I was a university student not so long ago. University was an interesting time for me, living on my own, studying and preparing for exams, and learning how to be an independent adult. Nowadays, attending university is not cheap and can cost you anywhere from $5 - $8K of tuition per year. That’s not counting the living expenses! I knew some people that went to the extreme by living on instant noodles for months just to save money. I am not sure if that makes sense health wise in the long run. Below are 6 frugal living tips that any university student can utilize.
1. Buy used textbooks or no textbooks at all
Buying new textbooks is probably the biggest money waster out there. A thin textbook can easily cost you over $100 when you can get a used one for 40% off or less. If you know people in your program that’s a year above you, you can easily buy their textbooks at a discounted price. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price if you’re buying multiple books from them. Most of the time they're just trying to get rid of their textbooks and make some extra money.
There's usually an electronic copy of the textbook available somewhere. Look around online, ask your friends or people who have taken the course before for such e-book. Most of the time, e-books are way cheaper to purchase than the paper print counter part.
As a money making scheme, textbook publishers seem to put out new edition on a yearly basis. Most professors are OK with students using an older edition of the textbook. Heck, they probably don’t even have the latest edition.
If a textbook is not mandatory for the course, I’d recommend you not buying it at all. Out of all the university courses I have taken, the professors usually have the important stuff on their notes anyway. There’s really no point in buying a book when not necessary.
In my last year of university, I took a course called digital communications. The prof told us that we didn't need the textbook at the beginning of the semester, so I didn't bother buying one. The course notes covered all the materials for the entire semester. Just before the final exam, the prof decided to make the final exam an open book exam. Lots people complained but the prof already made up his mind. Without a textbook to use, I had a big disadvantage. There were a lot of people in the same boat as me. What did we do? We went to the bookstore a few days before the final exam, bought the textbook, then returned it after the exam (bookstore had a week return policy). As it turned out, none of the questions came out from the textbook. The textbook was no help. I bet the prof probably got some sort of kickback from the book publisher.
2. Attend meetings to get free food
Every university has a student society. Most of them will hold public meetings and provide free pizza to attendees. Find out when and where these meetings are to get free lunch/dinner. Find out if there are any clubs that are holding open meetings for potential club members. Most of them will provide free food as well. You’ll be surprised how much free food you can find around the campus.
3. Limit your alcohol consumption
This might be a bit controversial... after all, you are attending university for the parties right? I won’t lie, I did my shares of drinking in my early university days. Luckily I didn't go overboard with the partying and completely ruined my education. It is OK to drink from time to time but when you’re drinking regularly, you may have a problem.
If you’re out partying, the best way to save money is to buy your own alcohol...also known as drink before going out. Alcohol is darn expensive at bars and clubs. If you drink beer, buy the cheapest beer available with the highest content of alcohol to get the job done. These cheap brand beer may taste nasty so be warned. If you drink hard alcohol, 151 is a good choice but do not over consume, that stuff is burns! If you’re really tricky, you can try bumming drinks off your buddies and friends to further save some money. Be warned though, people will not like you for taking their alcoholic beverages.
4. Shop grocery during discount days
Here in Vancouver, Safeway has 10% customer appreciation day every month. This is a good time to load up on grocery. Another way to save money is buy soon-to-be-expired products such as meat or milk and make sure you consume them right away. These soon-to-be-expired products are often marked down for 50% off or more. Then check out this post for 5 frugal ways to save on grocery bill for additional saving ideas.
5. Ask for student discount everywhere
If you’re at a store buying something, ask if they have student discount. Many stores, especially ones near the campus, offer some sort of student discounts but usually don’t advertise them. It is your job to ask. I remember one time asking a barber shop if they have a student discount. They didn't, so I decided to walk away. Before I left, they told me to stop and gave me a special 10% discount. Score one for me!
Most stores will ask to see your student ID, so make sure that you carry your student ID wherever you go.
6. Buy a laser printer
When I first started university, I made the mistake of buying an inkjet printer. With the amount of course notes and assignments I had to print, I had to change the cartridge very often. Ink cartridges were not cheap then and they're not cheap now. It is common for printer companies to sell their printers for dirty cheap and charge you an arm and a leg for their ink cartridges. B&W laser printers have come down in price significantly over the last few years. You can get one for less than $100 (often cheaper when they’re on sale). The laser printer will almost always include a “startup” toner, which would be good for 1,000 to 1,500 pages of printing. You can get more out of the startup toner if you print on the economy mode. By my calculation, it costs about 2 cents per page to print using a laser printer and anywhere from 8 - 10 cents per page to print using an inkjet printer. When I was in school, I would print about 2,000 pages of stuff per semester. That’s about a $120 saving per semester for you just by using a laser printer instead of an inkjet printer!
There you have it, 6 frugal tips for university students out there. Do you have any more frugal tips for university students?