22 May 2012

Strategies to Survive on a Student Budget

 College life is expensive, especially when a student is living away from home. In addition to tuition, the cost of textbooks, snacks, car services, clothes and entertainment can quickly add up. Luckily, there are many little ways to save, like using a grocery coupon or showing a college ID to get a student discount. The savings a student realizes over the course of a college career can go into a bank account to work toward a major purchase, such as a car or vacation, or be allocated to an entertainment fund for a nice night out with friends. This list of college savings strategies will get every student on the road to surviving on a student budget.

1. Invest in the Sunday paper

The weekend newspaper is often full of coupons for everything from food to shampoo. Spending $2 per week on a newspaper could yield several dollars' worth of coupons for household goods like laundry detergent, paper towels and all those other daily necessities parents are no longer supplying. Combine newspaper coupons with coupons for the grocery and rack up savings at the register.

2. Stack coupons with in-store sales

Many stores restrict the use of multiple coupons together, but college students looking for extra savings can still stack a coupon with a product already on sale, so check the discount racks first. Another strategy is to hold on to clipped coupons for several weeks before using them, since stores rarely put items on sale at the same time they release a coupon. They may, however, discount an item a month or so after the coupon goes to print but before it expires.

3. Harness social networking

College students are already well-versed in Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media networks, but how many of them use those networks to save money? Liking a business on Facebook or following them on Twitter means students will be informed of the latest promotions or sales. Check local bookstores, car repair shops, clothing stores or other favorite retail outlets for social media pages and get following.

4. Sign up for reward programs

Most grocery store chains offer free customer loyalty programs that give small discounts on many advertised products. Students who shop at the same grocery store frequently can save plenty of money by filling out a simple form and showing their loyalty card each time they shop.

5. Join group coupon sites

Even a poor college student needs a special night out once and a while. Signing up for group deal websites can help cut costs on everything from spa packages to workout gear, but they're especially useful for restaurant discounts. Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial frequently offer vouchers at half price, so students looking for an excuse to try that new Mexican restaurant or splurge on an old favorite won't have to dig into their savings to do so.

6. Save cans and bottles

Students attending college in one of the states that pay for recycling cans and bottles can earn some extra pocket change by holding on to all those soda cans. If a student's ambitious enough, s/he can set up a dorm- or apartment-wide collection program to benefit from their neighbors' aluminum and glass.

7. Cash in on student status

Before purchasing the latest smartphone, laptop or software program, check for student discounts at electronics stores, especially come back-to-school time. Many college bookstores work with electronics retailers to offer discounts. You really want to compare textbooks when possible to find the best prices. Some companies like Apple add in freebies for students, such as mail-in rebates on a new iPod or printer with the purchase of a computer. Movie theaters, museums, ticket outlets and national parks often offer student pricing as well.

Surviving on a student budget will take some planning but it can be done. Know where to look for deals, save every opportunity to save from retailer flier to grocery coupon and never be afraid to pipe up and find out if a student discount is available.

Contributed by Joe Baker
You can reach him at josephbker@gmail.com