Ready or not, the season of living at home, having your parents do your grocery shopping, and no homework is almost over. As universities across the world gear up for a new year, college students dread having to choose between barely edible food in the dining hall and getting tacos off campus with friends. And while it's exciting to be able to hit up your college bar again, those watered-down yet overpriced drinks catch up with you, draining your bank account faster than your bladder after “breaking the seal.”
Between textbook discounts, happy hour specials, and budgeting apps, it is actually possible to cut down on spending without cutting down on your social life. We did the work for you by finding five accessible ways to save some money, and all are student-approved!
1. Be realistic when it comes to cooking.
Are you someone who buys overflowing bags of fresh produce, just to have it go bad a few weeks later? Honestly, skip the produce section. In order to still get your fruits and veggies in, we recommend shopping in the frozen aisle, as frozen items can be stored and saved for future use. You have to be realistic about what you’re going to be spending money on.
Rachel Kirkwood, a junior at Tulane University, suggests trading the grocery store for smart, on-campus shopping: “I am not a home cook by any means, so I know that it’s more worth it to not buy groceries that will just sit in my fridge until they go bad. Instead, I use my meal points for breakfast, snacks, and coffee (the only palatable things in the dining hall) and go out to restaurants for dinner when I can.”
Many find themselves going to the grocery store excited to make a new dinner, but end up coming home and making the same chicken and pasta recipe that’s been made every day for the past two weeks. In that case, look elsewhere for your meals! Meal-subscription services such as Blue Apron or HelloFresh provide ingredients to make fresh, healthy meals that can be customized through their apps. Although this may not be the first place that many college kids would think to look for their meal, it actually provides an accessible and fun way to cook! For example, Blue Apron provides a two-person meal twice a week for about $23.90 per person each week, or $12 per meal. In my experience, the proportions seem a little large, and my roommate and I found ourselves having enough leftovers for another meal each.
Speaking of meal plans...
2. Find a meal plan that makes sense for you.
Many university meal plans can feel like a burden — something that is required, yet rarely gets put to use. Before settling on one meal plan, check out the options and choose the one that seems most realistic to you.
In addition, while meal swipes often make up a large percentage of a meal plan, many plans also have hidden gems (such as points to use at convenience stores or restaurants around your college town). Make use of these features, as they become a waste of money if they sit unused.
3. Download apps to help track money and spending.
Do you ever cover your friend’s meal/drink/Uber and feel uncomfortable asking them to pay you back? Apps like SplitWise keep track of all expenses and let you decide how you want to split costs, removing the middleman (you). You can connect it straight to your Venmo, so all you and your roommates/friends/family have to do is settle them on your phones.
Apps like UNiDAYS and Student Beans offer student discounts for anyone with a valid school email to stores like Apple, Rag & Bone, and Hunter, and Chrome extensions like Honey can automatically apply discounts to your purchases online.
4. Buy or rent used textbooks.
The worst feeling is to go into the required textbook section of your syllabus and realize that you’re about to spend upwards of $300 on textbooks that you’ll only use for one semester. But there are many ways around spending an exorbitant amount of money on books. First of all, rent used if possible! Unless it's a workbook, there is really no reason to buy a new book that costs so much more than the used version. At most college bookstores, they have the used version available, but if not, check out eBay and Amazon for a cheaper option (and do it ASAP, as many of the versions sell out). Before you settle on any version of the required reading, do your research, as most campus bookstores will price match. In addition, CampusBooks offers discounted prices on textbooks, as well as a buyback for the versions only available to buy at your university bookstore.
5. Take advantage of happy hours.
Another way to get more food for less money is to look out for happy hours at different restaurants/bars in your college town. Many of them have food as well as drink specials, and apps like Happy Houred and Free Booze track them so you don’t have to. You can even make it a group activity by making a shared document with your friends/sorority/dorm/club where all of you can add different happy hours in your college town. While many happy hours don’t last too late into the night, arriving even 15 minutes earlier will get you those half-priced tacos and margaritas or dollar oysters with a $5 bottle of wine. And while we’re on the topic of happy hour, bring a finite amount of cash to the bar (your wallet and liver will thank me later)!
6. Use Your Student Discounts!
From Apple to Hulu to your local coffee shop, there are student discounts everywhere you turn. Bring your student ID wherever you go and take advantage of discounts while you can! Get deals like 10% off laptops at Apple, Spotify and Hulu for $5/month, and half off Amazon Prime. Better yet, coordinate with friends and share — trade your two-day delivery for your roommate's unlimited Bachelor in Paradise for those much-needed study breaks.