Save money by thinking like a college student

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You could save a lot by returning to that frugal student lifestyle. | AP file photo

Remember that one time you spent four years living with roommates, studying around the clock and eating microwaved ramen?

While pinching pennies as a 20- or 30-something, maybe it hit you: You could save a lot by returning to that frugal student lifestyle. When you look at old bank statements from those school years, you might marvel at how little was spent on, well, everything.

But you don’t have to return to dorm life to save money. Just tackling your financial goals with a scrappy college student mindset may be enough.


While attending Rice University, Kay Rodriguez, now 25, lived frugally so she could spend on what mattered to her: travel.

“Travel is sort of my big splurge whenever I make one,” says Rodriguez, of Washington, D.C., who founded the travel blog Jetfarer. In college, she set up a high-yield savings account specifically for saving for travel . She also spent less on other items, such as dining and entertainment.

Today, Rodriguez is still selective about how she spends her money — and it pays off. For example, she says, “When my friends want to invite me out to a really expensive bar or a really expensive restaurant, I eat a pretty substantial meal at home first, and then I order something at the restaurant that’s a little cheaper.” That way, she gets to enjoy time out with friends, but still keeps her spending in check.


Next time you’re choosing a financial product, such as a credit card, loan or bank account, consider your options like a college student deciding which snack to buy at the grocery store. That is, do some comparison shopping.

If your bank account charges you a monthly maintenance fee, for example, see if you can get it waived. If not, switch to an account that doesn’t charge this fee. Paying for car insurance? Gather quotes from other insurance providers and see if you can find a lower rate. And if you’re paying off a high-interest credit card, try moving your balance to a card with an introductory zero percent balance transfer APR to eliminate that debt interest-free.


If you need to radically trim expenses, finding a roommate could be your best bet.

“It’s so much easier if you don’t have to pay for every single thing. You can split bills, split rent, split everything,” says Amanda Cross, 25, founder of The Happy Arkansan, a lifestyle blog for college women. Based in Forrest City, Arkansas, Cross writes about how to cut costs in college , among other topics. She lived with roommates while attending the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas State University.

If going halfsies on your rent isn’t an option, you still might be able to split some costs by, say, shopping for essentials in bulk with your friends or relatives and dividing the expense.


In college, “each of your professors will say that their class is the most important,” says Stephanie Kibler, now 31, founder of the blog Poorer Than You. “But it’s actually up to you to figure out what classes and what assignments in those classes really are the most important.”

It’s also up to you to prioritize your money goals, Kibler notes. And getting clear on what you’re working toward could help you save. If you’re paying off debt, for example, you could tackle your highest-interest balances first to save the most on interest. If you’re saving for retirement, you could lower costs by opening a tax-advantaged account and investing in low-cost index funds and ETFs.


Sorting out billing issues over the phone is a drag. But it could put money back in your wallet.

While attending Rochester Institute of Technology, Kibler had to drop out for two quarters for primarily financial reasons. But after leaving in the first week of the quarter, the university still billed her for housing, which she couldn’t afford.

“It was really scary to be a 20-year-old kid who just dropped out of school, to call back someone who was hounding you for $600, but I did it anyway,” says Kibler, of Fairfax, Virginia. By negotiating, she was able to work out a payment plan and avoid paying late fees. Later, she returned and finished her degree.

Today, Kibler’s practice with negotiation still comes in handy. “For the years after that, it’s been a lot easier if I ever have to call to get a late fee waived” on a credit card, she says.

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