How to Get To College on a Shoe String

The Young Lions Youth Organization helps Tampa’s low-income kids plan for college. College tuition is costly, and then there are all the other expenses that life throws you.  Rent, food, books, gas, and entertainment can add to large sums of money.

Every fall and spring, college students return to campus. It’s a time of excitement, anxiety, and empty bank accounts. How can you keep more money this semester while still getting the most out of college? Here are some suggestions for making college more affordable.



What Is the Importance of a College Student Budget?

According to the College Board, the average debt of four-year college graduates who took out student loans in 2019-20 was $28,400.

Students who borrow money to help pay for college owe an average of $30,000. When combined with rising interest rates, this amount of debt can take years to pay off. It can also stifle personal development and limit professional opportunities.

Fortunately, students can significantly reduce this potential financial strain by learning to budget while keeping their needs, limitations, and goals in mind.


Stretching a Budget

Follow these suggestions to make the most of a limited student budget.

  1. Find a part-time job.

It can be good to supplement your meager acorn stash by working part-time. College can be very stressful, leaving little time for anything other than studying. Fortunately, some on-campus part-time jobs are ideal for this lifestyle. Consider working in your university’s library, computer lab, or admissions office. It may only pay minimum wage, but you’d be getting paid to study, which isn’t bad.

  1. Make a Student Budget for College.

After you’ve crunched all the numbers, review your expenses to see what you can adjust or eliminate from your list.

For example, if you spend $50 per month at the movies and spend far more than you earn, consider cutting back on this “want” to balance your budget. Many people follow the 50/30/20 rule, which states that you should allocate 50% of your total after-tax income to needs, 30% to wants, and 20% to savings and other financial goals.

  1. Buy cheap food and make it last.

There’s a reason students are notorious for bingeing on ramen noodles. They’re filling, flavorful, and inexpensive. Add diced meat and a few vegetables to amp up the flavor, or leave out the spice packet (save it for another meal) and pile on the cheese for some comfort food.

True, you cannot live on ramen alone. However, you should refrain from blowing your limited student budget on four-star meals at the Ritz. Buy on sale, use coupons, and avoid impulse purchases. Sure, you can go out for pizza with friends occasionally; don’t make it a daily or weekly habit, especially if you need to stretch a little bit of money for an entire week.

  1. Join College clubs and societies.

Most schools have clubs or groups that students can join for free. This is an exciting way to enhance your college experience while saving money. One student spent more than a year in a dream analysis group, which led to a teaching assistantship. You never know what opportunities might be hiding in a group.

  1. Reduce small daily expenditures.

That takeaway iced caramel macchiato you have every morning before class does more than provide you with a much-needed caffeine boost. It also depletes your student budget little by little.

Try to keep your guilty pleasures to a minimum. Better yet, replace it with a less expensive habit. A glass of chilled tap water with lemon may not be as exciting or delicious, but it will save you money in the long run (and a few calories in the process).

  1. Lower your priority bills.

Lower-priority bills are nice to have but aren’t as important. Things like your cell phone, internet, and credit cards are examples of low-priority bills. These are still important and should be paid; they are just less important than the high-priority bills that cover your necessities.

Consider switching to a cheaper phone plan or transferring your credit card balance to a card with a lower interest rate.


Make Use of University Resources

Why waste money on something you can get for free?  Your school may provide free Microsoft, Adobe Creative Suite, or online learning subscriptions such as LinkedIn Learning to help with schoolwork and personal goals.

These are all excellent opportunities for you to pursue new interests and learn new skills that might not have fit into their course load. Many university libraries also provide students access to various databases to help them manage their coursework.

When you lose university access to these databases, they become costly, so now is a great time to take advantage.

Remember to take advantage of the campus amenities! Examine the fitness center for any free classes or trial memberships that may be available. Make sure you’re familiar with the various healthcare resources available on campus.

You might even be able to get free counseling services from the school!

They can also look into various scholarship opportunities! Many scholarships also include an additional stipend for food or textbooks. Spending some extra time looking for scholarships may be beneficial; there are still many financial aid options available!


It Will Pay Off Eventually

Though many students turn to their families if they are having financial difficulties, they must ultimately take steps to understand their finances and budget themselves accordingly.

It’s important to make the most of your student budget. Learn to live frugally, make wise purchases, and rein in those money-sucking habits. When you graduate and finally have some disposable income, you can feel comfortable treating yourself and your friends to the finer things in life. You’ll appreciate it even more for your patience!


The Young Lions are grateful to Steve Cuculich, and his company, Car Credit, for supporting their delinquency prevention mission in Tampa’s inner city.

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