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How to be Less Poor in College

 Written by    August 6, 2013

You know that saying, “You never know what you have until it’s gone”? Teaching us to be wary of our selfishness and appreciate the small things in life? Okay, you understand that; now, apply this to college.

Think about it: you’re the eager 18-year-old college student, filled with educational promise and prosperity, yelling with strangers and that one kid from 11th grade homeroom at football games;  “forgetting” about the promise you made to your parents that drinking alcohol wasn’t your thing but because that one super cool frat is having a party and everyone is going, you can’t end up as the designated-walker-to-the-dorms of the night.

Being away from home is scary and exciting, and you struggled your first couple quarters/first semester, but you stared Stress (otherwise, known as Chemistry) in the eye, and finished the year off strong with a redeemable 3.31 GPA. Not bad, for a freshie, and now you’re super excited to start your sophomore year. Plus, you don’t have to work this summer because your parents can just transfer money to your account like they did during your first year, right? Wrong!

Your parents are trying to save any little penny they can to pay for that $10, 000 tuition bill sitting in your student center school account. If that means neglecting music festivals, video game releases, or road-trips with old high-school friends, then neglect it you shall. But, what happened to the good ol’ days when shopping trips were frequent and Disneyland cruises were annual?

It’s confusing realizing that being in college all of a sudden restricts your normal spending habits. But, college is expensive. And, we knew that from the start, but naively assumed that with a couple of loans and three or four local scholarships, we would be good to go.

Unfortunately, unless you’re extremely brilliant and got a full-ride to the Ivy-league school that everyone wants to go to or that random school in Nebraska that no one has ever heard of, it’s not enough. So back to the proverb of the century: “You never know what you have until it’s gone”; this is starting to make sense. Those childhood years were great because mostly everything was free. Now, it seems like turning 18 means you’re of legal age to be fined for breathing. We never realized everything we had going for us until we virtually lost it all when choosing to go to school. But why should that mean that we have to continue being broke college students 7 years after graduation?

Good news: it doesn’t! There are tons of ways to save money in college and pay it all off at the same time. How, you confusedly ask? Hopefully, with the tips I have learned during my freshman year, I can wipe that confusion off of your face in no time!


Most students live in campus dorms their freshman year of college. You’re either walking, boarding, biking, or being the funny person who rides a child’s Razor scooter around campus. Nevertheless, it’s common to move off campus in your second or third year of school. So, here are ways to get to school without worrying about how much a flat tire will cost:

  1. Tony Hawk it to campus. Biking and boarding around and to campus may seem tedious because who actually loves to exercise?  However, it’s a great way to save money, get to class faster, and squeeze some cardio into your day-to-day activities without actually stepping foot in a gym. And just think, you will no longer be the person running with a backpack full of loose items, struggling to make it to your Art History lecture on the other side of campus because you overslept. No one wants to be that person.

  2. Hop on the magic school bus. In high school, I was always scared and embarrassed to ride public transportation. How else was I supposed to show off my shiny new car to my friends if they saw me impatiently waiting at a bus stop scattered with trashed? But I learned in college, public transportation is your best friend–rain, snow, or shine. For a measly $2- $3, you have to sit next to a stranger that you probably will never see again– easy as pie. Heck, some schools even have their own free school bus system. How do you like them [free] apples?

  3. Steal other people’s cars. Just kidding, don’t do that because you’ll get arrested. But what you won’t be charged for is making friends… and then using them for their A/C and/or car heater during those rough times of the year. Again, I’m half-kidding. Don’t use your friends, but carpooling with other people can save you gas money and your previously nonexistent social life. You get friends and a car to ride in; everyone wins!


Personally, I think food is great. What’s not great is how expensive it can be. Unfortunately, I ended up living off of ramen noodles and TV dinners, with the occasional fancy meal from McDonald’s every couple of months. This is great as it is inexpensive, however, I have found better ways to eat like a normal, healthy human being and still save money:

  1. Bulk it up, bro.  No, I’m not referring to lifting weights at the gym. I mean to buy in bulk. Chicken, rice, in-season vegetables, pasta, grains, canned foods, raw nuts. You can make one trip to the grocery store and come back with food for the entire week. Of course, don’t buy out an entire aisle, but just buy enough so that it will last.

  2. Be Gordon Ramsay. When I say to aspire to be Gordon Ramsay, I am referring to his cooking skills, not his cursing skills. Learn to cook! There are tons of websites and articles that can teach you how to cook a quick, delicious, and inexpensive meal without really having any experience at all. I have found that using the website StumbleUpon.com allows me to add some fun into cooking, as it randomizes websites you visit– hence the name Stumble Upon. Besides, you could be the next Gordon Ramsay, but hopefully more well-mannered.

