How I Survived College as a Broke Student
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
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Nearly half of college kids are stressed out about money. If you're reading this, chances are you are too.
I started college in the middle of the pandemic with $200 to my name. Now, I'm graduating early with savings and a plan to pay off my student loans.
Over my two-and-a-half years at Florida Atlantic University, I've learned some tricks to make the most of your money — and they don't require you to miss out on the fun parts of college.
Take Advantage of Your Campus
My university is home to lots of different organizations that want new students to join. It's a time-old truth that the best way to get students in the door is to offer free food — so that's what many organizations do.
Not only can you get free food, but you can also diversify your palate. I've eaten a Shabbat dinner with Hillel, snacked on cookies at a National Organization for Women gala, and taken slices of pizza from student media.
Get an On-Campus Job
Going to events not only fills your stomach, but you may find an organization you click with.
I began writing for the student-run newspaper at FAU a few months into my first year. Three months later, I was making $10 an hour as a paid editor. I've been working as an employee for about two years now.
Student media isn't the only place you can get paid on campus. Students can apply to work at the dining hall, the student union, as resident assistants, and even as the school mascot.
Every university is different, but my university has a website that lists all the jobs available to students. Check your university's listings — you might be surprised at what's available.
Don't Be Afraid to Look Into Federal Funding
Depending on your income, you might be eligible for federally-funded grocery assistance.
I applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and didn't expect much. But a few weeks after I submitted my application, I received a benefits card with over $200 to spend on groceries.
The card reloads every month, and the leftover amount rolls over — meaning you'll never lose the money. This month, I received over $400 for my groceries.
The U.S. Food and Nutrition Service says students are not eligible for SNAP unless they meet certain exemptions — like I did.
My employment made me eligible for SNAP, which is another reason to find an on-campus job. There are other exemptions, too — like physical and mental disabilities, participation in a work-study program, and being a single parent.
It never hurts to see if you're eligible, even if you think you aren't. The worst they can do is say no.
Grab an Old-Fashioned Pen and Paper
Because of my limited income, I found myself running out of money frequently. That changed once I learned how to make a realistic budget.
Having a budget doesn't mean you can't have fun, either. I factor in $25 a week for dinner and a drink with my best friend.
I write down all my expenses for the month and subtract them from my income. Think about your non-bill expenses, too, like Uber rides and textbooks rentals. Whatever amount you have left after expenses can be broken down into saving and spending money.
I had to learn the difference between needs and wants very quickly after I moved into college.
I was a chronic impulse buyer, which always left me with a negative bank balance until my next payday. A trick I've learned is to put the item in your shopping cart — whether it be online or in-person — and continue browsing. If you can't remember exactly what's in your cart and why you want it, put it back.
You'll have to sacrifice some of those impulse purchases to save money, but keep in mind that it won't last forever.
Opt for the One-Ply Toilet Paper
Things like cleaning spray, toilet paper, and dish soap are must-haves, so consider opting for generic brands. It shocked me to see how much less I spent after making the switch.
Consider changing where you shop as well.
The Dollar Store sells glassware, plates, cleaning supplies, and paper products that are of higher quality than you might think.
Trader Joe's offers cheaper food items, cleaning products, and skincare than places like Target.
Do your research and figure out the cheapest places to get what you need, and I promise your wallet will thank you.
Learning how to survive on a budget is a process. Don't become discouraged if it doesn't click for you right away. It took me two-and-a-half years to learn and apply these tips. With some practice, you'll be a money-saving pro in no time.
Meet the Author
Kendall Little is a Florida-based watchdog reporter at Naples Daily News. You can find more of her work in the Palm Beach Post, South Florida Gay News, and Investigate Midwest.