Part of what will make your newly devised college budget, more workable is finding ways to save money on the things you need. You know what you have to spend money on, but you might not be aware of all the ways around paying full price, or even paying at all. For me, saving money is all about establishing priorities and allocating your resources in the most efficient way possible. With that in mind, I’ll share some good and bad ideas for saving money in college.
Good Idea: Keeping an Eye Out for Freebies
It’s expensive to get to college, but once you get there you’ll find tons of opportunities to try new things at little or no cost. Lots of the clubs on campus will have informative meetings with free food, but please make sure you’re at least a little bit interested in joining. Hang out at the coffee shop around closing time and you might get some free pastries. Where otherwise this behavior might seem inappropriate, in college it’s actually encouraged, so don’t be shy when it seems like the universe wants to kick you a couple of bucks.
BAD IDEA: Trying to Survive on Freebies
I don’t mean to contradict myself, but the free stuff doesn’t always go as far as you’d like. A sample of a real product (eg: paper from an office supply store) will work just fine, but if it’s a free whiteboard you received when you opened your bank account, you can expect that baby to fall off the wall mere seconds from installation. Make sure you purchase what you really need for when the free stuff just won’t cut it.
GOOD IDEA: Joining an Organization and Letting Your Money Work for You
The debate over whether joining student organizations and clubs is an investment could go on forever, but let me offer my opinion based on having been a member of several organizations these past two years. A club for people who share your hobbies, like surfing, will give you a chance to do what you love for much less than it would cost to do that individually. An organization for people interested in a particular profession will bring you training and internship opportunities directly related to your area of study, not to mention a new group of people to eat and converse with. Finally, while you’re getting all these discounted snacks and surf lessons, you’ll also be having great experiences that make you a more knowledgeable person…seems like a pretty good investment to me.
BAD IDEA: Living on Credit
You’ve joined some clubs, had some free dinners, and now it’s time for you to actually pay for something. As a college student, there are a lot of student credit cards that claim to be just perfect for someone in your situation, but just because the card comes with a pamphlet that features photo of a girl reading a book (“look how studious she is!”), it doesn’t mean that that credit card is the right one for you. It’s a good idea to start establishing your credit now, but a bad idea to start it off on the wrong foot by signing up for a credit card with too high of an interest rate or by charging more than you’re able to repay. The best option is to get a credit card from your bank with the lowest available interest rate and to place a pretty conservative spending limit on it.
GOOD IDEA: Getting the Most Out of Discounts and Loyalty Programs
It’s good to be a student, in no small way because of the student discounts available at many stores. A lot of places don’t advertise their student discounts, so be sure to ask. Stores like Madewell and J.Crew offer 15% off to college students and teachers when you present a valid school ID at checkout. Many museums and theaters also have reduced-price or free admission for students, so bring your school ID there, too.
Signing up for a loyalty program is a great way to save money. Many grocery stores have loyalty cards that give you access to special discounts, and reward you with coupons on the items you purchase more frequently. Some gas stations take a set number of cents off each gallon of gas as a reward for repeat business. Other places, like Pinkberry, allow you to earn points toward free yogurt every time you buy. When it comes to your next trip to the mall, the Bloomingdale’s Loyallist program allows you access to sale events in which only Loyallist members can participate, and allows you to accumulate points that will turn into discounts on your next purchase. What’s special about these loyalty programs is that they do not require that you set up a line of credit like a store credit card would.
Well, there we have it. We’ve discussed good and bad ideas for saving money in college. Hopefully you’ll find some great deals out there and make your money work for you. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even find your own ways to save that aren’t on this list. There are tons of possibilities and you are the best person to find what works for you.