If you’re a college student, you’re likely balancing multiple expenses – from tuition and fees to books and supplies. You may also have varying housing, food, and commuting costs depending on whether you live on campus or commute from a house or apartment nearby.
To learn how students are managing these financial commitments, we stopped by Central Penn College in Summerdale, PA, to ask their students for their best budget-friendly tips for students living on and off campus.
Manage Meal Costs
Even if you commute, you may find yourself on campus during common mealtimes, making it more convenient to purchase your food from the cafeteria. Some factors to consider when planning out your on-campus food costs include:
- Will you purchase a meal plan or credits that can be used at your school’s cafeteria? If you purchase a meal plan or credits to be used at your cafeteria on campus, you’ll likely see big savings by sticking to these prepaid meals rather than dining out.
- How much does a typical meal at the cafeteria cost? Whether you’re determining how much to prepay or planning to pay as you go, you’ll want to do some research regarding the average cost of meals. Do you have to buy items a la carte or are there bundled meals you can buy that include a main entrée, side, and drink?
- Are there days that your cafeteria is closed, and you’ll need to purchase food elsewhere? The cafeteria on campus may not be open every day. Check the schedule ahead of time so you know what you’ll need to budget for each month to dine elsewhere.
If you’re planning on dining outside of the cafeteria regularly, there are things to consider, as well:
- Can you pack meals instead of buying them instead? Buying items at the grocery store to make and take along with you can add up to big savings, especially if you’re able to use your student ID to get discounts at the local grocery store.
- How many meals a day are you planning for? Are you an early bird who needs a full breakfast to kickstart your day or do you prefer to grab a granola bar or banana for the road? Planning in advance can help guide you at the grocery store and in your budgeting to make sure you’re not buying food that will go to waste and are setting aside enough money to meet your needs.
Look for Ways to Save on Transportation
When considering transportation costs, you may think this is something only commuters who are in the car every day have to worry about. However, this is an expense students who live on campus must plan for, as well. Trips home or to visit friends on the weekend, as well as travel home at the end of a term can make a significant dent in your budget if you don’t plan ahead.
Whether it’s daily commutes or longer trips, looking back at your past semesters can give you an idea of how much you typically spend on gas, bus tickets, and any other forms of transportation.
No matter the nature or frequency of your trips, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Check out available student discounts. Many bus or train companies offer discount tickets if you show your student ID when booking. For daily trips, you can also check with your school to see if they have any agreements with local public transportation agencies to help you save.
- Take advantage of gas savings. There are many ways to save on gas. If you pass the same gas station every day, ask about any rewards programs they may offer. Savings of even a few cents per gallon can add up in the end. Additionally, it’s common for grocery stores to have their own gas stations (or partner with other locations) and allow you to earn discounts on gas as you shop for groceries.
- Carpool when possible. Taking your car off the road when possible isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for your wallet, as well. Talk to classmates to find out if there are other commuters coming from your neighborhood or other students traveling to the same destination for weekend trips or breaks.
Setting aside time each month to go over your previous month’s spending and what you’ll need for the coming weeks can be helpful in staying on budget, as well.
As you look at the coming month, students reminded us of the importance of making sure money for your bills is set aside before any leisure spending. Factoring these expenses as you plan your month will give you an idea of what extra activities you can afford to participate in, as well as make sure you don’t run out of money when your bills come due.
In addition to planning for the month ahead, many students wisely mentioned the importance of planning for long-term and unexpected expenses. One student recommended putting $50, or whatever amount you can, aside from each paycheck you receive if you’re working a part-time job. Having this money go directly into a separate savings account will allow you to build an emergency fund that can provide a cushion in the future if you run into an unexpected expense, such as a car repair or an emergency trip home.
Learn About More Ways to Save
Planning out your meals, cutting costs on transportation, and saving for long-term expenses are just a few steps you can take to get ahead of your expenses.
For more budget-friendly tips for students, visit psecu.com/learn.