As a college student, saving money is an accomplishment that always seems so out of reach. It’s bad enough that societal norms make us feel like our worth is measured by the value of a dollar or that we have to pay thousands, nearly millions of dollars just to sacrifice more years of our lives in school in order to be financially secure or to have a decent job in the future. However, the idea of saving money does not have to be a daunting task. Recently, I purchased my first car with my very own money. I mean no financial help from parents at all. From this experience, I realized that the best part of the process was not that I had bought a car (a very cute, and fuel efficient one I might add), rather the best and most fulfilling aspect of buying the car was knowing that I was able to purchase the vehicle with money that I had worked so hard to save. Now for anyone working tirelessly to obtain their own metaphorical (or literal) "car" in their lives, I am here to offer up just a few short steps to get you started on the path toward your goal. Here are my 5 steps toward saving money in college.
Step 1: Set a Goal
With any long term task, the first objective is to set a goal for yourself. Whether you wish to purchase a car, take a much needed trip to a tropical locale, or simply want to get ahead financially, the first step of saving money begins with setting your sights on a particular goal and holding yourself accountable to seeing it through to the end. When I decided it was finally time to buy myself a car, the first goal I set was the price. I made a list and at the top of the list I wrote down the specific amount of money I was willing to spend. That was my goal. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. From there, I set out a plan to reach that goal by averaging the amount of money I make from my part-time job, plus the amount of money I would make by working more hours at said part-time job. Finally, I made a timeline for the estimated date that I would have the entire amount ready and waiting in my bank account.
Of course, setbacks will occur because life is unpredictable. During my saving process, there were many times where I had to “dip” into my savings in order to take care of pressing matters such as school demands. Instead of letting these events hinder my progress, I dealt with the blows and worked even harder to stay on track of my scheduled plan by working more hours and cutting back on unnecessary expenses. The bottom line is that no matter what, you have to see your plan through to the end regardless of temptations and obstacles. In the long run, you’ll thank yourself for not falling off track. Trust me.
Step 2: Buy in Bulk
For those who may live in their own place or simply live at home, but are responsible for their own groceries and other purchases, I highly recommend buying in bulk. Come on, let’s be honest. It’s hard enough trying to take out the time in your schedule as a student to even eat half the time, let alone grocery shop. Therefore, buying items in bulk saves not only money but also time. I recommend shopping at places that offer great deals at low prices such as Sam’s Club or Aldi and to buy the great natural fruits and vegetables. Trader Joe’s is a good place to go as it is a nonprofit market that offers so many fresh food finds at reasonable prices in large quantities.
To go that extra mile in pinching pennies, try investing the time to make your own favorite items at half the cost. For instance, trail mix is often outrageously expensive and may be available in small quantities. To save money, you can simply make your very own assortment of trail mix with items such as almonds, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate chips, peanuts, and even some of your favorite cereals like cheerios, raisin bran, or cocoa puffs. Personally, I found that buying the more expensive items like almonds and cashews at places like Aldi, a low price supermarket, is the best way to save money. By purchasing a few items at a local market and buying individual bags or even using a recycled container from an empty store bought trail mix (wink wink), you can personalize your trail mix exactly the way you like and have a healthy, affordable snack at your disposal at a fraction of the price that will always be readily available to you on the go.
Step 3: Avoid the Takeout Menu
An article from ABC News titled Real Money: Fast-Food Versus Home-Cooked Meals wrote that buying fast food is often not as fast and cheap as people tend to believe. In fact, they conducted an experiment in which the mother of the family they interviewed cooked a chicken dinner while the husband drove to their favorite and most frequently visited food joints just to measure the time each task consumed. The results showed that cooking dinner at home took less time to produce than going out to pick up takeout food. Additionally, the price of the dinner the husband purchased proved more expensive than the dinner that was cooked at home, coming in at only $12. Though this article is but a representation of comparing fast-food to home-cooked meals, the article helps raise awareness to the choices people make in their daily lives regarding spending and food.
Staying up late to write papers, study for exams, or even just to hang out with friends proves challenging on it’s own when it comes to planning out meals. Honestly, ordering food just always seems the easier route to take. However, it seems that ordering takeout proves less beneficial than we perceive. It can be costlier, more time consuming, and everyone knows it is far less healthy. If saving money is really a priority, avoid the takeout menu. I understand there will be days when those long nights hit and you find yourself finally finishing off that last paragraph on that term paper and the clock reads 11:45 p.m. Instead of picking up that phone, check out your inventory in the cupboard and see what you can whip up. Remember, you bought in bulk right? So get creative and try something new. Who knows? You could have fun with it and you’ll not only feel proud that you saved money, but you’ll be proud that you opted for the healthier choice. I call that a “win, win!”
Step 4: Shop at local thrift stores
Now who doesn’t love thrift shopping with it’s trendy, unexpected finds, one-of-a-kind threads, and unbeatable prices. Honestly, whether trying to save money or not, I don’t need an excuse to shop at the thrift store. The benefits of thrift shopping are extensive as you re-purpose clothing that would have been wastefully thrown away and thrift store clothing allows for individuals who are really into fashion to gain a leg up on bringing back old-school trends. This is by far the easiest step to follow for anyone, who like me, loves to take risks with style without having to sacrifice the growth of your bank account.
One of the most satisfying aspects of thrift shopping is that moment when a friend compliments your outfit before asking where you got it, and you can tell them without fearing that they will just steal your style ideas. Thrift shopping almost eliminates the chance of someone buying the same clothes as you because they often do not have items, especially those really uniquely cool items, in a large inventory like a department store would. Therefore, you can save while looking fabulous doing so.
Step 5: Have Patience
Above all else, the best piece of advice to give is to practice patience. Saving money can be extremely difficult when you’re faced with stimuli all around you saying to spend.This can come from your peers, the media, and a society which promotes a materialistic mentality. Waiting for your savings to grow feels like a snail’s race in a world that moves so quickly, but take a second to remind yourself what you’re saving for- that needed vacation, that down payment on an apartment, that car you deserve. Being patient will be rewarding in the long run and will make that one, big purchase you make taste even sweeter.Though only 5 steps, I hope these tools will help you with seeking direction toward starting your college-saving-journey. If these steps don’t personally fit your lifestyle, I encourage you to develop your own process and to stick with it until you reach that final, awaited goal.