Close up of shopping basket with can of soup and flavor packets in grocery store

How I Survived on $15 a Week

With smart budgeting and a few tricks, stretching your bank account till payday never seemed so doable.

Most college students, and twenty-somethings in general, know the pain of realizing it’s a week until payday and your bank account is completely dry. We’ve all been there–spending money wildly over the course of a couple weeks until realizing that you only have $15 left in the bank and there’s still a week yet to be lived until payday.

So, what is a person to do? If you are looking for answers, are in desperate need of advice or just want some cheap entertainment, you’ve come to the right place. Over the course of this past week I took it upon myself to live on only $15, and I sure learned a hell of a lot. So, sit back, relax and learn how to live on only $2.15 per day, as I learned myself for the first time.

You Don’t Have to Sacrifice Nutrition

The old “poor college student surviving on only packets of ramen” cliché is so outdated. The first thing a financially struggling student needs to learn is smart grocery shopping. Bargain grocery stores, such as Aldi, offer amazing selections on dry goods, produce and meats at a fraction of the cost of big box stores like Walmart or Target. Try checking out your local low-cost grocer–oftentimes, they have online ads that make shopping on a budget simple and essentially pain-free.

Once you get there, make sure to make a beeline to the refrigerated section. Cheap grocery stores like Aldi sell essential foods like eggs at an extremely low cost, typically coming in around $0.45 for eighteen large eggs. Eggs are one of those superfoods that can be made into almost anything and can be boring, but are packed with necessary nutrients to keep a student trucking through a week from hell. Since eggs are so cheap, doubling up on cartons is a great option since they can be added to a myriad of dishes, as well as being eaten alone.

Picking up some cheap veggies like peppers, onions or greens (check local ads for sales) can help you throw together a fantastic omelet or colorful scrambled eggs that are not only cheap and filling, but so much healthier than ramen or whatever drive-thru options you might normally go for. That being said, if ramen is a readily available option at home, cracking open an egg along with some extra ingredients, like garlic powder or hot sauce, adds a nutritional and flavorful depth to typical noodles that make for a tasty, non-basic meal.

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But, back to shopping; don’t overlook the local dollar store. Many dollar stores–my personal favorite is Dollar Tree–offer small grocery sections that often house hidden gems that are filling and half the price of typical grocery stores. Picking up a bag of rice can add depth to a seemingly boring meal or can pass as a late night post-drinking snack. When looking at the fridge or cabinet at foods already inside, don’t overlook some of the smaller staples. Peanut butter, honey and bread can combine to make a fantastic sandwich or breakfast treat, while pretzels and peanut butter are a filling snack that won’t break the bank. In short, don’t look over small stores and blow your budget on name-brand foods. Supporting local, small stores not only helps local business but keeps your budget in check and saves you the hassle of counting pennies and dimes by the end of the week.

Your Social Life Doesn’t Have to Suffer

Especially now in summer, college students are all about drinking, partying and socializing with friends. Even if drinking isn’t one of the activities your friend group enjoys doing, it seems like everything fun costs money. This may be true in many cases, but it doesn’t have to always be this way, as long as you think smart and snoop around. In many college towns, movie theatres offer deals on weekdays that slash prices down to $5 or possibly even cheaper. Now, this does cost a third of the budget for the week, but saving money previously while grocery shopping can help ease your mind, as long as you’re comfortable and smart with your budget. Even recreational games, such as bowling, often have student nights or discounted days where costs are cut.

To go completely frugal, try inviting friends over for a big movie marathon potluck. Delegating snacks, drinks and other treats out to friends while hosting a big middle school-esque sleepover not only saves everyone money, but can be much more fun than any regular movie theatre or gaming location. For those barflies that don’t want to sacrifice drinking or their social scene, keep an eye out at your local bars. Many bars in college towns offer drink deals during the week and weekends during the summer to keep up business since not many students are in town.

Checking out bars that a student has shirked before could open a door to new opportunities, new friends and cheap beer. Hosting a drinking game tournament can help someone mooch off their friends, an old trick used by many when soliciting drinks being the “help me I’m poor” tagline. As for the ladies, it may be sad but true, but use your incredible beauty to finesse boys out of a drink or two. Or, challenging a man to a chugging or shot contest can usually result in free drinks, so long as you are safe and always watching your drink.

Be Smarter with Your Money

Overall, use the advice above to learn for yourself. Over the course of a very, very frugal week, I pretty much just laid in bed or did online homework. Seeing friends out doing fun activities made me extremely jealous and angry at past Keegan for choosing to spend her money so poorly on dumb purchases. So, learn from my mistakes. Using my tips and tricks to stay on a budget can apply to students when they just got paid as well. Instead of spending the money you’ve worked so hard to earn all at once, save it up by shopping smarter or having a fun sleepover at home with friends. And, with that money you saved, send me a couple dollars since I gave such fantastic advice. You’re welcome.

Keegan Fornoff, Southeast Missouri State University

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Keegan Fornoff

Southeast Missouri State University

1 Comment

  1. I think that the most critical part of structuring your finances and optimizing savings is just having a plan. you have to get everything out in front of you so you can make smarter decisions. Once you do that, then implementing your disciplined savings strategy becomes critical.
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