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The Aggregate Guide of Frugal College Habits

Written by admin, Monday, June 16th, 2008 in Finance

Let’s face it, a lot of us are poor. Well, not eat-off-the-floor poor, but the vast majority of us aren’t rolling in cash, and many of us find ourselves in a position where we have to find money- and manage that money well lest we starve. And, as our forums show, many of us are college students with one big issue: Money.

So, in the interest of answering some questions and collecting some ideas, here’s a quick list of habits that will help you survive college life without major debt. Unfortunately, no answer will make your tuition debts completely go away, but… we can imagine.

Basic College Life

  • Stay in a school that has what you want: remember, it’s not much different than hiring a service. Don’t get caught up in the concept of sticking at a school because of arbitrary means (such as “I like the name” or something like that). Remember: You are (probably) paying an exorbitant amount of money to attend- work hard for what you want, and if it’s not what you want, go somewhere else.
  • Be wary of clubs and organizations. Don’t hide from them by any means, but some groups and organizations on campus (ESPECIALLY Fraternities and Sororities) expect dues to the tune of $1,000 USD or more. Either prepare for it or stay far away.
  • Avoid going out to bars. Trust me, even if you like that scene, plenty of parties will have free beer in one form or another, and you don’t need the alcohol THAT badly. Modern bartenders take your credit card hostage and charge like there’s no tomorrow- they do so for their own safety, which is fine, but it also keeps you from realizing how much expensive crap you’ve guzzled down.
  • Get good grades and keep out of trouble. You will be eligible for school-sponsored scholarships if you do- stuff that can knock the price off significantly.
  • Become a “Scholarship Whore”. Apply to everything you hear about. While it’s taxing, you can do it in your free time. Who knows, you might get something.
  • Take the PLSAT/PGMAT/Whatever as much as possible. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out your scores, and it’s a good way to figure out where you stand for both graduate school and some of your college strengths. Expect it to be rough- the PLSAT is roughly the equivelant of mental molestation, and the PGMAT even more so- but you need to take it. Most colleges let you take it for free.
  • Stay off of JuicyCampus and other gossip rags. Some colleges have been known to severely punish students for doing such things.
  • Avoid excessive spending. You do not need a 50″ plasma screen in a 10’x10′ room. Similarly, you do not need to walk around in the latest fashions driving a Porsche. Most people in college are too busy to care.
  • Take advantage of free stuff on campus. Often, colleges will hold various free seminars and functions for students. This can range from being able to hear a famous speaker to getting a 100% free Flu shot. Keep your eyes peeled.
  • Network like crazy. Your first job may come from someone you met in college- so don’t dismiss the idea of talking to everyone you can and networking with as many professionals as you can handle. Even taking business cards is a good start.

Class Tricks

  • Figure out your Library policy and abuse it. Taking an English class with 20 books and you have no money? The Library will probably have copies- and some older texts can be found online. Similarly, services like JSTOR and LexisNexis are usually free on student networks- abuse them if you can.
  • Mass Print in “Fast Draft” mode. If you have it, use this mode for any/all required readings you have to print out. Your printer will thank you when it doesn’t have to chug out 300DPI scans of some stupid report (I know this, I killed a new printer in under 6 months doing this).
  • Even if you feel academically confident, still use free tutoring services. If you have the free time, why not? It’s free lessons. Double up the time someone’s instructing you on a subject you are poor at and you have a hell of a lot better chance of passing. On many campuses, it’s free.
  • Re-use notebooks or use loose leaf, if you can. Don’t waste the money to buy a huge notebook just to constantly scrabble “This Professor Is An Idiot” all over the first three pages to never use the notebook again.

