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There is no way around it; college is costly. If you’re like the majority of students, you’re probably not flush with cash when you enroll at your university. Even students with a full-ride scholarship still need to be conscientious about living expenses and other hidden costs. Here are some top tips and tricks — including some ideas about food, transportation, and no contract cell phone plans — to help you save money and budget during college. Follow all of these to earn an “A”!
1) Track Your Expenses
Finance gurus universally agree that tracking your expenses is one of the best ways to budget and save money. Mobile technology has made it easier than ever, and there’s no excuse not to know where your money is going. iPhone and iPod users can download Expenditure, one of the leading apps for keeping an eye on your money and your spending. The app lets you categorize your expenses (e.g., groceries, clothes, and electronics) and add notes to your transaction if need be.
2) Sign Up for a More Cost-Effective Cell Phone Plan
Speaking of electronics, make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck on your cell phone plan. Don’t get locked into a restrictive, expensive contract, either. Forbes recently found that no-contract cell phone plans were growing in popularity, as more people reported satisfaction with the choice and freedom a no-contract plan offers. You may be inclined to shop around a little, but know that T-Mobile consistently offers the best rates to students.
3) Be Smart about Transportation
Now is not the time to try to impress your classmates with a flashy ride or your racecar-driving skills. Don’t drive yourself into debt from car insurance bills or waste money on expensive gas when there are cheaper options at your disposal. Hop on your bike or grab a bus pass to get to classes. Many universities operate their own on-campus transportation, too, so you can catch a ride to the library or the student union after class. If you absolutely must drive to campus, set up a carpool with a classmate or friend to split gas money and parking permit fees.
Beer cans and bottles from last weekend’s raging party are worth something! Throwing them out in the trash is like throwing a fistful of dollars out the window of a moving car. Recycle cans and bottles and receive cash from your grocery store. Please note: check your local laws before you make a trip — this perk only applies to certain states.
5) Save on Grub
There are several ways to save on groceries and eating out. First, buy generic where possible. Generic products are usually sitting right next to name brands and offer significant savings. Unless you’re deeply attached to a certain brand (Chef Boyardee, anyone?) the store brand is usually just as tasty. Also, quit eating out. Spending $10 on campus at lunchtime quickly adds up! As you’re making dinner, cook an extra portion to throw in a Tupperware container and bring with you to school the next day for lunch.
Add the money you’re saving to an account and watch it quickly grow. Lastly, being on a budget shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a great meal with your pals. Instead of single-handedly hosting and financing a sit-down dinner party, arrange a potluck. Ask everyone to bring a dish, or even just an ingredient, to contribute to the meal. If you really want to wow your guests, grow your own vegetables and/or herbs.
6) Become an “Amazon Student”
The Amazon Student program gives you one year of unlimited free two-day shipping on textbooks and other items you might need for school. Take advantage of this program, as many of the best deals are found online.