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CC ISSUE: APR 2012 Last updated: Apr 5, 2012

12 Ways to Live on a Budget: College Edition

Meha Ahmad

Whether your freshman year of college is winding down, or if you’re getting ready to start in the fall, one thing every student needs to learn (and be reminded of) is how to live on a budget. The life of a college student is often filled with expenses and little money, but there are more than a few ways to stretch a buck.

  1. Buy groceries with a longer lifespan. When you’re “shopping for one,” it may take a long time for you to finish your groceries. Often, some groceries with a short shelf life will expire too soon, essentially wasting your money. Like milk. Did you know organic milk lasts a month, sometimes longer? Products with extended shelf lives are worth investing the extra one or two bucks.
  2. Learn to cook. You can’t go the rest of your life saying, “I don’t even know a saucepan from a wok!” Learn. Lacking a basic survival skill like cooking is not cute. Cooking can be cheaper and much healthier than the local pizzeria.
  3. Get on your college’s meal plan. If your college offers a meal plan, take advantage of it. It’s often pretty inexpensive per meal.
  4. Live close to campus, and get roommates. Living close to campus will save a fortune on commuting costs. But that kind of prime location is pricey, so take out an ad for roommates. Splitting rent several ways can save you hundreds of dollars every month.
  5. Check out used furniture. When you lived at home, the idea of bringing in used furniture may have been unheard of. But now you’re a broke college student, so get used to it. There are tons of other college students looking to sell their mattresses, bed frames, dressers, desks, chairs, kitchen appliances, TVs, furniture, even cars. Graduating and transferring students moving away are desperate not to have to haul all that stuff with them, and will usually sell them at insanely cheap prices (sometimes going as far as giving things away). Thrift stores are also great places to find furniture.
  6. Beware the campus bookstore. You probably will never pay more for the books you need than at the campus bookstore. Look at online bookstores or find used books. Ask around to see what students took the same class last semester and if they’re willing to give or sell you the book for cheap. Make the effort, and you may end up saving hundreds of dollars on your textbooks alone.
  7. Invest in a coffeemaker. Ah, the sweet addiction to caffeine that accompanies late-night cram sessions and early-morning classes of college life. But think twice before waiting in that Starbucks line: $4-$5 a day in coffee is a budget leak that needs to be plugged. Cut down to once a week (we can’t give up all our luxuries, can we?), and stick to making coffee and tea at home.
  8. Look for free stuff and student discounts. Plenty of restaurants, museums, theaters, etc., have a student discount. Always have your student I.D. with you and take advantage! Tip: Google “Free things to do in Chicago.” You’ll find countless free activities, events and sites to see.
  9. Browse online deals. From coupons to Groupon, search online for deals on food, entertainment, clothes, sports, activities and even gifts. Why pay full price when you don’t have to?
  10. Skip cable. Most things you watch are probably available for free viewing the next day online, on Hulu or the network’s website. Tip: Find out what cable provider your parents use and see what options that provider offers for online viewing. (i.e. if your parents use Dish Network, for example, then you can probably use their account to watch TV online at
  11. Be very careful with credit cards. Good rule of thumb: don’t spend what you don’t have.
  12. You’re a college student. Act like it. Unless you’ve got access to a crazy awesome trust fund (yeah, right), live like the student you are. Embrace the lifestyle, and avoid living like you have endless funds. No one in college needs a decked out dorm room, or should be dining out every night with friends. Spend frugally, or get a job.


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