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Mastering the Art of Being Cheap

If you are reading this article, you have probably used the phrase “broke college student” to refer to yourself once or twice. From books and food to clothes and alcohol, there are a lot of costs associated with living a college life. Being frugal is an art, and it takes a lot of practice. Here’s a guide to help you make it through the school year spending as little as possible.

Photo courtesy of Selly Sallah / Gavel Media.

Photo courtesy of Selly Sallah / Gavel Media

Walking out of the bookstore with a backbreaking load of books can crush you both physically and financially. Before you buy all those books, find out if they are actually required (or even helpful) for your class. Either way, you’re still better off avoiding the bookstore. Find out if you can buy or rent a cheaper, possibly used, copy off Amazon or a similar site. Don’t forget to sell back anything that you can at the end of the semester.

If you have a meal plan, use it. The meal plan money that you don’t use is going to go to waste, so rather than spending money on takeout and groceries, eat what you have already paid for. For upperclassmen that are not required to have a meal plan, stay away from the dining hall at all costs; the prices are far too high to spend “real money” on.

The grocery store should be your best friend: why pay $2.50 for a cup of cereal in a dining hall when you can buy a whole box for that price at the store? If you are a coffee drinker, you may also want to consider brewing your own from now on. Just one daily cup of coffee could cost over $2.00, which leads to over $14 a week if you only have one cup! Also, stop drinking bottled water. The initial investment of a reusable bottle will save you more than you can imagine, and it’s far more eco-friendly.

Be careful with your bank account. Set a budget going into each semester, or even each month. Pay any and all credit card bills on time in order to avoid late fees, and make sure that you aren’t being charged for bank transactions such as ATM withdrawals or transfers.

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Skip the theater and opt for Netflix instead.
Photo courtesy of Tumblr

By avoiding paying for music and movies, you can save big bucks. Pandora and Spotify are great alternatives to buying music, and can even help you to discover new songs and bands. There’s no need to drop $25 bucks on a DVD or $12 on a movie ticket when you can watch something off of Netflix from the comfort of your bed or couch.

Transportation can be difficult to figure out: having a car boosts spending due to gas and parking requirements, but without a car, you are forced to figure out another way around. Biking and walking are good options for short distance. If you need to go a bit further, stick with the T rather than spending money on a cab. If you have to get there fast, Uber is typically a better option than your traditional cab (but beware of surges!). Plan flights far in advance if you need cheap tickets. The same can be said for Amtrak and Greyhound. The bus tends to be the cheapest option if available, and it is still not an outrageous price at the last minute.

When it comes to alcohol—a substance that most college students would deem a “necessity”—go for the cheap stuff. No one is going to judge you for that Natty, Rubi or Two-buck Chuck. Also, avoid paying for drinks at a bar: buying in bulk and pregaming can keep you from wasting any more than you have to, and you’ll know exactly what you’re drinking.

Shopping is an art that many college students have yet to master. Sniff out the student discounts or sales wherever you go. If you shop online, pick the sites with free shipping, and buy things such as soap in bulk. This can save you time and transportation money, but be sure to give yourself a day to decide whether you actually need something before hitting that “checkout” button.

Hitting up thrift shops is a trendy way to save money on clothes. You can find some great outfits for amazing prices. Also, when Christmas or your birthday roll around, try asking Mom and Dad for the essentials. This way you will not have to spend money on them later, and they will know that they are providing you with something practical.

Photo courtesy of Selly Sallah / Gavel Media.

Photo courtesy of Selly Sallah / Gavel Media

Keeping a balanced budget in mind can help you manage any costs of being a college student. Being cheap truly is an art, so work on it one step at a time until your masterpiece is complete. Outline what you need versus what you want, and plan your spending accordingly. Do what you can to get the best prices, and don’t let anyone rip you off.

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I'll pack my favorite red slippers when I become an astronaut. Colored pencil enthusiast, mother of parasites, part-time pilot. Runs in large circles and obsesses over dogs.