Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cheap Living for Broke College Students - Part 1

If you are visiting via the 142nd Festival of Frugality over at Frugal Babe, I invite you to make yourself comfortable around here and let me know what you think. If you like what you see, you can always subscribe via reader or email in the top right margain. Enjoy your stay!

“Broke College Student,” although cliché, is not all that inaccurate for most people who attend college. Finding themselves for the first time at a place where they are not (fully at least) supported by their parents, students have a huge opportunity to set the pace for the rest of their lives in so many aspects, including their financial decisions. Although some people take college as an opportunity to be free to do as they please and make the big mistakes, it can be the prime time to learn how to live smartly. Here are some ways (aside from the obvious cost of tuition) to save money as a struggling college student, depending not-so-much on mom and dad to bail you out of financial woes.

The best way to save money and fight that dreaded Freshman Fifteen (or Sophomore or whatever) is to walk or bicycle to class. If you live on campus of a school that isn’t too scattered throughout a city, this is an excellent way to save money on car maintenance and gasoline. It has a lot of health incentives as well as gives you a nice breather after a stressful class that you don’t get while fighting traffic jams.

The next best option is public/university transportation. The school I attended had a transit system composed of 30-passenger mini-buses free for use for students. They made a series of stops throughout campus as well as at some of the off-campus apartment complexes that were concentrated with students. Although you aren’t being quite as green as walking or biking here, you are saving as much money for your personal transportation.

All of the above options have two additional benefits. Using these solely, you do not have to pay the university a fee for a parking permit. Although ours weren’t terribly expensive, $40 a year is a lot for money starving students. =) And to accompany those savings, you also don’t get parking tickets on campus by having to park in an zone you aren’t allowed to park in just so you can get to class on time. This was a huge deal where I went to school, as there were approximately 8000 parking spaces that were zoned for 20,000 undergrads. You don’t have to be a math major to see that as a formula for income for the school. In fact, my senior year when I had to drive to campus (due to where I lived and my chaotic schedule) and would opt to park off campus because if I had to park illegally, the city tickets were cheaper than the university ones!

Lastly, if you have to drive, split the cost with a friend or roommate. If you have similar schedules that take you to and from campus relatively at the same time you can split the gas cost, take up one less parking permit, and you have an accountability partner to get you to class and on time. =) And I’m not encouraging you to share a parking permit, which should only be associated to one car, but I’m just saying that the parking police can’t possibly take time to compare all of the permits with their plates (okay, so this only works if you have hang tags instead of stickers but USE IT PEOPLE)….

There are some students that would beg to differ in this area. There are some schools where the social norm is set higher in this area than others. However, let me tell you to throw out any expectations and be realistic. You do not have to wear designer attire to class. You will not (okay, should not, sometime you will) get bonus points for being “pretty” for class and chances are you might be uncomfortable. Get a good pair of comfy sneakers, buy a baseball cap for those bad hair days, throw on comfy pants (however, be decent and don’t wear your pjs to class, please) and get out the door. You might even decide that you’d rather sleep in than put on make-up and save money on cosmetics as well.

If you feel the need to own one of those costly sweatshirts or polos sold at your college bookstore, check out this post at Northern Cheapskate for some awesome ideas on how to save on those items!

Even for comfy attire, there are savings to be had. How many colleges have you even seen that aren’t constantly giving out free t-shirts…especially as fall semester/quarter is kicking off? Avoid signing up for a dozen credit cards to get them, but look for good offers. Many organizations give away t-shirts. You can always get one for donating blood (and save a life or two!) and many campuses have blood drives several times a year. I have been out of college for over 7 years now (ugh…don’t remind me how old that makes me) and I can tell you that 95% of the t-shirts that I currently own came at no cost to me from my school via one of the above methods. And they are STILL my comfy clothes.

Okay, so this started out as one post, but since I’ve been known to be a bit wordy detailed, it has turned into a three part series. By the way...all of the photos in this series are from one school in particular. Anyone want to guess where I graduated from?

Please join me again on Sunday to talk about entertainment and again on Monday to wrap it up when considering the actual cost of schoolwork.

Photo credit: tuxthepenguin84 and VickyvS


  1. This was a very informative post! I went to a small enough school (with almost no parking), so no car and not even a bike. Just my two feet. I am constantly surprised at the # of students with cars these days though.

    I can't tell you at all where you went to school. But I wanted to say that I'm also an engineer!

  2. These are great ideas! I really wish someone had shared these with me before I started college!

    Thanks for the link!