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How to Stretch Your College Dough

It's not how much you have. It's what you do with it that counts. Even if parents and aid keep you fully funded, you will thank yourself a million times throughout your life if you start practicing a frugal lifestyle now.

CollegeData's Top Money-Saving Tips

  • Plan. Call it a spending plan or budget, but make one now. Budgets keep your spending in check. See CollegeData's article Stay Afloat Financially at College.
  • Ditch the car. Use public transportation, ride-share services, or a bicycle instead of owning a car. The cost of car payments, upkeep, and insurance is a huge nonessential student expense.
  • Use credit wisely. If you want to use credit, get a low-limit card. Use it only for planned purchases or for emergencies. Never let anyone else charge purchases to your card.
  • Eat in. If you are on a dining plan, choose the most economical one and use it. If you are preparing your own meals, learn to be a reasonably good cook. Take your lunch to school. Shop the food co-ops and bargain aisles at the local market.
  • Resist "impulse" purchases. Delay such purchases for a week. Buy only what you can pay off that month. Have no shame about returning things.
  • Buy textbooks on the cheap. Buy used books. (Use BigWords.com to search for the best prices.) Purchase early, keep them unmarked and in good condition, and resell them as soon as the term is over. Growing alternatives include textbook rental and e-textbooks. (Try CourseSmart.com to locate available electronic titles.)
  • Pay your bills on time. Even a few late fees will seriously set you back. Plus, paying bills on time helps you build a good credit history, which pays off when you rent housing, buy a home, or start your own business.
  • Be a ferocious bargain hunter for items you need. For example, buy almost all your clothes on sale or at discount stores and thrift stores.
  • Set aside money for fun. You have to enjoy yourself.
  • Work. Work income adds up, even if it's a few hours a week. Babysitting and art or music lessons can pay well and also be rewarding.
  • Save and invest ten percent of your income. Your whole life is ahead of you. You need to build the resources to support it.

More Consumer Tips

Get smart with your phone. Join with family or friends to get a group cell phone plan. Use Internet phone access. Get free long distance or use cheap phone cards. Know your cell phone limits on usage and don't ever exceed them. Use e-mail instead of text messaging.

Stick with the basics. If you are signing up for services, such as TV in your dorm room, choose only basic packages.

Beware of spring break. Student vacations can be a big trap for impulse spending. Try taking your break close to home.

Ignore bargains on items that you don't need. Fifty percent off a $200 impulse purchase means you are still spending $100 you didn't plan on and probably don't have.

Keep your receipts and read them carefully. This helps you track your spending and ensures that you were not overcharged. Plus, many stores have limited return policies.

Keep an organized wallet. So you can find your discount cards when you need them.

Avoid late fees. Late fees are a complete waste. Don't give your precious cash to video rental stores, libraries, the parking department, credit card companies, etc.

Socializing and Entertainment Tips

Have fun on campus. You can enjoy movies, lectures, performances, and sports right on campus for little or no cost.

Join clubs. Get involved in campus activities: clubs, the newspaper, sports, drama, etc. Costs are usually low and you will get plenty of socializing and fun without a high entry fee. Carefully evaluate high-ticket social clubs, such as sororities and fraternities.

Learn the art of the cheap date. Cook at home or find cheap but yummy eateries. Go to parks and museums. Bike together. Volunteer together. Date people who appreciate your financial savvy.

Remember that vice is expensive. Enough said.

Socialize at home—even if home is your dorm room. Take a tip from your grandparents and learn a few group games. Did you know that lots of students enjoy playing cards? Bridge and penny poker can be great fun. Go to pagat.com for card game ideas and rules.

Find frugal friends. If your pals are big spenders, find new ones. Ditto for girlfriends and boyfriends.

Financial information provided on this site is of a general nature and may not apply to your situation. Consult a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.

For Students Age 18 and Older

Have you received a Personal Invitation to apply for a Student Credit card?

Learn how to qualify for a Personal Invitation to apply for a Student Credit Card


1st Financial Bank believes students who pick colleges wisely will also want to learn how to use credit cards wisely.

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