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Six Ways to Manage Your Finances For Food & Fun In College

College is expensive. I'm not talking about tuition itself because we all know that price tag. Beyond tuition costs and room and board, everything costs a pretty penny. Between books, the necessary groceries, notebooks, pens, flash drives, computers, headphones, anything you see yourself needing on all adds up and the money to pay for it has to come from somewhere.

Maybe you have a job, maybe you just have a savings account that you tried to fill as much as possible during the summer while you didn't have any classes. Regardless, there's constantly the temptation to spend, whether or not the purchases are necessary. A couple of weeks ago I talked about how I've been saving money this summer, which is all fine and dandy, but saving money is a much easier task when you don't have rent or utilities to pay for or the endless possibilities for socializing that can happen when you're on campus or living with your best friends.

Keep your money in separate accounts

If you can, keep your bank account set up for checking and savings. Keep your savings account full of the money that you absolutely need to have month by month. Maybe this is rent payments, utilities, credit card bills, phone bills, tuition payments as part of a payment plan. If you have a monthly expense that is recurring, keep that money aside already so you know how much money that you have for everything else that month.Nothing is better than seeing a bigger amount in your account than usual and realizing that you have your big bill due the next day. Or worse, not realizing that you have a payment the next day and spending the money you thought you had set aside for it on something else.

Even if you're not good at setting up a fancy budget, try to budget anyways

My roommate was the budget master. She had a spreadsheet set up and has impeccable money saving skills. It's one of her many enviable qualities. I, however, was more of a check my bank account, subtract my monthly bills and see what was left over. While my method wasn't foolproof, it seemed to work pretty well. I had a pretty relaxed budget. I knew I had to spend a lot of money on gas because of my drive to work, but I saved money when it came to groceries because I shopped at Trader Joe's and ate fairly simply because I'm beyond picky.

When it came to my money that I could play with, I always tried to make sure that I saved some of it. Some months were busier than others. I also had to take into account the holidays and birthdays, which is also something to work into your budgets if you're able to keep a fancy monthly budget. If it's not in your budget, it's okay to say no. If anyone is going to understand money problems, it's going to be your college friends. Everyone gets it. We've all been there!

Discipline, discipline, discipline

I suppose this depends on the amount of money you have saved or are making at your job. But typically, there isn't enough time during the week between classes to get in a lot of time at your job to make bank. But these tips are supposed to be for managing your money regardless of the amount because it's always good to be smart with your money to avoid a potential deficit. 

Getting new things and not having to eat what you have at home is just great. If I could get new clothes every day, I would be a happy person. And god, if I didn't have to eat a plain bagel and iced coffee for breakfast every morning courtesy of myself, I would be the happiest woman alive. But sometimes you just have to discipline yourself when it comes to spending. There's no reason to buy new clothes every day or to eat out for every meal. Even me, the pickiest eater alive when it comes to groceries, managed. Eating at home might not be mega-exciting, but it makes your nights out even more enjoyable because compared to your four days of cheese tortellini in a row, a simple three dollar taco tastes like heaven.

To show discipline, you could do some of these things:
  • Make your own coffee at home to avoid trips to Starbucks or your local coffee place
  • Pack your lunch for work
  • Make your dinner at home most nights of the week, dedicating a meal or two a week for a special take-out treat. 
  • Use your meal plan. I get it, it's not exciting in the slightest, but it's already paid for so you might as well use and save yourself spending your own money for food. 
  • Wear what's already in your closet. Challenge yourself to wear everything at least once.
  • Instead of buying a ton of new pieces, save up for one piece you can't stop thinking about and treat yourself to it if you have money left over at the end of the month.

Make plans with your friends ahead of time to avoid spontaneous nights out

It's fun to knock on your roommate's door and say "hey, want to get tacos tonight?" don't get me wrong. But sometimes these spontaneous plans aren't in someone's budget. Because tacos always lead to chips and queso (or guac) (or both) and margaritas and you know, sometimes one leads to two. Before you know it, your three dollar tacos turn into $20 (or more) meal. 

Set plans with your friends before! Ask if they want to do something on a certain night and try to make a plan so you know when and how much it's going to cost. Don't forget to budget in Uber rides or gas or whichever form of transportation you'll need. Always try to calculate the most you could possibly spend when it comes to budgeting. There's nothing worse than thinking you'll only spend a certain amount and end up going over that amount. If you aim too high, then you'll feel better if you have money left over to spend on something else. Or, you know, save

You can have fun without going out

If y'all have a DVD collection or Netflix/Hulu, you can have your own movie night in your dorm or at your apartment/house. My friends and I had equal amounts of fun staying in and watching movies or stupid music videos as we did when we went out for drinks or downtown. You can make your own fun for a fraction of the cost. It's the same company for the most part, so what does it matter what the setting is? Going out every weekend adds up so it's nice to sprinkle in some chill nights in!

For my 21+ pals...PREGAME

I can count a number of times I bought a drink or a shot at a club on one hand. We didn't even go to nice clubs with expensive drinks and I still didn't want to fork over any money for them. If you're of age, do your drinking at home. If anything, get one drink while you're out, but there's no point in doing all of your drinking while you're out. Those $5 to $10 drinks (or more) are going to all add up! The only time that this doesn't count is during a "power hour" and in that case, buying your $1 or $2 drinks is most certainly worth it.

Also, you don't need to drink Grey Goose. Don't willingly subject yourself to Kamchatka either, but find something a step above. There's no reason to spend over $30 on a bottle of vodka that you're going to go through faster than you think you would. 

Also, when you're ordering your drinks when you are out and they ask what kind of vodka/tequila/liquor you want, say that you want "well." That just means you're getting the cheapest one they offer without having to say "I want the cheapest one you have" because sometimes that just sounds really embarrassing.


  1. This is a very important life aspect of the college student. It is very hard to organize your small budget right to have money not only for vital needs but also for entertainment. I know from personal experience that if you don't work part time it will be very hard for you to complete this task. When I was a student I also needed to pay for college essay help writing services and student loan charges.


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