  3. Coo-coo for cocoa beans. In college, coffee-lovers are everywhere. I hated coffee before college but learned to love it because it always helped me stay awake to type those Intro to Sociology term papers that I procrastinated on. However, Starbucks will definitely steal your bucks. An inexpensive alternative to buying coffee is simply brewing your own. Even though a coffee machine is seemingly expensive, it will pay off if you’re buying three or four $5 cups of coffee a day. I am not an avid coffee-drinker, but one of my great investments has been the Keurig Coffee Maker. Not only does it make coffee, but it can brew just about any hot drink you can think of!

  4. Free food. This is probably the easiest way to keep money in your wallet because it is literally free food. College campuses always have events and most of those events offer free food! You don’t have to place much effort into this option, just pick up your feet and go score a free dinner.

  5. Extreme couponing. You know that show on the TLC Network where the super-intense moms collect and cut coupons from newspapers and only pay $1.30 for a $93 grocery bill? Remember when you thought that was ridiculous, but now with an actual receipt in hand everything is blank stares and confusion because your $20 was only spent on Old Lady Oats and 1 pint of skim milk? And you forgot to buy bowls? As a college student, couponing sounds embarrassing. What 19 year-old wants to embrace motherhood without actually bearing kids? A smart 19 year-old, that’s who. You don’t have to be extreme, but couponing gives you a little extra money. After all, less is more.


Giving up clothes was, and probably is, the hardest thing you will have to do as a college student, unless you aren’t a shopping addict. Unfortunately, I am, but have discovered ways to shop smart without burning holes through my $60 pair of Levi jeans:

  1. Pop some tags. That’s right, thrift-shopping! Shopping for vintage clothing makes me believe that I’m more cultured than I really am, so this is like a dream come true for me. But for some, thrift-shopping is a no-no, because technically you’re buying someone else’s possibly worn clothes, and that can feel a little uncomfortable. Don’t be so quick to judge! Thrift-shopping is a great option because you can still get awesome clothes for a beautiful, cheaper price. Just make sure to wash your clothes with a little extra soap when you get home!

  2. Sew… how does this machine work? Learn to sew. When you get in touch with your creative and crafty side, you will surprise yourself of how many cool things you can do. You can alter clothes bought from secondhand-stores or make your own. This option might be a burden for some, as it requires some time and effort, but it will always pay off in the long run.


And, finally, the most important thing to factor in to help with all ten tips above:

Swallow your pride.

This is harder than it seems, everyone. College is not about being better than other people, or cutting out new things from your life; it is the exact opposite. If you like singing but have stage fright, try out for your school’s glee club. If you’re shy, attend the Dinner For 12 Strangers program or something similar.

I learned that college is about finding the things that scare you and facing them head on; this includes learning to handle and save your money. Personally, I cringe when I hear the terms “budget” or “finance.” For some reason, hearing those words forces me to realize that I am close to becoming a real adult who will have to participate in real adult rituals.

It scares me and my pride tends to get really protective of my dignity when fear is involved. However, the best way to overcome this is to look at and tell yourself, “Let’s do this.” Saving money doesn’t make you old or “dreary,” it just makes you responsible, which is something any person of any age is capable of being.

So, fellow college students, swallow that pride, be the responsible little flower I know you can be, and save some money.

Advice, fitness, Food, nutrition, Personal, Personal Events, Recreation, Relaxation, Stress, Stress Relief

7 Responses

  1. Auto dazymas says:

    I always try to be “less poor”. It is very actual for lithuanin students… Thanks for good ideas

  2. Great Post. Being at Uni means Im always looking at ways to be “less poor” god bless

  3. Andrew Birrell says:

    Lauren, it was very enriching to read your article and even though I knew the answer to a lot of the solutions provided the one, and most important piece of information given is about pride.
    Although I may never sow I can see that the dress pants in my closes with a 6 inch rip would love me if I did so maybe Ill be capable in the future.
    Furthermore, your information and explanation on pride I’ve found very true and I look forward to applying it to my life. Also, thanks for your courage to step out of your box and allow for others to benefit from the wisdom and understanding that you’ve been blessed with.

    • Lauren Lauren says:

      Thank you so much, Andrew! This honestly means a lot to me. I never really think that I even have the slightest impact on someone else, but it’s places a reassuring feeling of confidence in my writing, so really, thank you!

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