Frugal Living 

How to Live Like a Broke College Student

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Empty WalletRemember the good ol’ days of ramen noodles and $5 cases of beer? Or how about those midnight cramming sessions where the only things you cared about was acing a test and that gallon of coffee next to you?

Most of us have moved on from those glory days (well, except for that gallon of coffee still next to us), but if there was one thing I learned from it all it was was this: I survived! And not only that, but I did it with a budget 1/10th of what it is today.

How is that possible?

Well, I was forced to. The Bank of Mom & Dad had done their part in helping out, but It was up to me to make ends meet and make sure I graduate on time. That meant long hours working at the dining hall, and even longer nights studying. It also meant not rolling with my friends (aka the Jones’) and hitting up Cancun every Spring Break 😉

How We Did It

Why am I not living like a broke college student anymore? Life happened, that’s what. A 40 hour work week, a pad closer to the city, and a new car payment happened. And don’t forget about that social life! A freshly degree’d bachelor can’t give up on all the fun, right? Right. It just took me a few years to realize there are better ways to live our lives than spending all our extra money.

Those raises and bonuses we get? They don’t have to go right out the window. We call that giving into “lifestyle inflation.” Lifestyle inflation jumps up and bites you in the buttocks every time!

Truth be told though, we can still get back to the glory days of spending less money and it doesn’t mean more instant noodles or macaroni & cheese. Unless, of course, you like that stuff (after all it IS pretty cheap!)

How to Live Like A Broke College Student

  1. Ask yourself, “Is this really worth the money”? Or better yet, “am I fine without this?” Contrary to popular belief, we really don’t *need* all that much. We didn’t need it in college, and we more than likely don’t need it now. It doesn’t mean you have to cut out all the shopping in your life, but a quick evaluation every now and then never hurts.
  2. Track your spending for a few weeks. Most people want to punch me in the face when I start talking about this, but it’s seriously one of the easiest and most productive things you can do. I like to think of this as your E-True Hollywood story – You *think* you know about your finances, but you have no idea! Haha…okay, so that’s a bit hokey, but I swear if you do it at least once you’ll have a better understanding of what’s really going on. And you don’t have to get all hardcore with it either – a simple “here’s what i spent and here’s what I earned this week” works just fine. Jot it down with a pen and paper, or simply fill out an excel spreadsheet from one of our budget templates a few of us finance bloggers have put together.
  3. Cut back in the places you care less about. Once you know where your money’s going, get rid of the stuff you can deal without – premium TV channels you don’t watch, the gym (*gasp!*), or better yet – downsize to a smaller home! This would work better if you rented, but if you’re not using up all 3 levels of that townhouse, why not save a few hundred and get a place half the size? Only you know what you care about, so give it some thought and start shedding the less important stuff in life. The good thing here is that we can afford to keep a bit more than we could back in our Freshmen years.
  4. Try not spending a dime for an entire week (except for bills/rent/etc)! I know it sounds crazy, but it was a huge wake up call when I tried doing this myself (actually, I did it for 6 weeks). I had no idea how many times I hit up, iTunes, or even the mall for that matter. One or two weeks of entertaining yourself free of charge is more doable than you think.

I could probably go on and on here, but I think you all get the point – it IS possible to accomplish life without spending hoards of money! Master the art of living like a broke college student now, and enjoy a healthier future with less stress and piling savings. I can’t promise it’ll be fun, but it’ll definitely help you sleep better at night….and without a gaggle of drunken dormmates to awaken to.

J. Money writes for Budgets are Sexy – A laid back finance blog of a guy just trying to spice things up a bit. He also finds budgets….well…sexy! If you like what you see, pop on over and say hello. Or better yet, subscribe to his future articles.

(Photo: kevincortopassi)

{ 28 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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28 Responses to “How to Live Like a Broke College Student”

  1. Chuck says:

    I went to college so I don’t have to live like a college student.

    • dilbert69 says:

      I got a high-paying job so I don’t have to live like a college student, but I find that a lot of my favorite things to do (read, listen to music, solve crosswords) are very low-budget. So I guess I’m fortunate.

