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Stay on Budget While in School

Six real tips for keeping your costs down while you’re in school.

  1. Instead of running to the campus bookstore to buy a $70 sweatshirt hours before your Dad’s birthday party, plan gift-giving in advance. That will give you time to decide on the most thoughtful gifts, which usually are not the most expensive ones. And if gifts are products that must be purchased, you will have the opportunity to look for sales. Generosity can come in many forms. It doesn’t always have to come from purchases. An offer to help a friend or family member using your talents or hard work can be especially meaningful.
  2. You already pay a hefty student activity fee; make the most of free entertainment on campus. The local community might also have free or affordable events, films, exhibits or games. Schmoozing with the locals might even provide opportunities for part-time work.
  3. Skip the restaurant – the music is usually lame anyway. Why buy drinks and pay tips when you can get some good food (and drinks) to go and still hang with your friends? Really want to hang out off-campus for awhile? Compromise on reducing the cost of either food or drinks. Maybe eat in the cafeteria for dinner, but go out later for an ice cream, coffee or drinks?
  4. ROI isn’t just for Business Majors. If you want to get a handle on your return on investment (ROI) for purchases, do the math to figure out how many hours you need to work to make a purchase. If it’s a $50 concert ticket and you make $10 an hour, ask yourself, is the concert really worth five long hours of work? The concert might be, but what about the dinner and tip at the local chain restaurant? Doing the math helps to keep things in perspective.
  5. Get the “max for the minimum”. There are huge price differences between clothing on sale at discount stores and that sold regularly at many department stores. When you make a purchase think about all the possible combinations you can create with existing stuff and the new apparel. Never purchase super expensive items on impulse. Get in a habit of “sleeping on it”. Acting on this principle will mean you have far fewer regrets about impulse purchases, and far more money for things you really need or want. With a little effort, you can find low-priced, high-quality used clothing items at places like Goodwill, thrift stores or yard sales. And, when you get them back to the dorm, clean your clothes inexpensively. (Yup, we're giving you permission to hold out on some laundry until a visit home with friends or family. Your mom might be more understanding if you explain that it is all part of a “spending plan” you’re working out to be financially fit.)
  6. Keep a spending journal so you can better understand your spending habits. Beginning on the first day of a new month, get a receipt for everything you purchase. Stack and review receipts, credit card and bank statements at month end and you will clearly be able to see where your money is going. Keeping track of spending will help you budget. And while I like that you’re inclined to be charitable, cut out the donations to the bank! Use only the ATMs of your bank or credit union. (For this reason, we encourage you to get a student checking about affiliated with the ATM on campus.) Using the ATM of another financial institution once a week could well cost you $3 a withdrawal. That’s $3 you won’t have towards fun activities or to purchase stuff you need.