One of the hardest lessons I had to learn during my college experience is hands down, money management—aka. A college student’s worst nightmare; especially for those lucky individuals who have to pay for their own tuition, or at least part of it. Comprehending the fact you are basically broke for the next four years is daunting and quite humbling.
Finding a healthy and economically-wise balance between spending and saving is extremely difficult; especially when fun-filled, but costly events arise. Budgeting did not and still doesn’t come easily for me; however, throughout these past 3 years, I have come up with a few helpful hints and guidelines that have aided in controlling my expensive addiction to spending. Therefore, I thought I would share my college “Need to Knows” when living life on little income and trying to avoid the penny-pinching, Dutch stereotype:
1. Pick n’ Choose: This can be simply put as: you do not have to buy, participate in, or contribute to everything. First, you do not have to attend every event planned by friends; remember this is just an invite, not a requirement—even if you decline, your friends will understand and still love you.
Second, if you want to attend this specific event, than go for it—treat yo’ self, you probably deserve it! Just don’t go crazy :) For instance, if you’re going out to eat look for deals on the menu that offer two for one or is the restaurant's “Meal of the Day”. An example of this would be, Applebee’s 2 for $20; plus an appetizer to share!
Conclusion: Pick the events you want to attend and have fun; just keep your eyes open for ways to cut costs without being obvious and overly stingy.
2. Get Creative: When planning for a “night out” provide your group with alternative options that do not abuse the wallet and still entails a night filled with fun. A couple examples would be:
>Rent the Wii from the Hulst library—it’s hilarious and makes for entertaining Snapchat stories
>Play card games or Mafia
>Have a bonfire, and go star gazing
>Go to the Fruited Plain’s Karaoke Night or attend 2$ Tuesdays
>Go rock climbing— On Wednesday night's college students can climb for only $4
Conclusion: If you present creative ideas, your friends will most likely hop on board, because lets be real-- no college student has money.
3. Make lists: Whenever you are going shopping...MAKE A LIST and STICK TO IT (in this situation: all caps= all seriousness); otherwise I can promise you that the entire store will be in your car within seconds and the receipt will be longer than the Wall of China. This tip is crucial when grocery shopping, because there are aisles full of food that will easily satisfy any craving, including: ice cream, candy, pizza, chips, etc.
Conclusion: Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry; and take time to plan and get organized.
4. Empty Wallet: Okay, first let me clarify—don’t actually have a completely empty wallet (that's pointless), but when going out shopping or to a weekend activity, only take the money you want to spend. Avoid using your credit card or debit card; while these forms of currency are efficient, they make spending money WAY too easy—trust me.
Conclusion: Limited accessible money= Limited money to spend
5. Love the Freebies: Be all about free samples and hand-me-downs. At the beginning of each school year, Dordt hosts an event called the Taste of Sioux Center; which allows local organizations to market to students and represent their company in a fun environment—talk about free samples and endless coupons!
Conclusion: Don’t be ashamed—be appreciative!
6. Avoid Brand Names: I shake my head at the world’s obsession with labels. There are definitely circumstances where purchasing brand name items are necessary and worth the extra money. However, as a penniless college student contemplating the life-impacting choice of Great Value or Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper; please go cheaper-- I think your bum will survive the cost-saving, off-brand tissue.
Conclusion: Brand names are not life.
7. Divide and Conquer: Buy the basic necessities that are shareable and then split the costs with your roommates; especially when it comes to cooking and cleaning supplies. For example, an apartment or dorm room does not need multiple bottles of window cleaner or a roll of paper towel per person.
Conclusion: Remember the 4 S’s- Spend, Split, Share, and Save!
8. Thrift Stores: These places are life-changing. I absolutely love clothes and shopping, enough said. Upon starting college, all available funds took a major hit; which officially cancelled Mycah's weekly therapy sessions at the mall and temporarily forced me into life of solitude (<< might be a little extreme, but this my friends, was a hard reality to face). However, I soon stumbled upon the pure bliss found through thrift shopping—you can buy WAY more and don’t have to stress about the price. While you might think buying somebody’s used clothes is gross and weird; remember there is a wonderful thing called a “washing machine”—so use it! Even if you are still cautious, get a group of friends together and go; the crazy merchandise you will find will make for life-long memories and hysterical photos. If you are STILL not convinced, here is a great alternative: donate! Help the community by offering your old, neglected clothes as a gift and in return your bulging closet will experience relief; and thrift stores will sometimes even provide compensation for these contributions. Some of my favorite and local consignment shops are: Plato’s Closet, Nearly New Town, and The Economy Shop.
Conclusion: Step outside of your comfort zone, go thrift shopping, and pop some tags, because you probably only have $20 dollars in your bank account.
9. Buy in Bulk: When near a Costco or Sam’s Club… GO IN-- especially if you are in an apartment. Purchasing items in bulk can be extremely cost saving and will last you for months. Buy all of your basics and daily uses in mass quantities; initially this may seem expensive, but I promise you this investment pays off. Here are my back-to-school Costco must haves: toilet paper, dish washer detergent, flour, pasta, nutrition bars, instant oatmeal, peanut butter, Gatorade, and so on. Than during your weekly Wal Mart or Fareway run, you can purchase the luxury items, such as: fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, candy, etc.
Conclusion: Basics=Bulk--> Luxuries=Limited.
10. Appreciate Parent’s Weekend: If all else fails, you’re still in luck, because guess what!? Your parents will eventually visit and will momentarily save you from this deprived lifestyle; since most likely they will want to spoil you--so bask in the glory and enjoy! :)
Good luck & happy saving!