    • Jessica says:

      So you didn’t learn to question the norm or be conservative with resources or think outside the box in college? Or invest? Or consider ideas sensibly from various view points and try and contemplate their possible value?

      I would ask for my money back.

      • Chuck says:

        I think you have missed the ironic intent of the comment. There’s no need to question the quality of my education or character. Would you have said that to my face?

        • Jessica says:

          Yes I would have, but I’m extremely bristling. My comment was also ironic in character. My point was that sometimes jokes like that don’t help the fact that many people, who did go to college, are still completely self-centered and wasteful. It would do our society good think about why we do things and buy things, as opposed to making ironic comments to exceptional (IMHO) articles trying help people see that they don’t have to practice this lifestyle inflation.

          • Chuck says:

            I agree with your point, and the article, but not your personal attack. I know this is the norm on the Internet, but I’ve found this blog to generally be a bit more respectful, which is why I hang out here.

  2. Leigh says:

    Great idea! Back when I was in school not only did I live on a lot less, I weighed a lot less. Unfortunately my waist line has expanded with my income. I did a lot more walking back in those days.

    • daemondust says:

      That’s something I definitely miss about College. I still walk to work, but that’s only about a mile each way; nothing like what I did when I was walking to work AND walking all over campus every day.

  3. dilbert69 says:

    One of the problems I have with tracking what I spent this week is that sometimes I buy more than a week’s worth of stuff. For example, I recently bought a jar of mustard at Safeway for $4.57. Today I found out Amazon offers a SIX PACK of the same mustard for $10.20, so I bought it. Does that mean I spent over a sawbuck on mustard in a single week? Technically, yes, but that mustard should last 3-6 months easily, and I eat a lot of mustard.

    One of my friends who is on a very tight budget got into an argument with her husband over whether the purchase of a three-pack of pasta sauce at Costco for a very good price should come out of this week’s food budget (his position) or out of the next three weeks’ food budget, since they consume a jar a week (her position and mine). I’m fortunate enough not to have to track things this tightly.

    • TheLovelyLadyE says:

      You gave me a good laugh. I’m still trying to tackle the big things and here you are with your budget nailed down to the MUSTARD. Keep up the good work 🙂

  4. Carla says:

    I have never been much of a spend thrift so its hard for me to relate, but I can always find ways to cut back whatever it is (I will never compromise healthy food though). Most things I like to do really dont cost much anyway.

  5. Rhys says:

    I do look back and think “How did I survive at University?” (I did have a horrible gambling habit as well), but I guess I did, because I feel like I had more money there than I do now!

  6. Shitty Truth says:

    I guess being smart and actually making money was a good idea after all…

  7. J. Money says:

    “I went to college so I don’t have to live like a college student.” This is true! Unfortunately some people tend to go overboard as the years pass though, so it’s worth a reminder every now and then that you can *still* do it if needed. If you’re totally happy with the way things are though, then by all means keep it up!

    @Rhys – guess I shouldn’t invite you to AC with me next week then 😉

  8. Jessica says:

    When I went from full time job to part time internship to finish my MLS, I was shocked at how little money I actually needed to survive. I couldn’t live like this forever unless I never wanted to retire, but it still is amazing how much the lifestyle creep gets to us without even realizing it.

  9. Well, I’m a college student now not living on ramen noodles… 🙂 Sadly, I went and got hitched to a military man who makes a decent living, unlike me, slaving away at two jobs, one that pays a pittance and the other that generates student loans like crazy.

    Though, the other day my husband said he’d totally live on ramen and spend our money elsewhere. (Cars, specifically.) It’s an interesting thought that we could try it for a month or so and see how it goes. Sadly, I enjoy eating out and would miss it… But it could be eye-opening.

