You’re a collegiette—you know what it’s like living on a tight budget. Between classes, schoolwork, internships, sports games and club meetings (not to mention dating and spending time with your girlfriends) it’s hard to find time to fit in a part-time job. And even if you do have some income, you’re probably only making minimum wage for a handful of hours every week. If you’re lucky, your parents throw you a few extra bucks here and there, but for the most part, living on a college girl’s budget is quite the challenge. So if your New Year’s resolution is to spend less, or if you’re simply saving up for your next big purchase, here are some incredibly easy ways to ensure your bank account balance doesn’t hit zero anytime soon!
If you’re like me and have tried to set up a budget based on how much you earn and can spend per month, you know that sticking to that plan isn’t always easy. Mint.com is an incredible website that will help you realistically manage your finances. It’s completely free to sign up, and all you have to do is input your credit card and bank information. (If you’re worried about inputting your personal information, check out these helpful FAQs. The site will track your spending and help you set up budgets you can actually stick to. They’ll even send you e-mails if you go over your allotted spending or have a bill due soon! The site also offers tools for paying down debt and saving money. “Essentially, once you set it up it monitors all of your finances for you and it only takes you a couple of minutes per month,” explains Kate Zasada, a recent Northeastern graduate who swears by her Mint.com account. “It even has an iPhone app!”
If you don’t want to sign up for the site, Dara Duguay, author of Please Send Money: A Financial Survival Guide for Young Adults on Their Own, suggests checking out the free budgeting templates for Microsoft Excel. All of these templates are completely free, and a number are geared specifically towards college students.
2. Let your savings make money for you
One of the easiest ways to make interest on the cash you’ve already got saved is by keeping your money in a high interest savings account. By literally doing nothing but letting your money sit in the bank, you’ll automatically earn interest. Although most interest rates aren’t particularly high, a few do have rates higher than 1 percent. If you put $3,000 into a savings account with a 1.3 percent interest rate, you’ll make $40 on that money in 12 months. Not great, but that extra cash can’t hurt, right? Check out this list of banks to get you started. Beth Kobliner, author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, suggests checking out www.bankrate.com, a site where you can compare rates of banks across the country.
Bank of America has a “Keep the Change” program, which automatically transfers remaining change from your checking account purchases into your savings. Check out the program on their website.
An easy way to make interest on your money is by placing a sum into a Certificate of Deposit (CD). While money placed in bonds can take up to 10 years to mature, CD’s can be cashed in just six months or a year. “Girls just need to be aware that they can’t access this money for a period of time,” explained Duguay.
Another idea is to consider investing in no-load mutual funds with low expenses. This tip from Kobliner is for young women who have already paid off any debt and set aside funds for emergencies and post-grad life. “Vanguard offers a STAR fund, made up of 60 percent stocks, 40 percent bonds, that requires a minimum initial investment of $1,000,” explains Kobliner. “T. Rowe Price allows investors to get started with a minimum of $50 a month automatically deducted from a checking account.”
3. Join discount programs
Drug stores, major grocery store chains and other retail stores across the country offer completely free rewards programs for their customers. Most are point-based and offer coupons and access to special sales and in almost all cases, it certainly can’t hurt to sign up. Most cashiers will ask you if you want to join their program as you’re checking out, such as American Eagle, Sephora and CVS. Just be sure to ask questions and read the fine print before you sign up. Other general programs like the StudentAdvantage card will help you save money at retailers across the country. Wholesale stores like Smart & Final, Costco and BJ’s often require memberships but do offer discounted prices on bulk items. While not always economical for food, buying things like toilet paper, dishwasher detergent and paper towels for your apartment can save you a lot of money in the end.
“If you’re going to sign up and pay for a rewards program, just make sure you’re actually using it,” warns Duguay.
Although credit cards are often referred to as the ultimate evil, the reality is that most college students have one in their wallet. “In fact, the average number of credit cards per college student is about five,” says Duguay. If you are going to carry around plastic, be sure you are careful to not spend more than you have and to pay your bills on time. Find a card that makes sense for you: low APR and interest rates are key. Duguay suggests looking at the credit card company comparison on bankrate.com, where they show the cards with the lowest interest rates.
Just make sure to double check if you can get these rates if you're student at one of the online universities.
4. Sign up for cards that will benefit you.
Kate uses her American Express Blue Card to earn points and rewards on all her purchases. If you travel a lot to and from school, find a credit card from the airline you frequently fly with to earn miles towards free flights.
5. Rent your textbooks
A new trend of renting your textbooks instead of buying them is gaining traction across the country. Check out HC’s blog posts about renting your textbooks and one helpful website in particular, Bookbyte. You spend a fraction of what the book would cost you new at the bookstore and aren’t stuck with a textbook you’ll never touch again once the semester is over.
6. Participate in campus activities
Almost every university across the country offers campus events like movie nights, BBQs on the quad or tickets to student group performances. Usually, the events are free or relatively cheap because they’re sponsored by a Student Activities Fee. They’re awesome ways to save money and have a ton of fun. So instead of spending tons on going out to movies or off on expensive trips, check your school’s website or ask the RA in your dorm if they know of any upcoming plans. Sign up with friends or go on your own to meet new people!
7. Make your own coffee
As fun as it is ordering your venti chai latte with soy and extra form every morning, at close to five bucks a pop, this habit is easy to kick and even more easily substituted. Buy yourself a coffee maker and a cute reusable thermos (this one even looks like a to-go cup!)—you’ll spend what you’d usually drop on one week’s worth of coffee on two items that will last you the entire school year. Dedicate the time you’d usually spend in line to brewing your own cup o’ Joe. An easy trick is to start your coffee maker just before you get in the shower in the morning—that way, your coffee will be ready by the time you’re showered and ready to head out. Ground beans and filters are cheap and can be found anywhere from Target to your local grocery store. Addicted to the syrups or flavoring Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts add? A perfect substitute is Coffee-Mate creamers —they’re sweet, not too expensive, last a long time and will add a great kick to your coffee. For more ideas, check out HC’s story on how to get your coffee for cheaper.