Someday I’ll have nice things, but for now, I don’t — and I have come to terms with that. In the meantime, I have been interested in finding ways to save money on things that I need. Having been and then actively choosing to continue living as a poor college student has taught me a few things about managing little money while working full time.
1. Get a roommate and shack up near campus.
It might sound simple, but you’d be amazed how much money and time you will save in the cost of a parking pass and the hassle of traffic and weather conditions before class. Ohio weather is unpredictable. If you want to have time (regardless of mother nature’s plans) between work and class to eat, it makes sense to live near campus. And if you’re poor like me, you find a roommate. OSU even offers roommate listings on their Off-campus Housing website. They also offer roommate contract templates, which I recommend.
2. Drop the fancy cable.
The cost of cable is not a necessity. You can find most all of the shows, news, and movies you like to watch on demand online with no or limited commercials/ads. Chances are, you will still need the internet. Compare providers, if possible. Do not settle for the first provider your landlord recommends (unless they have a contract with a cable company; in which case, you have no choice, but can still opt out of cable). If you find a better price, ask that provider if they can match it.
3. Buy a lunchbox, a thermos, and a reusable cup/bottle, and plan your meals.
Always pack a lunch and a cup of coffee, no matter how easy the food at the cafe at work may be. Eating out for lunch every day adds up quickly, and when you pack your own lunch you can decide the contents and how healthy they are. I have also taken to bringing a thermos to work because though the coffee at work is only $1, that adds up over time. And don’t forget to have something in the house for you to eat for dinner before class. It comes down to planning — when you plan your meals in advance, you’re less likely to spend money on eating food on the go. If I buy a coffee every morning, eat lunch in the cafe at work, and then grab Subway on the way to class, I will be spending about $132 a month on food for only three days of the week! If I get Starbucks, that’s another $36, if I get a Subway meal, another $27, etc. I also recommend having a reusable cup or water bottle to fill regularly from the cooler, and it’s much cheaper than buying bottles of pop from the store (but if you’ll be tempted to buy that from the vending machine at work, pack that in your lunch — it’s still cheaper!).
4. Use coupons. Buy store brand, on sale, or in bulk.
You may have the image that coupons are somehow uncool, but with the economy down, coupon usage has gone up and for good reason. Coupons are a moderately simple way to save money on the groceries you need. If you subscribe to the newspaper, they’re in nearly every Sunday paper. If you don’t, you can still pick up a copy in the store. There’s also a wealth of coupons online. If there’s an item you buy often, it’s worth it to do a quick check to see if there are any coupons available online.
And if you don’t have time and patience for coupons, you can buy store brand items, items only when they’re on sale, or in bulk. Many people refuse to use store brand, but in most cases, it’s identical to name brand, and most store will give you your money back or double if you’re dissatisfied. If you must have name brand, only buy on sale. Chances are your parents have a membership to some bulk club — ask them to add you to their account, if you’re not on there already. Buying in bulk may not be cheaper than the sale price, but it’s still less than full price in many instances. Plus if you don’t mind store brand, clubs have those versions in bulk too. I do not recommend buying in bulk at the grocery store — many times, the cost per unit in bulk is higher than the sale price of that same item in a smaller quantity.
5. Find ways to enjoy yourself for less.
Ohio State offers discounts on activities in Columbus:
Also, see Wesley Lin’s blog post for more ideas on how to save some money.