    • Shirley says:

      ~ It’s an interesting thought that we could try it for a month or so and see how it goes. Sadly, I enjoy eating out and would miss it… But it could be eye-opening.~

      My daughter worked her way through college and the statement that I hear time and again now is, “I will NEVER eat ramen noodles again!” 🙂

  10. M.Wanzer says:

    “I went to college so I don’t have to live like a college student.” I think this is a true statement, but people go overboard with that mentality. I don’t think the author is saying live like you are completely broke (like the college days) I think he is more so saying that it is possible to show more restraint than we tend to once we graduate and have decent jobs. Plus, with the amount of student loan debt that people graduate with now, I think living like a college student is a decent idea until your are debt free or at least know what you want to do with your life. Most people graduate from college, go into a field and are not even that sure if they like it. Think about what type of life you want to live and what you need to do to create that life before you started the crazy spending. Just because you have it now..does not mean you won’t be paying dearly for a lavish lifestyle in the future, if you arent careful.

  11. Patrick says:

    It was great when I lived in college. I had no money, but I enjoyed my life and had tons of free time. Now that I work 40 hours a week, I don’t have much free time, but I have money.

  12. Observer says:

    30 years after being a broke college student, I am still living like a broke college student. Having a minimum wage income makes it easy to live like a broke college student.

  13. Good advice for college students and “responsible” adult alike . . .

  14. Dave says:

    Thanks for the advice. My girlfriend and I traveled the world and now are moving to, of all things, a college town. We definitely will be taking these tips along with our own college experience to live the cheap life.


  15. Dave says:

    Thanks for the advice. My girlfriend and I traveled the world and now are moving to, of all things, a college town. We definitely will be taking these tips along with our own college experience to live the cheap life.


  16. Jenn says:

    I had to smile on this one. Try not spending for a week? Clearly we’re just not normal. Since I decided to take advantage of my company’s work from home policy nearly a year ago, I normally only leave the house on the weekend. We live 20min from the edge of town and the nearest store or restaurant so shopping doesn’t just happen by accident. The kids use the school bus and take their lunches – no cafeteria food. My husband commutes to the edge of town and then takes the bus into downtown, and takes his lunch. Monday-Friday there is normally NO spending. Every Saturday we head out to do groceries, gas up the car and enjoy our once a week takeout coffee. Yup, we’re wild spenders! That’s it for this week’s spending – if we’re excluding mortgage, utilities, groceries and gas, then all we spent was $3 on coffee. Our grocery budget seems high at $200/wk (we have a 15yr old son/eating machine…) but otherwise I think we may already be living like broke students.
    For many years we spent on restaurants and furnishing our home. I guess that just lost it’s appeal and other things are now more important and it just goes against my nature to spend on anything unecessary. I see every potential purchase as lost travel dollars. In return for choosing to live waaaay below our means we are able to travel extensively with the kids and are plotting an early retirement. So I guess to be successful on the “Try Not Spending for an Entire Week” challenge, we’d just have to skip our Saturday $1.50 coffees.

  17. Chris says:

    I went to college so that I did not have to live like a broke college student also. However, I found out that I made more money each year in college than once I got my fancy desk job. But hey, I have medical insurance and paid vacation now.

  18. aua868s says:

    i still pick up the lowest cost bread from the supermarket shelf…a habit which started in college…still can’t let go off it!

  19. asaus868w says:

    Easier money.

    I earn money the old fashion way by staying at home and doing random surfing and it doesn’t hurt at all.I must say that when I first went to the Swagbucks website, I was a little confused and somewhat skeptical. It mentioned things like being a “premier rewards site” and a leading online search engine. But if they were a search engine, then how does one generate the rewards from? And why have I never heard of them? Well, it turns out that Swagbucks is indeed pretty legit.

    It’s amazingly simple. You just sign up and you can either go to their website each time you want to gain points for surfing the web, or you can just download the Swagbucks toolbar and do your searches from there.

    Then each time you do a search using the Swagbucks search engine, you gain Swag Bucks which are good towards a wide variety of prizes, including everything from GPS systems to memorabilia to gift cards to actual cash via PayPal.

    During the writing of this review, I installed the Swagbucks toolbar on my computer at home. At the completion of this review, I had already gained 410 Swag Bucks! Now, I’ve only got 40 to go before I can get a $5 Amazon gift card!

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