Sunday, May 4, 2014

Tips for college students

Despite what books, TV ads, financial planners, and others would have you believe, there is no big 'secret' to being financially successful. There are, of course, lots of tax loopholes, complicated investment methods, and other such tricks to making money.

Unless you are a CPA, tax lawyer, investment banker or otherwise want to be involved in studying the myriad financial laws of this country (and possibly others, as well), a simpler approach probably sounds good to you.

The calculus is simple: make more than you spend. (Took a grad student to tell you that, right?) However, this can get complicated when you're a student with an outlay of thousands upon thousands of dollars every semester. I've found that the best outlook for such a debt-inducing situation is this: you should consider your education to be an investment in your future earning potential (yes, earning potential: unless you're really wealthy, you're not spending $50,000+ on 'personal enrichment.' That's what libraries are for). Consider the rest of your income-to-expense ratio without including tuition/fees, books, and housing among those expenses. You'll have plenty of time later to think about those tuition payments...

So, if you're a college student and you work a summer job and a job on/near campus, you'll probably be looking at roughly $4000-5000 per year in income. If you're motivated enough to have two summer jobs and/or two campus jobs (highly recommended! Over the summer, work more than 40 hours per week--you'll thank yourself later), you might be looking at as much as $7000--which still puts you firmly below the federal poverty line! Whatever your income, most of it will disappear as soon as you sign up for the school's meal plan (or if you commute, gas and car insurance). So, essentially, you're living on no money.

There are a couple of options for you, though: buy the minimum meal plan your school allows; use the money you save to store some dry food in your dorm room--and use that for snacks and/or breakfast. Going to the grocery store is a lot cheaper (though more time-consuming) than paying what works out to $6 or $8 per meal--or more! If you or your roommate have a fridge, you can store some good food in there. And if the cafeteria allows you to carry food out with you, you can always save a piece of fruit for later--this is what I did; nobody ever said anything to me about it. (Being nice to the ladies that swiped our IDs certainly didn't hurt matters!)

If you commute; you can try carpooling--if you alternate driving days with a fellow commuter who lives nearby, you can each save some money and hopefully establish (or cement) a friendship. You can also try to schedule your classes on the same days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday usually have a wider range of classes offered, but if you can fit them all into Tuesday and Thursday, you're saving an additional day's worth of gas). Easier said than done, but the potential payoff could be worthwhile.

Also, check out the housing policy at your school, as well as the price of apartments or houses near campus. If you get an 'efficiency' apartment, which is smaller than a one-bedroom but certainly bigger than a dorm room, you should see massive savings on your housing cost--and you won't have to worry about waking your roommate when you come in after a late-night study session. On the other hand, you could try getting some friends together to co-rent a house. This can save everybody money, but may bring a whole host of headaches if someone doesn't pay up, or refuses to do chores, or eats everybody else's food, or gets...ahem..."lively" in certain late-night activities.

When you're not busy reading up on ways to save--checking The Froogal Stoodent often, of course! ;) --you can get creative when it comes to entertainment. For example, go exploring  near campus with some friends on a nice day. I've done some exploring by myself, and with a friend or friends, and I can attest to the fact that both were fun!

Social activities like this are more about creating great memories than about spending dough. In fact, most of my best memories with my friends from my undergraduate career are conversations in the dining hall, or hanging out in a friend's room, or a bunch of us laughing while crammed into a car en route to some destination that I've forgotten. So, don't fall into the trap of thinking you have to have a cool destination--instead, create fun journeys.

Since dating is an important part of most people's college experience, you can also get creative with date ideas. Perhaps you could scout some nice locations while on that exploring trip I mentioned earlier :)  There are also lists online that could help out; this one is fantastic:

For some more helpful ideas, check out my page here: (and there's another one here:)

So, you can always find some interesting ways to save money while still living well. It takes a little planning and creativity, but hey, that's why you're in college, right?

Got any more ideas that I overlooked? Share them in the comments!