By Sun Jung • August 24, 2014
When you are surrounded by a bunch of 18-year-olds who do not nag you to do homework or peak at your computer screen, you start spending. Since nobody is there to monitor your wallet and tell you whether you are getting a good deal or not, you end up overpaying during the first semester. Do not be a victim by learning the five easiest money traps that first-year students suffer.
1. Dining out
Some institutions make it a strict rule for all incoming students to buy meal plans. As a result, many grow tired of the leftover-tasting cafeteria food and start dining out. Those without meal plans tend to eat out all the time. While it may not seem so expensive at first, the costs will accumulate and soon it will be the biggest budget-eating factor of your year.
Solution: Stick to the meal plan. Endure it. Just think about a year of bad food. Also, plenty of organizations and events give out free food during the semester, so if you ever need a menu change, become a proactive member of your campus. To those who are not bounded to the school’s dining program, shop and cook.
2. Bicycles and long boards
Many students get excited over bicycles and long boards to get to class. They end up spending $100 to $300 on their new toys, thinking that they will enjoy rolling to lectures on time. Here’s the reality. More than half of the freshmen who get long boards do not know how to ride one. They always end up bumping into upperclassmen and falling one to two times a month. Ironically, bike riders also meet a similar fate despite the fact that most people learned how to ride as kids.
Solution: Unless your classes are far away, don’t ride what you can’t ride. But if you do know how to waltz your wheels, do not purchase bicycles or long boards on campus – particularly in those “inexpensive-looking” independent stands. They trick you into offering you exclusive deals for students, but you will always find cheaper stores off-campus that sell similar models for $30 or more cheaper. Yelp it.
3. Student IDs
During orientation, your RA gave you one of those keychain necklaces to attach your student ID as well as dorm keys. As the semester progresses, you will realize how annoying and ugly those necklaces are. You will abandon them and carry your ID around your pocket. As a result, you’ll lose it and pay $25 to $30 for a piece of plastic with the hideous-looking photo of yourself. Didn’t anyone warn you? Student ID centers take DMV-quality photos.
Solution: Lose the necklace. On your first day. You’re wearing a banner that makes you prone to upperclassmen (ahem, me) who want your meal plan’s guest swipes into the cafeteria. As for ID, always place it into your wallet and no matter how much of a rush you are in, don’t ever put it into your pocket. That’s one of the best ways to lose it.
4. Water bottles
Because students are always rushing between classes, they tend to stack up on water bottles that cost up to $5. Even if they buy in bulk, water bottles take about $5 to $10 a month. Not to mention that your roommate will take your water bottle at least three times a semester with your permission and fifteen times without it. And he or she will make sure to scrape off the brand’s sticker and squish the bottle, so it becomes unrecognizable.
Solution: Buy a filter and get a free bottle from student organizations. Sometimes, off-campus housings give out bottles for promotion. That filter will last during those four years and beyond as well as help you practice a greener lifestyle.
5. Items with your school logo
When you sit in a lecture, only freshmen have notebooks with their school logos on them. A $0.99 notebook is usually priced $5.99 just because it has your school’s logo. Sure, it’s cool to show off your school pride and tell the world that you got accepted to such college. Here’s the problem though. You’re basically with everyone who got accepted to that school and that logo is just everywhere. It’s not that impressive anymore.
Solution: Show school spirit by being a good student, taking advantage of events, learning traditions, and getting involved in your community, BUT not by spending $5 on notebooks. And if not having those words printed on the cover really burns your conscience, draw them. Be the first freshman to engage in DIY logo. Soon, all the football players sitting in the back will join the movement.
Avoid the easiest ways that your freshman budget can slip into the death zone. There will be far more expenses and unexpected events for the next four years that saving every penny will make dramatic difference.
Sun Jung Sun Jung is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California majoring in English Literature. Born in South Korea, she was raised in Guadalajara, Mexico for seventeen years before coming to LA for college.