college on a budget
Heading off to college is an exciting time for students taking their first steps into adulthood. That transition also means handling your own schedules, budgets, meals and personal care, tasks that kids take for granted while living with their parents.
For college students, many of these life lessons are learned with limited funds. Lauren Schandevel, a 2019 graduate from the University of Michigan with a degree in public policy, fit that description — and decided she could help. “Being Not Rich at UM,” a money-saving survival guide she set up as a Google document to crowdsource ideas from students past and present, has had a huge impact both on the campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and at schools across the country developing their own guides. Here are some of the wide-ranging solutions it offers for students on a budget.
Deciding to live in an on-campus dorm or in off-campus housing can make a big difference in monthly expenses. According to a 2015 study from Trulia, sharing off-campus housing with a roommate was cheaper than living on campus. However, the opposite can be true for colleges in higher rental markets. Other options such as becoming a dorm Resident Advisor, joining a co-op or commuting from home also can help defray costs.
Full-priced textbooks can be a total budget breaker. Try campus and local libraries first to see if you can access them for free. Purchase used textbooks and digital versions at highly discounted prices if you know where to look. Price comparison sites such as Slugbooks.com and Bigwords.com list legitimate sites like Amazon, Thriftbooks and AbeBooks, which give you the option of buying or renting.
Costs for meals and snacks add up. Depending on income eligibility, food assistance programs may be available on campus. If you have roommates, plan out meals to share the cost of ingredients while you cook at home. Apps like Hooked identify short-term deals from restaurants and bars in your area when you want to eat out. And don’t forget to sign up for rewards programs offered by most restaurants to earn points for free food.
Knowing how to create and maintain a budget is vital. The non-negotiable rule of thumb? Know how much you have each month and don’t spend more than that. Apps such as Mint and EveryDollar can help you stay on top of your finances. Do your research on financial institutions with favorable rates and fees on savings and checking accounts. (Hint: Look into credit unions.) Also, building a credit history via a credit card is great, but use it only when you’re able to pay it off each month.