was also the first person in my family to actually attend college. It was exciting and a bit frightening and almost overwhelming.

Looking back now on my journal entries from that time and recalling the choices I made, I recognize how completely inefficient I was in those first years in school. I made a ton of little financial mistakes that stretched my already thin finances even thinner – and eventually stretched them to the breaking point.

If I were to sit down with my eighteen year old self again and offer some pointers on how to maximize every dime on campus while also having a lot of fun, here’s what I would suggest.

Contact your roommate now
Many of you have probably already done this. If you haven’t, find your roommate on Facebook now. Drop that person a friend request.

What you’ll want to find out from that person is what shareable items to bring. Items like a television, a microwave, and a mini-fridge are items that you can share in a dorm room without any real problems. Plus, doing so will save one (or both) of you some cash if you don’t already have the items. If you do, now’s your chance to return the item.

Start looking into campus organizations, particularly those related to your major and interests
I would strive to make a list of at least five organizations that you might be interested in joining. Most organizations on campus will have meetings or some sort of activity during the first week or so of classes, which will give you an opportunity to find out more about them.

If I were doing this again, I’d make a list of ten of them and try to stick with at least five of them.

Why do this? There are several reasons why campus organizations not only help you to save money, but can help you to earn money over the long run.

For starters, it gives you a great chance to meet and hang out with other people who are genuinely into the same things you are. If the topic of the group interests you, then you know that other people in the group are going to be interested, too, making it easy to get to know them.

Second, they’re great resume boosters, particularly if you get involved in leadership in the club. I am firmly convinced that my participation in and leadership in a couple of organizations late in my college career helped me to get my first post-college job.

Third, they’re often huge money savers for poor students, as most clubs have a budget of some kind that’s often used on food. Many organizations have movie nights and other gatherings where the club’s budget pays for a meal.

The more organizations you try out, the more free meals you’ll get and the more likely you are to find organizations that really click with you.

Watch your university’s calendar for even more entertainment
College campuses are loaded with free movie nights, public speeches, free concerts, and countless other things going on virtually every day of the academic year. Even if you find 80% of it uninteresting, the other 20% will pack your schedule full of things to do.

Dive into those activities. Revel in them. This is the time in your life to tap into those things. Take full advantage of it.

Don’t sign up for a credit card
There will be lots of people on campus trying to get you to sign up for a credit card. They’ll have all sorts of little enticements – free t-shirts, tickets to some event, and so on.

Don’t. If you’re going to sign up for a credit card – and it’s probably not a good idea to begin with – it’s a terrible idea to do so at one of those booths. Instead, research options for student credit cards or cash back rewards cards. And if you do open a credit card, always pay the balance in full each month.

Your student loans are already establishing a credit history for you. Credit cards really provide little benefit for you other than getting you into a debt situation you don’t want to be in on graduation day.

Detach yourself from easy spending
This goes hand-in-hand with “no credit card.”

It’s incredibly important for college students to minimize the routes they have in their life for spending money. For most college students, those routes start with their electronic devices.

If you have a credit card, delete those numbers from your online accounts. Yes, it makes it harder to make a purchase. That’s the point.

Delete bookmarks you might have for online shopping sites. Unsubscribe from any emails that encourage you to buy things so that you’re not seeing them. Don’t sign up for any more and, if you can’t subscribe, filter those emails straight to spam.

The fewer temptations you have and the harder the route is from a temptation to spending, the better off you’ll be.

Find a job connected to your major and shine with it
If you’re serious about really making your mark on campus, try to find a job connected with the academic department of your major. These jobs typically pay minimum wage or sometimes less (if they’re work study jobs), but they offer a great chance to interact with professors and other professionals in your department. That’s where the value is.

If you can get such a job, use it as much as you can to help out professors and others in your department. Look for every chance to interact with and serve in a positive way. Some won’t notice, but quite a few will.

I did this myself and it led to a sequence of jobs that not only put cash in my pocket, they also resulted in a lot of free meals, a free computer, at least two free textbooks, and a very nice resume.

Stay in
It’s tempting to want to go out, but every time you set foot in a business establishment, you’re pretty much begging to spend money. You’re far better off hanging out at someone’s dorm room or apartment.

Instead of eating out, make your own simple meals or make meals together with friends. If you simply must order food, even that’s usually cheaper than going to a restaurant.

If you’re going to drink, it’s far cheaper (and less likely to end disastrously) if you’re drinking in someone’s apartment rather than out and about. You’re in a relatively safer environment and it’s far less expensive.

The things you can do while staying in are far cheaper, too, and they’re still quite fun. Have a movie night. Turn on some music. Play a board game or a video game. If you can’t come up with something to do that’s fun, you’re not trying very hard.

College is perhaps the best time in your life to figure out who you are and what you want to be doing. That process doesn’t have to involve spending money – in fact, outside of the tuition and other direct fees, most aspects of college make it as easy as possible to do that self-discovery without spending cash. Take advantage of it.

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