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How to Survive Being a Broke College Girl

I remember back in the day when the term “Broke College Kid” meant nothing to me. Now, I’m living it. Needless to say, my bank account has seen some good days and some very bad days since my arrival at CU. Before college, I always had a part-time job to fall back on and not nearly as many expenses, so flying the coop meant bearing the responsibility of making my dollar stretch. After making countless money blunders in my first semester, I’ve learned a thing or two about the living in the bounds of the college budget.

1. Get out of money denial

For those of you who don’t know, money denial is a term for that mental state in which you think your money is bottomless. Whether it’s the “I’ll get paid next week” line or the “Maybe I can get an advance on my allowance” attitude, we’ve all been in that situation where we spend impulsively without any regard of how sad and empty our card balances will be afterward. The first thing that I had to do to start actually saving money was to break that mental barrier and realize that money is finite. If I spend my last dollar on a PB&J acai bowl at Rush Bowls, chances are I’m going to be miserable for a while until my bank account bounces back.

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2. Start saving ASAP 

Repeat after me, ladies! Saving money is NEVER a bad idea. It’s a very smart and important skill that you need to be successful with your finances for your entire life. Why not start cultivating that skill now? When I came to college, my income shrunk dramatically. After blowing all of my summer job money on decorative pillows for my dorm, I became reliant on whatever money my relatives were kind enough to toss my way. It was very hard at first to fathom even putting away small amounts like $20 because my income had gone so far south, and I was already having trouble buying the things I needed.

After a while, though, I was getting really tired of ending each week with less than five bucks in my bank account. I realized that I needed to change my broke girl ways in order to break the constant money worries that circled in my brain. When beginning to save, it’s okay to start small. I started by putting aside $10 of my allowance every week, and now I’m up to a point where I rarely let my bank account drop below $50. It’s so comforting to know that you have a cushion of savings just in case you really need it. Trust me, my card has declined while buying Smelly Deli tater tots at 2 AM a whopping three times. That’s when you’re really going to kick yourself for not saving money.

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3. Eliminate needless spending 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you don’t have enough room in your income to drop $5.40 on your daily Starbucks, you can’t afford it. End of discussion. Trust me, since my daily Starbucks turned into my special occasion Starbucks, not a day has gone by where I haven’t considered blowing it all for a Grande coconut milk vanilla latte. But I know that it’s definitely not realistic for me and my budget, so I’ve had to learn to live without. There are going to be a lot of things that you’ll want to buy that will seriously wreck your budget, but you need to have the composure to take the less expensive route.

You’re probably not going to have enough money to randomly drop on Sephora’s most extravagant eyeshadow palette, a new pair of shoes for that date dash, or a sushi splurge on a Tuesday. It’s harsh, but it’s the truth. Learn how to pluck your own eyebrows instead of getting them done, eat at the dining hall unless it’s a special occasion, and make do with what’s in your closet. I’m not telling you to live off the land or anything, just try to be more mindful with what exactly you’re spending your money on because the small stuff adds up. Treat yourself in less expensive ways, like with a face mask or your favorite movie. It’s a major money move (pun intended) that will pay off one day. Hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

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4. Spend in all the right places

When you’re in the mood for a splurge, whether it’s a new top or a really good meal, be careful where you choose to go. Having fun and treating yourself doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think! Instead of shopping at Free People, try browsing Forever 21, Boohoo or Zaful. I used to be one of the biggest brand snobs out there, habitually refusing anything that wasn’t Lululemon or Urban Outfitters, however since coming to college I’ve found that there are so many great affordable brands that have styles, trends, and qualities that are surprisingly comparable to their more expensive competitors.

I believe in dropping a check on the staples (shoes, coats, denim, etc.), but when it comes to everything else, there is no logical reason why you should spend $60 on a crop top, especially if you’re a budgeting college girl. If you hunt hard enough, you can find whatever your wardrobe needs within your budget. Thrifting is also a smart way to snag some great pieces for a low price. Another way to save your money is to opt for cheaper options when eating out. Some amazing and relatively cheap places to eat on the Hill are Bento-Ria, Cheba Hut, Smelly Deli, Illegal Pete’s, and Sushi Hana on the Hill (during happy hour). Try to be mindful of how the prices compare at different restaurants and choose those that are a little more budget-friendly. As much as I love a good meal, I know it’s not sustainable for me to choose a five-star restaurant every time I eat out.

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5. Change your fate! 

If you try with all of your might to save money and be a smart spender and the lifestyle still isn’t cutting it for you, a job might be in the cards for you. Whether it’s on-campus, off-campus, or a nannying gig, there are plenty of job opportunities in Boulder if you go out and look for them. If you’re lost on where and how to find a job for you, the CU Student Employment website is a great place to start. It has page after page of listings for on-campus, off-campus, and work-study jobs that are hiring. This is so convenient because it’s all in one place ad you know that all of these listings are close by and understanding of a student’s schedule.

Another great website to consider during your job search is Indeed. Once you make a profile and upload your resume, skills, and experience, Indeed links you to hundreds of job listings in your area and allows you to apply online. If all else fails, you can walk around the Hill, 28th Street or Pearl Street and ask around to see what shops or restaurants are accepting applications. Many business owners actually prefer an in-person applicant because they can meet their candidate and put a face to their name. It creates a great first impression. Remember not to fret if you can’t find a job or simply have no time for one. We are here at CU to be students, so our studies and sometimes our social lives should really come first. I personally don’t have a job and I’m getting by just fine on my small allowance.

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I think I speak for a lot of students everywhere when I say that college brings on a whole new degree of broke. Everyone has their own financial needs and preferences, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a little rough for us all. This being said, at the end of the day, I would take having literally zero money in my bank before I would rethink my decision to go to Boulder. This is such an exciting chapter of my life and if it means I have to give up my daily cup of coffee, so be it. If I’m going to be broke, at least I’ll be broke and a Buff.

Grace McAllister

CU Boulder '22

I'm Grace McAllister and I'm from Atlanta, Georgia. I'm so excited to be a Freshman at CU Boulder this year! I'm planning on studying Marketing in the School of Business and I'm considering a minor in advertising or journalism. I'm really passionate about all things CU, makeup, netflix, dogs, fitness, and of course food. I'm so excited to spend this chapter of my life at CU Boulder and in the Her Campus Community!
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