Food/Drink Tips

  • Hungry? Find a party or a gathering and feign interest. The moral nature of doing such a thing is questionable, but crazy political interest nutcases can make a good burger.
  • Cut back on the Soda, Red Bull, and Vitamin Water. It’ll make you fat- even Vitamin Water (check the label if you don’t believe me). The worst thing is, that kinda stuff tends to make you jumpy and retarded. From personal experience, studying and drinking nothing but Red Bull (and eating Gummi Worms) for two days straight gives you Kafka-esque hallucinations.
  • You can go cheaper than the cafeteria. Most upperclassmen learn this quick: get the minimum meal plan and buy stuff on your own. Cafeteria food gets old, and it obviously is kinda pricy for what you get. Cans of soup, sandwiches, and similar items are equally as tasty and are much cheaper. Hell, if you live off campus, brown-bag it.
  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol if you can avoid it. Yes, it sounds prudish, but that stuff is insanely expensive.


  • Living off campus may be cheaper in the long run. Do some searching when such an option is available- as crazy as it sounds, it may be cheaper to share an apartment with some friends (or even go on your own) rather than staying in a dorm.
  • Fight for a dorm room you want. Many colleges charge roughly the same for a triple, double, and single dorm room, so fight for the one you want. Raising hell, within reason, can result in nice extras.
  • Mooch. If you have roommates, more than likely they will have various other things you may need- such as televisions, new video games, etc.- if you split up the costs in the long run, everyone will have the same enjoyment without the high costs.
  • Use the Library for movies and games. Check your library- they may have more interesting things than you think. Many Professors seem to have a love of modern movies (mainly for “teaching”, in the loosest term), so many libraries stock up with the newest films. It’s a lot cheaper than renting.
  • Keep the place clean. Damage bills can be ridiculous.
  • Make friends with the IT guys, if you can. Please an IT guy sufficiently and you will magically find yourself with more bandwidth and more blind eyes to your browsing habits.
  • Carpool. Don’t go off on solo trips if you can. If you live in a dorm, no doubt some friends will need food too- everyone can pitch in for gas and collectively save money.
  • Be frugal about laundry. Many articles of clothing can admittedly be worn multiple days- and when you do laundry, avoid using tons of detergent.

General Finance

  • Lock your credit cards away. If you play your cards right, there will be few times you will genuinely need a credit card, especially on campus.
  • STAY AWAY FROM ON-CAMPUS LENDING GROUPS. If you do decide to utilize them, be CAREFUL. Many of these groups are rather predatory, meaning if you are too loose with your funds they will tear your credit history to shreds before you even graduate.
  • Read the terms of the “Campus Cash” (or equivalent) deals. Many colleges allow you to place money on your ID card for miscellaneous purchases, such as for drinks and the like. Some do not allow this money to “roll over” to the next semester/year. If that is the case, either put as little as you can on there, or buy everything in sight right before the year ends.
  • Shop around for financing options for your tuition loan. Various states offer different things- even the federal government gets involved on occasion. Shop around.

Getting Extra Cash

  • Sign up to be a tech adviser/repairman on campus. Trust me, they don’t need A+ Certified pseudo-geniuses- most campuses hire general “Dorm Techs” to do the basic work (like plugging in Ethernet cables). You can be paid for this.
  • Find a job in your major department. This is the ideal- not only do you get money, but you get offhand learning experience AND the opportunity to bond with your Professors.
  • Find a job ANYWHERE on campus. Most colleges will hire you and then work around your class schedule, which is amazingly great.
  • Do miscellaneous things for students on campus. One of the brightest ideas I’ve heard in a while is that the makeup group Mary Kay is hiring girls on campus to sell to girls on campus. That’s a money machine. While I doubt you can go around hawking makeup, there are many similar things you can do.

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2 Responses to The Aggregate Guide of Frugal College Habits

  1. Tarsier says:

    You can eat for free 4 nights a week if you keep track of campus event. Also, a lot of psych departments do paid surveys. Keep an eye out for fliers because you can often make out with small cash. Also, sometimes “campus cash” is awesome. My school has a great cafeteria with a buffet, and with our on-campus money it’s only 3.00 per meal (as opposed to 6.00 without the campus cash). I’d advise any freshmen to read the terms of service, but take advantage of it if you can.

    Thanks, Kirk, this is extremely useful. Now if only you could write up one of these about finding a work study.

  2. Cameron_chrysler@yahoo.com says:

    What about getting a job during college? Any suggestions/tips?

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