I recently got a question from a college reader friend (I love my college crowd!!!!), Erin, that I thought I'd share with you. Here was her question:

Q: Hey Jordan 🙂
 My name is Erin and I'm a 20 year old college student. Part of my New Year's resolution is to become more finacial aware and responsible. Some of the things I am going to start doing are keeping my receipts for the month to see where I spend the most unnecessary money, try and use coupons as much as possible, buy off brand, make things such as cleaners, bread, etc from scratch, buy clothing items on sale, and just overall trying my best not to spend money! Ha! Other than that do you have any tips?

Do I have any tips?
Do Zebras have stripes?! 
I was so excited to help with this one.
Here was my response:

Hello Erin!
Thanks for your question. I am so proud of you and my other college-going FCF readers for your interest in saving money!! I absolutely love your plan and ideas for saving money. You sound like one smart, responsible cookie 🙂

My first question is, where are you going to school? Cost of living varies so much from city to city so I will try to be as general as possible to hopefully help with your specific situation. Do you work? Or are you living off of student loans? If you have any specifics you'd like to give me after reading my suggestions, I'd be happy to tailor ideas more specifically to you. 

That being said, here's what I came up with for now:

  • I love your idea for saving receipts. I'm a big believer in that! One suggestion I have is to plan a budget to begin with FIRST, then work and adjust from there…rather than to spend whatever and then go back and try to figure out where things went. Each month could be completely different spending-wise depending on what goes on (trips home, holidays, whether you are dating someone or not, if you're working or not, credit load, etc.) so it's nice to have a plan in place beforehand. 
  • What I do is set an overall budget for myself that includes everything (bills, fun money, groceries, etc) and keep track of my spending on an envelope. I always keep the envelope with me in my wallet so I know how much I have left for the month. Click HERE for a tutorial on how I do it. 
  • For you, I would maybe recommend doing a cash budget. While it's nice to build up credit in college, it really helps prevent over-spending – which is more important at this stage of life. 
  • If you really want to build up credit (not a bad idea if you have great self-control), just get a credit card for your tuition/rent/books ONLY – no spending otherwise. Then pay it off immediately. As for the cash, use it for your other expenses. You can allocate a different budget for different things and keep them in individual envelopes. 
  • For example: eating out/fun money (activities, eating out, shopping, etc), bills (rent, loans, utilities, etc), groceries. Keep your budget for each in a separate envelope. Once the cash is gone, it's gone! Keep a running total of what you've spent and where so you know where you're at as the month goes on. You can tweak for the next month if you find that you gave yourself too big of a budget for one, or too small of a budget for the other – but try to keep things realistic.
  • I recommend having multiple bank accounts. This will help you organize your money, pay off debt, and…(see next tip…)
  • Build up your savings. Stick at least 10% of your paychecks into savings and you'll have a nice little nest-egg when you graduate.
    • Try to find a good deal on housing. Where you live is important, but not so important that it should drain you of all your resources.
    • Take advantage of student advantages!!! You get discounts basically ANYWHERE you spend money, not. even. kidding. See HERE for my post on this.
    • Buy used books, calculators, and anything else you can. My college sold used books, as well as local book stores in my college town. Amazon and Ebay are examples of online resources. If you ask around or look online, you WILL find what you need, I promise! Yard Sales are great!
    • Try not to buy things on campus. At my school, anyway, things were ALWAYS more expensive (which is annoying to me because as students you should be getting DEALS, right?!)
    • Yes – buy off-brand and shop sales. If you need clothes, start at stores that sell gently used clothes, buy off-season, shop clearance sales, or simply trade with your roommates or friends!
    • To save on food, cook whenever you can. Eating out is expensive! I had friends in college that would eat out every day. It KILLED me to see how much money they were (literally) flushing down the drain. 

    I had so much more “fun money” by doing these things:

