Broke College Student Guide: Food, Budgets, Making Money and Having Fun

Broke College Student Guide

If you’re in college chances are money is tight. Most college students live on a shoestring budget and need to make the most of what they already have. Many students need to work part time just to make ends meet. Often, budgeting is also a source of difficulty for new college students – after all, it’s probably the first time you have to manage your finances independently.

Broke College Student Guide - Budgeting and Saving

In college, one of the best lessons you can learn is how to make your money last. Developing healthy financial habits can only help you in the long term. Sometimes you have to make concessions on the things you want, but overall, learning how to budget, how to save, and how to stretch a dollar will really have a long term effect on your overall financial health as you enter adulthood.


Food for College Students on a Budget

Broke College Student Guide - Ramen

Having a limited budget for food can be extremely problematic, especially since many college dorms don’t give students easy access to a proper kitchen (and eating out is usually more expensive than cooking for yourself). . The trick to being able to save money on food while you’re in college is to get creative with your meals.

Investing in basic appliances that can help you prepare food in your room can help you save money in the long term. At the very least, you’ll want to have a mini fridge, an electric kettle, and something that you can cook with like a small toaster oven or a rice cooker. While this costs some money upfront, if you actually use these appliances regularly, you’ll save a ton of money on food and beverages over the year.

One way you can get food for free on campus is to attend on campus activities – many official or club organized activities on campus will give out free food. Religious organizations in particular will host events that provide free food. If faith is not your thing, then try joining some clubs. Chances are, you can score a free meal at least once a week if you keep an eye out for events where free food is available.

Learning How to Shop for Groceries

How many times have you gone shopping for groceries and ended up with relatively little food but a huge grocery bill?

If you’re grocery shopping on a budget, here’s a few guidelines you should follow to get the most bang for your buck:

  • Stick to your budget. Don’t get sucked into buying something just because it looks good, or just because it’s on sale.
  • Make a list before you shop, and only buy stuff that’s on your list. Don’t get anything extra. Be disciplined with what you buy.
  • Food is actually quite cheap if you know what to buy. Stick to things that are filling and affordable – potatoes, rice, pasta and bread typically aren’t that expensive for the number of servings you get. Frozen vegetables are also really cheap. Buy odd cuts of meat that are less popular and more difficult to prepare.
  • The more processed or prepared a food item is, the more expensive it will be. Learn how to prepare meals with basic ingredients, and then just buy the ingredients – you don’t need to buy that pre-prepared tomato sauce if you know how to make tomato sauce from actual tomatoes, and you can usually get a pound of tomatoes for a few bucks.
  • Stay away from brand names and high-end produce. Buy generic brands, and don’t expect to be able to afford organic this or grass-fed, free range that. You can survive on non-organic vegetables for a few years.
  • If you’re really in a tight financial situation, you should consider couponing – there are tons of amazing deals on groceries out there if you know what to look for.
  • Don’t waste stuff. If you buy it, make sure you’re going to use it – if you’ve got too much of an ingredient, cook something with it and stick it in the freezer – in many cases, you can stick cooked meals into the freezer and they’ll keep for a while.

Some Awesome College Student Recipes

Here are a few of our favorite recipes for college students:

Dragon Noodles

8 Buck Lentil Soup

Ways to Upgrade Your Instant Ramen (This isn’t really a recipe, but it’s amazingly useful)

Make Money as a Starving Student

Broke College Student Guide - Students

There are a lot of ways to earn extra spending money as a college student. All it takes is a little bit of work and motivation. There are actually quite a few avenues you can take if you want to make money as a college student

Campus Jobs: Campus jobs are an excellent way to bring in some extra money. Campus jobs are convenient, willing to accommodate your class schedule, and they are often part time. The only drawback is that these types of jobs typically pay minimum wage. It is very difficult to find a campus job that will pay more than minimum wage, but something is a whole lot better than nothing, and most campus jobs aren’t that difficult – for example, if you’re working at an on-campus cafe, chances are you’ll have a ton of downtime that you can put towards your school work.

Freelance Work: Working as a freelancer can also be a good way to make money in college. It is really an excellent option for a college student, because you can set your own schedule and work on your own terms. Just pick a skill you are good at, fill a niche, and make money. You can do everything from freelance writing, to tutoring, to design or coding work – what you can do will depend on your skillset. All it takes is getting your name out there, getting clients, and doing business. Use your network to reach out and see if anybody’s looking for a freelancer.

