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A Beginner’s Guide To Being Broke In College

How to thrive in your squalor.

I knew living on my own in college was going to be difficult for me because I hate doing laundry, always forget to lock doors and hate ramen noodles.

But at the same time, moving in to my first apartment was a funny mixture of adulthood and pure childish excitement. The first thing I did was buy a bunch of groceries and then hang up an oversized elephant poster on my wall. I anticipated some homesick nights, lots of cleanup and a few roommate fights, but what I didn’t think of was how light my wallet was about to feel.


Whenever I’m trying to budget myself, I go weeks without buying anything and then ironically end up spending everything I’d ever saved on burritos, chocolate and Wheat Thins.

When you’re living on your own, you can get away without buying a few things—groceries is not one of them. Instead of bolting out every time you run out of peanut butter, plan to go to the store on one specific day each week. Also, you should have a rough estimate of what you want to spend.

Your health doesn’t have to suffer just because you pinch pennies. Skip the ramen and the fifty-cent cans of tuna that definitely make you sick (trust me) and study up on seasonal foods! Certain fruits and vegetables are on sale during specific times, so you’re almost always guaranteed to comfortably buy colorful foods.

Embrace Off-Brands

That box of Cheerios and that box of Oat Circles taste exactly the same but guess which one is cheaper? You might be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, but it’s worth saving a few bucks and won’t change your mind about your favorite snacks.

Speaking of snacks, don’t overdo it. It’s easy to go to the store and flounce around in the chip aisle picking out the Cool Ranch Doritos you’ll probably eat for dinner, but try to stop yourself. Look for whole meals and try to piece together options you’d like to eat as opposed to just snack on. Some good staples to have are potatoes, brown rice, pasta, bread, chicken and frozen veggies. Constantly having those in your kitchen means you can always whip up a substantial dinner—maybe with some Doritos on the side.

Going Out

This has got to be one of college students’ greatest weaknesses, because most of the time you don’t remember deciding to spend $50 at the bar. Drunk you probably thought it was an awesome idea and most likely paid for everyone else’s drinks too. Aw. How thoughtful.

To stop yourself from going all out every time you go out, don’t bring your card. Bars systematically set up ATMs everywhere, so once you run out of money but you’re still coherent enough to remember your pin number, they’ve nabbed you. Decide how much money you’re willing to spend that night and bring only that in cash. Give a friend you really trust your credit card just in case of emergency.

If you’re looking for more bang out of your buck, try drinking before you leave for the night. Drinks at a bar are going to be much more expensive than the ones you and your friends can make at home. But if you’re already out, order your drink without ice. It saves a lot of room in the glass and won’t water anything down!

Tons of people spend a good chunk of money on “drunk food” when they go out. This means Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Chicken and Waffles…anything is up for grabs on your walk home. In order not to break the bank on Big Macs, buy things at the grocery store that you know you’ll eat after a night out.


Let’s face it, freshman year you bought that $200 text book the day your professor told you to. Did you ever open it? No.

When your professor gives you the required text books, ask around to see if the class actually uses it or if it’s simply there to be helpful. Renting books is much cheaper, and even buying used can save you a lot of money. Scope around on your campus to see if anyone has their old book and ask to buy it from them. Chances are they’ll sell it to you for cheap because you each can relate to being broke. College students, unite!

When pulling all-nighters at the library don’t give in to temptation and buy from the little cafes and coffee shops around you. Brew your own coffee at home and bring it with you! Cafes are overpriced and overrated (duh). You can also grab a group of friends to study with and assign snack duty to one person each week. Trust me, gummy worms, Red Bulls and lattes add up to a hefty fine at the end of the year.

Bottom line is that it’s college and you’re going to be shelling quarters out on the store counters just to buy more toilet paper.

All you have to do is keep your wits about you and don’t panic when things get expensive. There are plenty of on-campus jobs that students can apply for that don’t interfere with academics and social life. If you’re concerned about your financial situation, don’t be afraid to talk to your advisor openly about it. They have people there to help you, show you some financial plans and put your mind at ease.

We’re all in the same expensive boat that is college. Don’t panic, just enjoy playing in the water when it starts sinking. We’ll arrive at our destination eventually, so make the most of it!

Happy saving and even happier spending.

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