    • If you do eat out, never pay full-price. Always check for a coupon using daily deal sites (click HERE for my list), or restaurant.com for example. You could also go out with girlfriends and split a meal. Just try not to pay full-price for anything, especially food!
    • Be smart with grocery shopping. Not that you would spend a ton of time/money on groceries (I sure didn't in college; I basically lived off of rice and pasta), but try to be frugal about it when you can. 5 quick tips to save you thousands.
    • Do you have a Walmart nearby? I like to Price-Match there. Click HERE for how I do it. 
    • Plan our your meals. Keep a list of 5-10 easy and cheap meals you can make that you try to keep the ingredients for on-hand (spaghetti, sandwich fixings, grilled chicken and frozen veggies, tacos, etc.) 101 easy things to make for dinner list.
    • Try to keep quick and healthy snacks on-hand in your apartment so you're not tempted to over-pay on campus or at work. Always pack food and snacks with you, even if you think you won't be hungry. 
    • Don't waste food! If something looks like it's going bad, freeze it. If you think it can't be frozen, try it anyway. If it tastes gross when you thaw it out, throw it out…at least you tried 🙂 You'll be surprised at what you can freeze.
    • Buy a few key kitchen appliances, and USE THEM. My life savers were: crockpot (absolute must! you can find these a thrift stores, or you can buy them new for pretty cheap), George Foreman grill (a small one), and a rice cooker. I know it's easy to cook rice, but mine also steamed veggies so I could turn it on, study for a while, and come back to a completely cooked meal.
        • Click HERE for some of my favorite cheap and easy recipes.

    I love your idea to get crafty and creative, and to create things yourself. More power to you! Here's my take on it though…

    • Balance, balance, balance. You don't have a family to clean up after yet (right?). At this stage the money you would spend in buying the materials to make your own cleaning supplies and the time it would take you, most likely wouldn't make it worth it. I say definitely buy cleaning supplies (from the dollar store, even), but maybe split the cost with your roomies if it's a lot of cash up-front. 
    • Buy bulk at Costco if you can (cleaning supplies, food, whatever!). It will last you literally FOREVER. Split the cost, or just figure it's an investment; you buy it once, put your name on it, and pack it with you from apartment to apartment (I moved around a lot). Take the easy route on this one is my vote! 
    • I love your idea of making bread from scratch. Once again though, bread is only like $2 for the good stuff. Stock up when it's on sale and stick it in your freezer
    • Don't make things from scratch; buy it cheap and spend your extra time studying and getting the most out of your college experience. Worry about baking bread when you've got more time on your hands. You are paying a lot to be there, live it up! The $1 it will save you probably isn't worth your time. simply in my opinion! When you have a family someday, totally. But for now, buy cheap bread, and just don't let things go to waste, and maybe bake a few loaves here and there on a Sunday if you have extra time!

    However…feel free to get creative with lots of other things:

    • Plan cheap/free dates and get-togethers rather than spending money going out to eat or going to movies. 
    • Find ways to reuse old clothes. 
    • Try to sell back your books; if your college doesn't buy them back, try to sell them on Ebay or other sites…there are a ton of them! Just google it. 
    • Don't have time to get a job? Make one! Tutor people, clean apartments, cook for guy friends for a small fee. If you need more money, just get creative…but don't spread yourself too thin. Getting an education is your number one priority right now!
    • Exercise outdoors and in your apartment rather than getting a gym membership.
      • You do NOT HAVE TO DRINK TO HAVE FUN in college!!!!!!!!!!!! I made it through college without drinking one single drop of alcohol (and have still never touched the stuff to this day) and had the best time of my life. I was rarely in bed before 4am, dated non-stop, and had the time of my life. Good, clean, fun is STILL the best kind! (and cheapest 🙂 Get creative and have fun in other ways!
      Here's how I had fun for cheap:
      (yes, I had a ton of fun looking through old college photos!!)
      I had lots of part-time jobs. My favorite was working as a sports camp counselor in the summer. I stayed in the dorms with the kids and had the time of my life with the other counselors. Yes, I was the crazy one 🙂 I basically got paid to have fun.

      Mud football. A must.

      I went to every sporting event imaginable (I got in free with a yearly pass I bought). And of course, go with cute boys. (Yes, I married the stud behind me in this pic!)
      Lots and lots of dancing. Dance parties were cheap/free, and oh-my-goodness fun. Of course, had to rock the 80's dance party…

      Cooking in the apartment with friends rather than eating out (and yes, we invited boys over to help us eat it…a lot!)
      Dang, college is so fun.
      You are so on the right track!
       A few more words of wisdom:
      Try not to stress too much about money. Be smart, but try to keep things simple. As I mentioned before, getting an education is your number one priority right now. Just have fun! Lots and lots and lots and lots of fun 🙂 These are the best years of your life. Simply the fact that you are aware of your spending makes you light years ahead of your cohorts. Be mindful of your spending, but keep life simple and you will have the best of both worlds!

      Wow, I really hope that helps. I am excited for you, college is so much fun! Thanks for being so responsible and money-conscious. If you aren't married already, you are going to make a lucky man very happy to have such a financially-responsible woman at his side 🙂
      Much love – and thanks for reading!

      Thanks, Erin!