Making Money Online: Making money online is another possibility if you’re looking for ways to earn money on your own terms while you’re in college You could start a blog, become a YouTube star or try to become an Instagram celebrity – what you do is up to you, but there are actually a huge number of ways that you can make money online these days. = Another way to make money online is to do micro jobs. Things like Amazon Mechanical Turk, Swagbucks, and Online Surveys are not huge moneymakers, but they do put extra spending money in your pocket.

The important thing here is to be willing to give up some portion of your free/leisure time – as long as you’re willing to put in a little bit of time and effort, it shouldn’t be all that hard to earn a little extra cash while you’re in college.

Save and Budget Your Money as a Student

You can get a lot of satisfaction by setting and sticking to a certain budget each month. Having a clear idea of how much you are spending each month and where your money is going is extremely useful – you’ll start to be more cautious with how you spend your money. Navigating campus life financially can be difficult since it’s the first time that most students are totally financially independent. However, if you manage to build good financial habits while you’re still young, you’ll find that you’re way ahead of the curve as you enter adulthood.

There are some really good ways to set and stick to a budget. Here are some quick tips and tricks:

  • Create a budget by making a comprehensive list of income and expenses. This will give you an idea of where all your money is going and gives you a chance to analyze which expenses you can do without and what you actually need. Also, make sure you create a reasonable budget to prevent overspending.
  • Knowing what you need versus what you want will help you live within your means. Needs always should come first and then, if there is money left over, you can focus on getting things you want or choose to save instead.
  • Keeping receipts organized will help keep a record of everything you buy and how much you are spending. This will help you accurately measure your budget so that there are no surprises. You can also use an app or create a spreadsheet to help you track your spending.
  • Being pessimistic with your Budgeting will help cover you if there are any surprises or emergency expenses. Being conservative with your income estimates is a good way to make sure you do not overspend. You can also inflate your expected costs a little each month – this will help you save, and will also give you a buffer in case you come across any unexpected costs.

Responsible Spending

Another important part of a maintaining a budget is to make sure you spend your money wisely. This means you need to take your budget seriously. Don’t spend impulsively, and don’t throw away your money on things that aren’t important to you Taking responsibility for your money in college has many benefits. It will raise your credit score, it will help you reduce the burden of student loans, and it will also cut down on stress and anxiety.

How to Have Fun on a College Student Budget

Broke College Student Guide - Fun

Being on a budget does not mean you cannot have fun. You can have a lot of fun without spending a lot of money; it just means that you need to get a little creative.

For instance you can use a daily deal website such as LivingSocial or Groupon allows you to get in on exclusive promotions. By using these sites you can plan a fun night out or take an affordable weekend trip away from campus without breaking the bank.

Another cool thing to take advantage of is your junk mail. Many companies send free circulars that highlight fun things at discounted rates. Things like a discount to county fair or coupons to your favorite restaurants can often be found in the mail or via email if you’ve signed up to some list.

Take advantage of student discounts – in the areas around a school, there’ll typically be a ton of places that offer discounts to students. Keep an eye out for student discounts in restaurants, movie theaters, museums, and performance venues. Take advantage of these opportunities, because once you graduate you won’t have the same kind of access to them.

As a college student there are often many budget friendly things happening on campus. On campus clubs and societies will host events that can be fun, or you could just settle in for a weekend’s worth of video games in a friend’s room. College campuses will often have free or very cheap live music, theater, or comedy that’s open to students. In fact, you can participate in these kinds of activities yourself – by joining acapella group, a dance club, or something similar. Supporting your college at sporting and athletic events is another reasonably cost effective way to spent time on campus. At the end of the day, you define your own college experience, and there are a ton of things that you can do on a college campus that don’t cost all that much.

Set Yourself Up for Success

College is really the first opportunity that you’ll have to learn how to be financially independent and responsible. Building good habits in college will set you up for life. One of the points of going to college is to learn how to live like an adult – and being financially responsible and knowing how to save and spend your money is a huge part of adulthood.

Learning how to budget properly, how to live within your means, and how to have fun without spending a ton – these are all skills that are as, if not more important as anything you’ll learn in class. If you’re finding it challenging to do everything you want to do as a broke college student, think of it as learning experience – for everyone who’s not a trust fund kid, typically financial challenges only get more difficult. Building good habits from day one will save you a ton of stress and anxiety as you grow older.


One comment
  1. Emerald Mcmakin

    November 17, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    During college, you want to live your life that is 2-4 years but you don’t want to have expenses either it’s due to lack of financial support or that you are already stretching thin because of all the fee and else and in that situation, it seems keeping your pockets free of cash and not spending on anything personal might be the only way but there are little hacks you must know and sometimes step over your toes to keep it going because you still have to make it to the end yet.

    Emerald Mcmakin


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