The UMass Amherst Student's Guide to Not Breaking Bank

Do you work hard all summer at your job just to see your bank account completely drained? Do you constantly find yourself getting over-drafted? And maybe you've been putting off paying back Venmos for weeks? You’re probably not the only one.

Since most of us college students weren't taught responsible financial habits in high school, it’s no surprise we struggle when we’re finally on our own for the first time. It’s shocking the amount of money you can drain in a semester if you’re not paying attention to your spending habits. It can be especially tough if you’re responsible for paying for your own rent, utilities, and/or tuition. It’s also especially hard if your friends seem to have a never-ending supply of income, shelling out at every bar, restaurant and store.

If you’re searching for some easy ways to manage your finances, look no further! Saving your money at UMass Amherst can be easier than you think.

1. Set a budget.

This is a key element most students skip out on, but it’s best if you do it right at the beginning of the semester. Finding out exactly what your budget needs are may take a trial semester, but after that you'll have a good idea of how much money you actually need to spend.

It’s best to split this up into needs and wants categories. Your needs may include things like rent, utilities and groceries. For wants, think clothes, alcohol and subscription services. Excel is a good way to manage this, so it doesn't get super confusing. Here’s an easy step-by-step guide on how to make a good excel budget.

2. Don’t eat your wallet.

You have a meal plan, so use it. We have the No. 1 dining services in the country, so there’s really no need to avoid campus for food. If you’re sick of the dining halls, there are a ton of options all over campus to check out.

Choose your meal plan wisely. I’ve had so many friends whose eyes have been bigger than their stomachs when choosing a meal plan. If you’re off-campus and you know you’re not going to be at the dining halls a lot, choose the 800 dining dollar plan (YCMP On The Go). If you’re off-campus and love the dining halls, choose either YCMP Off-Campus 155, or YCMP Off-Campus 65.

For those who like to cook, there are ways to save, too. Check out your favorite grocery store options for discounts. Big Y, a UMass fan-favorite grocery store for being so close to campus, has the Silver Savings Club card. It’s free to sign up for, gives you great deals on groceries, and even gets you discounts at some local gas stations. There’s really no reason not to get it.

Plan ahead before you hit the store. Making a list is key, because if you show up with a blank slate you’re gonna end up leaving with a handful of Cosmic Brownies, Tostitos, and whatever else you may crave but not exactly need. Check out weekly newsletters for your preferred stores. You may not have the time to gain the skills of an extreme couponer, but at least you might find some good deals.

Love veggies and supporting local business? Get a CSA share from the student farmers. Load up on fresh vegetables once a week. It’s $350 for a semester (according to their website, the produce retails to $700), and you get more than enough to split the cost between your roommates.

3. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Buying new clothes, furniture and textbooks each year creates a big hole in our savings, but there’s ways around this: shop used. The Campus Sustainability Fellows noticed students creating a lot of waste around move-out each year, so back in 2013 they created the New2U Move-out Collection and Move-In Tag Sale. During move out, the student volunteers collect items donated by students and then sell them back at reasonable prices in the beginning of the year. It’s a great place to snag a futon or a mini fridge instead of overpaying at Target.

Also, there’s tons of used deals both in real life and online. Tag sales pop up all the time at the beginning and end of the semester, and there’s plenty of local thrift stores to check out —they are super helpful for Halloween costumes and themed parties.

Join your graduating class's Facebook group (e.g., "UMass Amherst Class of 2018"). People are constantly selling textbooks, iClickers, concert tickets, furniture and other miscellaneous items on these. There are also buy and sell groups on Facebook for a bunch of towns all over the country, so becoming a part of those could be useful.

4. Goodbye Uber, hello public transportation!

If you live and breathe Uber, this might be hard for you. I promise it isn’t that hard, though, because Uber wasn't even a thing in Amherst when I was a freshman, so you’ll be able to manage. You just may have to skip out on the heels when the snowstorms come around.

If the idea of walking everywhere is already exhausting, pay attention to the bus schedules. The PVTA app is a necessity for getting around Amherst, and you should always take advantage of free things as a college student. Be aware of when the last bus of the night leaves, so you don’t end up paying a 4x surcharge on Uber trying to get home from the bars.

When driving to campus, try carpooling. It’s good for the environment and your bank account. Park in the campus parking garage and then split the cost, or take turns driving if you all have cars.

5. Give economic partying a chance.

You may be shocked, but there are ways to save on alcohol without tormenting yourself by drinking Rubinoff every weekend. But then again, it’s only, like, 11 dollars.

Sorry to all Pub Thursdays lovers, but if you wanna save you should be avoiding cover charges. There are plenty of options that don’t cost $5, and let’s be real, you’re in Amherst, not New York City — why are we paying covers?

Speaking of bars, pay attention to their sponsored events. Many have discount nights where you can get discounted drinks or even free food. Also, keep an eye out for brand ambassadors. UMass has Bud Light ambassadors that literally stand around trying to give people tokens to get a free Bud Light at the bar. Remember: we LOVE free things.

If you’re continuing your partying over spring break, think about getting an Airbnb instead of a hotel. You can save a lot, especially at the popular travel destinations, and honestly, Airbnbs can be really cool. Try to score one that’s budget-friendly and Instagram-worthy.

6. Embrace student discounts while you can.

You’re a college student, so by definition you're the ‘student’ that most places (from museums to movie theaters) offer daily discounts to. UNiDAYS is an online discount network that shows you deals in pretty much any category you can imagine. Before subscribing to Spotify or buying a new romper at Urban Outfitters, look on UNiDAYS to spot ways to save.

The next thing I mention is probably my favorite way to save money ever: Pocket Points. Pocket Points is an app that students use to gain points to redeem at local business or online simply by locking their phone while in class. This is a two-birds-one-stone situation, people: improve your attention span and get buy-one-get-one-free entrees at Bread & Butter? Sign me up!

7. Need even more money but can’t fit a job into your schedule?

If after all that saving, you still need more money but don’t have the time for a part-time job? Become a young entrepreneur on your campus by using your skills to your advantage. There’s a lot of little things you can charge for, like doing other student’s laundry, tutoring or even fixing their broken iPhone screens after a long night out at Monkey Bar. Be creative, be smart, and pay attention when it comes to your money and you’re destined for financial stability. Or at least you'll have enough to buy a handle of Rubi.

Images/GIFs: 1, 23, 4