Whether you’re in university, are preparing for university, or have children in university, you’re probably aware that it’s quite costly. University costs much more than just tuition. In fact, for most of us, the tuition portion ends up being only a fraction of our post-secondary period expenditures.
Furthermore, you’ve probably heard some advice on how to spend money through this pivotal time: get a part-time job, bike and transit instead of driving, buy used textbooks, etc. And while these are great recommendations and I encourage you to give them a try, they don’t seem to cut it. Most students still end up with massive amounts of debt. So let me share with you some of my tricks that allowed me to get through university making more money than I spent.
To preface, I should say that I did work multiple side-hustles throughout my degree and that was a primary factor in making the end result possible. Here are five tips that will help you keep more than you spend in university:
Let’s start off with one you probably don’t want to hear. In a bit, we’ll get to recommendations that will help you eliminate some more significant costs; however, for most people, their lack of any form of budgeting is one of the biggest pitfalls in their spending.
Consider all the costs you expect to make in the year and budget it out. Determine how much of an allowance you have for entertainment, for dining out, for coffee. And stick to it. For myself, while budgeting, I realized that it didn’t make sense for me to drink coffee because of its cost. A lot of people tell me they drink it because they like the taste. I like the taste of cheesecake but that doesn’t mean I eat it every day. While buying a $3.50 venti latte from Starbucks may seem like a small expense, it adds up when you buy multiple cups every day and can easily become one of your biggest expenses. So carefully budget out your year, figure out what you can afford to spend money on, and stick to it.
Cut back on dining out
It always shocked me to see students constantly dining out and yet also constantly complaining about being broke. While some restaurants are cheaper than others, even meals at the cheapest ones typically cost at least three times as much as making a meal at home. Throughout my years in university, I averaged my meal costs and realized I was spending $2.70 per meal. And I was eating real food, not the classic packaged ramen and craft dinner. I maybe went out to eat once a month for special occasions. The cost of eating out adds up so learn to make good food from home and take an extra meal along for lunch.
Part-time jobs and side hustles
You can’t make more money than you spend if you’re not making money. Pick up a side-hustle or a part-time job. There are tons of options. You could work as a waiter and work evenings, you could start an eCommerce store, you could try to pick up a flexible job with a friend or family. Whatever it takes. I had four side-jobs that I was doing while in university even while taking a full course load. You’ll find the time when you commit to a job.
Distinguish between wants and needs
There are things you want and things that you need. You need food but you don’t need $200 jean jackets or a new pair of pants every week. Over and over again, I see people spending whatever money they have left each pay period on new clothing. The fast fashion industry has successfully convinced a large portion of society that there are 52 seasons in a year instead of four and that each week, we should be wearing something completely different. Please don’t fall for it. You don’t need more than two pairs of pants. Don’t spend your precious time shopping for clothing all the time and then struggling to figure out what to wear each morning because of all the options. Keep your life simple. If your friends judge you for what you wear, you probably have the wrong friends.
Whenever you’re faced with a purchasing decision, just ask yourself if it’s something you want or something you need. And with the extra money you have after buying your needs, buy assets. Assets are things that provide more value than they cost over the course of time. Education is an asset. It costs a certain amount and then returns higher value because of what you’re able to do once you gain it. Buying a bike on Craigslist might be an asset; you can save money on commuting costs while also getting some exercise. I’ve often bought various vehicles from Craigslist, fixed them up a little, used them for a few months, and sold them for a little more than I bought them for. Whenever you’re about to spend money, ask yourself if the thing you’re buying is going to provide more value to you than its cost. If you do this, you’ll find yourself spending much less money, and finding a lot more joy in the things you do spend your money on.
Find unique ways to earn money
Now here’s a fun one, and the one that made the biggest difference for me. Most likely, your biggest expense is going to be your rent. Those big expenses are the ones you want to tackle because they will lead to the biggest savings. And believe it or not, there are many ways to get free rent when you’re a student. You just need to be a little creative. You could negotiate an arrangement with your school and see if you can do some kind of service for the property in exchange for free rent. You could be in charge of renting a big property with lots of bedrooms and sub-lease rooms to other students in a way that ends up costing you nothing. You could live with family or friends if you have any nearby and offer to help with things around the house in exchange.
Or you can do what I did. I put up a listing on craigslist offering various services in exchange for free rent. I ended up getting about six different leads. The one I decided to go with was a family who had a relative living with them who had dementia. They needed someone to live with them who could have an alarm in their room for two nights a week that would go off if she got out of bed. My job was to make sure she survived any midnight adventures she might have during those two nights. In exchange, they gave me a private room for free, paid me a little each month, and provided all my food for me.
There are tons of families and individuals out there who would be more than happy to host a kind and helpful student in an extra room of their home. Get creative and find those places. But make sure to be safe while doing it and take the obvious precautions.
Also, think about the things you already have access to and if there is a way you could monetize them. For example, did you know that you can rent out extra space in your home to others in your community? SpaceiShare is the Airbnb of storage and parking. Maybe you have a driveway where you’re living that isn’t being used. Rent it out to someone in the community and make some money off it. Maybe you have a garage filled with junk. Clear the junk and rent it to someone who needs storage for their motorbikes or seasonal gear. Get creative with what you have.
I hope these tips help. Break away from the norm of “broke millennialism” and create your own path to financial freedom.