While college brings some of the best midnight moments and tear-inducing laughs, it also makes a serious dent in students’ bank accounts. Ridiculously so. But saving money this semester doesn’t have to come at the cost of missing potential memories. If you’re trying to have a budget-friendly semester, here are some small adjustments you can make that won’t interfere with your college experience.
Maximize your meal swipes
Most college freshmen and sophomores have some sort of dining plan each semester. However, a common theme among these students is having wasted dining dollars and an abundance of meal swipes. Before assuming you need the most expensive dining plan, consider your current eating patterns. Are you the type of person who would wake up at 8 AM to not miss your dining hall’s breakfast hours? Or, do you tend to retrieve a granola bar from the bottom of your backpack as you rush down the stairs for your first class? Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to make in your dorm room (utilize that minuscule fridge for overnight oats and yogurt), and if you know you will probably be eating that meal at home, you probably don’t need maximum meal swipes.
If you still find yourself with a hefty meal plan, be sure to make use of the dining hall as much as you can. Leaving for campus bubble for a lively restaurant is often one of the most fun things to do with friends. But eating out probably shouldn’t be something you’re doing several times a week. And if you’re craving delivery pizza or takeout sandwiches–pause. Your dining hall’s version may not be as cheesy and golden brown as Domino’s, but it’s probably a close second.
Make your own food
In a similar vein, if you have a limited meal plan or have the means to cook for yourself, try to make your own food as much as possible. Cooking for one can often lead to wasted food (as recipes tend to make more than you’d expect). Instead of making one recipe, try to meal prep a couple staple items that could be incorporated into several recipes. Brown rice and a protein, for example, could be used for grain bowls, burritos and fried rice. With this method, you can use up all of your food without getting tired of the leftovers.
At the grocery store, try to search for discounted produce or items that are not at your eye-level (grocery stores tend to place the more expensive items right in the middle of shelves). Additionally, while ready-made, frozen meals tend to be a favorite of college students (after all, what could be easier than a microwavable rice bowl?), these items tend to be some of the most expensive items.
If you have a caffeine addiction like the majority of college students, consider investing in a coffee maker or buying large containers of pre-brewed coffee. While visiting your local café is a fun way to try the latest trendy latte, buying your coffee from a store everyday quickly depletes your bank account.
Don’t splurge on drinks
When you’re out to eat with friends, it can be tempting to tack on a cocktail to your order. However, restaurants often inflate the costs of drinks, charging $15 USD for a cocktail you could make at home for under $4 USD. If saving money this semester is at the top of your agenda, consider making your own drinks at home, or look for restaurants that offer dining deals. Happy hour is one of the best times to find discounted drinks.
Consider used textbooks
Textbooks are one of the major expenses for college students, but saving money this semester does not have to sacrifice your education. Always rent pre-owned textbooks if your bookstore has that option, and compare the price of several stores with one another.
Most colleges also have Facebook groups where students are selling their own textbooks. This option usually offers the best deals; students may simply want to free up space in their dorm/apartment and would be willing to sell their books for a cheap price.
Go to free events
You would be surprised how many events colleges host that offer free entertainment and/or food. Instead of assuming those events will be boring, bring your friends to that event your school has been posting about all week. Even if the event doesn’t meet your expectations, you can still get a free meal out of your participation and may even meet new people.
Before adding fifteen items to your cart for Halloween festivities and upcoming events, consider going thrifting instead. Not only is thrifting an event in itself (see which of your friends can secure the best thrift find), but you can also purchase clothes for discounted prices. Plus, buying pre-worn clothes reduces the amount of clothes going through the production cycle–a process that harms the environment.
Make use of your student ID
Going to the movies? About to purchase a subscription? Looking to do your fall shopping? Bring your student ID with you. Plenty of organizations offer discounts for students, and there is no reason not to make use of all of the potential savings. If saving money this semester is a priority, make sure to do your research on student deals before making any purchases.
Limit unnecessary purchases
While a beanbag chair and mini fridge may look great in that Pottery Barn catalogue, they probably aren’t essential items for your dorm room. Most of the time, extra furniture will only collect dust and make your room look more cluttered.
While in high school, you may have purchased school supplies each semester, the amount of supplies you need for college classes is much more limited. Some students operate fully on a laptop and a couple folders. Others buy just a few notebooks and mechanical pencils.
Above all, the most important thing to keep in mind for saving money this semester is to stick to a budget. Just planning out the amount you want to spend each month will help reduce the chance you make an impulse purchase. Plus, budgeting can help you feel less overwhelmed and allow you to stick to your financial goals.