I talk a lot about student loan debt on Six Figures Under, but the truth is that I have never had a single student loan to my name. I completed my bachelor’s degree without any debt. There were many factors that made that possible, but the one I want to focus on today is living frugally during college.
If you’re a regular reader here, then you have a pretty good idea of what frugal living looks like for our family of six. Now we’ll rewind a decade or so and give you a taste of what living frugally during college looks like.
Whether you’re in school now, are going soon, or have children who are still young, these tips will help you (or help you prepare your children) save money in college by living frugally.
- Research various housing options including, on-campus, off-campus, and if you’re staying local, living at home. Don’t just settle for what everyone else does or what is normal. For example, where I went to school it was standard for freshman to live in on-campus student housing. After doing some price comparisons, I found an off-campus apartment (with some fellow frugal freshmen) for much cheaper than the dorms on campus.
- Skip the meal plan. Making your own food is cheaper than a campus meal plan or eating out. If you don’t already cook for yourself, now is a great time to start. Think of simple, healthy meals you can make for yourself.
- Avoid eating out. Sure there will be some occasions when you’ll go out with friends, or grab a meal for convenience, but make these the exception rather than the rule.
- Pack your lunch. College campuses make fast food very convenient, but you’ll save money (and your waistline) by brown bagging it instead of buying lunch. Here are some tips for packing lunches.
- Go car-less. Between maintenance, insurance, and gas, cars can be a big money-suck during college. Most college campuses are pretty accessible without a vehicle.
- Take the bus. Before I went to college, I had never taken public transportation and I was a little timid at first. It’s a very economical way to get around. Don’t be afraid of it! College students can usually get discounted (or even free) passes for public transportation.
- Walking and bike riding are both great forms of exercise that are easy on the wallet. You’ll also get fresh air and a good dose of thinking time. I used to study my flashcards (especially when I was studying Chinese) on my walk to and from campus.
- Share rides. When you’re going out of town for the holidays or heading home between semesters, hitch a ride with another student going the same direction and split the price of gas. Your school might already have a program to coordinate rides like this.
- Buy used books. While going to the campus bookstore might be the easiest way to get the books you need for your classes, you can save big by shopping around for used books. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find used textbooks for a fraction of the price of new ones. Find out the books you’ll need for your classes as soon as you can so you can get a used book before they sell out and you’re stuck with the expensive new ones.
- Shop at the thrift store. There’s nothing quite like the eclectic look of a college apartment. This might go without saying, but don’t buy new furnishings for your college apartments. Thrift stores in college towns are loaded with everything you need because everyone who graduated last semester just donated all of their stuff. Have fun and save money by shopping thrift stores first.
- Stay away from alcohol. The frugal perspective alone on this might not convince you, but I have to put it out there because it makes for a huge savings. Alcohol is expensive! I don’t drink (and I went to the #1 ranked stone-cold sober school), so I’ve never paid for alcohol, but I know it sure isn’t cheap (and neither are some of the side-effects). If you can avoid partying and drinking during college, you’ll save big time!
- Find free or cheap fun. College campuses are filled with low-cost activities for students– take advantage of them! Get creative and plan fun dates that aren’t your standard “dinner and a movie.” Pinterest is full of free and frugal fun ideas for college students (and beyond).
Tips for parents of younger children:
Teach your kids life skills starting at a young age to set them up for successful frugal living in college. Although our kids may have seen us do these things for years, doing them on their own may bring a rude awakening.
For example, while your kids are young, teachable, and living at home you can:
- Teach your kids to cook so they are comfortable cooking their own meals.
- Teach your kids how to shop for groceries.
- Teach your kids to set and live by a budget.
- Teach your kids to comparison shop and find the best value for their money (both online and in the store).
- Show your kids that there are plenty of ways to have fun without being paid to be entertained.
How about you?
What tips do you have for living frugally during college?