Moving from the “gilded” halls of my parents’ house to a cramped college dorm was eye-opening in a lot of ways. For instance, I never thought arguments over whose turn it was to buy milk could get so intense. It also gave me the chance to get creative about how to make my limited funds stretch. I still use many of these techniques today, some of which I’ve outlined below.
Decide what you need vs. what you want
As a starving student, all of my expenditures had to go to needs, not wants. In order to make ends meet, I had to define exactly what my needs were. I delivered pizza part time, so I needed a reliable car with good gas mileage, but I didn’t need a snazzy sports car. I needed enough money to cover groceries every month, but not to pay for expensive meals out several times a week. I needed a phone so people could reach me, but I didn’t need a BlackBerry or iPhone. It may be hard to give up the wants-disguised-as-needs (such as name-brand jeans or the remote-control truck your son wants), but this is actually the easiest, most effective way to save money.
Save the coins
Except for quarters (gotta keep them around if you want to do laundry), most coins are basically useless. However, when you have a lot of them they can be the difference between paying the bills on time or not. Whenever I paid for anything in cash, I would keep the change and put it in a jar at home. When it was full, I would take it to the bank. You won’t save millions this way, but it’s important to make every penny count. It’s also a fun way to teach your kids the importance of saving. Have them contribute their own coins so they can experience firsthand the power that comes from saving.
Remove yourself from temptation
You won’t have to refrain from splurging if you avoid places like the mall and your favorite online stores. Most purchases are impulse buys; they catch your attention when you’re vulnerable so you will buy something before you have a chance to think about it. When you don’t have money to spare on indulgences, though, it’s best to just avoid places where you know you (or your children) will be tempted.
Take advantage of free offerings
College students are experts at getting free food. It’s a skill I honed to perfection when I was a student. But college students aren’t the only ones who have access to free stuff — it’s being offered all the time, from church socials, concerts in the park to museum tours. Keep an eye out for these types of offerings. Not only are they easy on the checkbook, but they’re also usually great family activities.