10 things I did to save money in college

It has been five years since I strolled across the stage at my university’s commencement ceremony and accepted my diploma. This piece of paper, which has proven to be the foundation for my professional life, signifies a journey filled with coffee, pizza, and sweatpants (because after sleepless nights and cheap, greasy food, regular clothes just aren’t comfortable).

Surviving college is about sacrifice. You have to give up the mentality that you know everything (because you’ll be humbled by your peers who know more – not to mention the professors), that your parents will cook you dinner and do your laundry (either you’re too far away for this to be a reality or your parents have cut the cord), and that you have a stretch a limited budget to maintain a lifestyle similar to what you had at home.

Here are some things I did to stretch my budget so I could live comfortably in college:

1. I worked. The hours I could work in college were limited because I played soccer, but I sought jobs that offered flexible schedules – and in college towns, they aren’t uncommon. I held three jobs simultaneously while playing soccer and keeping up my GPA. And, if I was working it meant I wasn’t out shopping…or buying a Starbucks.

2. I didn’t join a gym. For no additional cost (outside tuition), I worked out at the fitness center on campus which was packed with cardio machines and weights. And nearby, it had a racquetball court, indoor track, basketball courts, climbing wall, and pool.

3. I stopped dying my hair. I initially tried saving money on hair treatments by using boxed color, which turned out to be a mess in a lot of ways. So, for the first time in a long time, I embraced my natural brown hair and quit paying for color and/or highlights for my long, thick mane.

4. I made coffee in my dorm. Obsessed is how I would describe my relationship with Starbucks during my sophomore year of college. But, when I finally looked at my account and discovered that I was spending $150 per month on mocha flavored java, I broke it off.

5. I did full loads of laundry. I got over the diva-like traits of a typical high school girl who washed just one shirt to go with her outfit the next day. Instead, I saved money on detergent and dryer sheets by patiently waiting for my basket to fill.

6. I bought whole fruits and vegetables. Whole pineapples, watermelons, broccoli, etc… are so much less expensive than the ready-to-eat produce, so I quickly learned how to prepare and store my healthy goods.

7. I skipped the dry cleaner. I disregarded the ‘dry clean only’ tag on my clothes and washed the ones that needed extra care on the delicate cycle in cold water and laid them flat to dry. In other news, I also took up ironing and have figured out how to crease a pant leg that rivals the origami precision.

8. I went generic. Skipping brand names on items that are disposable like toilet paper, laundry detergent, and coffee filters saved me money on everyday items without requiring any extra effort from me. The one thing I can’t go generic on? Peanut butter.

9. I downloaded one song at a time. Spending an average of $13 per CD when I was really only listening to one song (I have a habit of finding one song and listening to it repeatedly for like a month and then moving on) was wasteful. $0.99 per song was a better way to feed my habit.

10. I multi-tripped. I planned my trips to Target around my work schedule so that I wouldn’t waste gas just making a single trip to the retailer without a different errand to run or obligation to fulfill.

I never said they were completely original, never-before-heard-of tips, but they do demonstrate this: we all face challenges, and when we find little ways to ease our burdens, it’s always good to share. Who knows? Maybe you’ll multi-trip now because someone else made you think about it….

Photo: That's me walking across the stage getting my diploma.