How to be a penny pincher and live frugally on a limited, college budget

College can be a penny-pinching period for many, and frugal living is an art that takes time for university students to master. Not everyone grew up accustomed to budgeting money, and so it makes it that much difficult when we are forced to take over the financial responsibilities mom and dad handled for us for so long.

Here are a few things you can do to assure you are spending your money responsibly:

Line up your expenses

Organizing your expenses should be one of the first things you do when trying to calculate them. Take half an hour to fill out an Excel spreadsheet with your expected bills and play accountant. Make sure you emphasize your real needs, like dorm room or apartment essentials, before your social or entertainment splurges.

Plan fun, free activities

Cheap fun is always the best kind of fun. Chill on the Quad with a bag of gummy bears, some portable speakers and a boomerang, and you are game to have an eventful time. Going to University-sponsored events is also a great way to spend time with friends. The Illini Union has free events going on throughout the year. One example is Illinites that provides free activities for those who don’t want to drink on a Friday night. The Spike Squad at volleyball games is always rowdy, as are the soccer games, and it’s something free and exciting to do.

Brew your own coffee

College students tend to consume a lot of coffee, and rightfully so. We often need it for all-nighters during furious cram sessions or early 8 a.m. classes that would be unbearable without caffeine. To reduce your monthly spending, home brew your coffee and drink it in a travel mug instead of spending $5 for coffee in a cardboard cup with a fancy sleeve logo. 

Eat at home before going out

In 2011, the average college student spent $765 eating off-campus food, according to the Huffington Post. That is a staggering figure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped at Second Story Pizza or Fat Sandwich for food after a late night out and have found myself with a depleted wallet by the end of the week. All of these late night meals add up, and by the end of the month, you’re looking at $100-$150 that could have been spent on dorm room decorations, concert tickets or even a skydiving trip in Paxton (yes, it’s that cheap). Before going out, eat a couple of Nutella sandwiches and some Ramen Noodles; you’ll be set for the night. But if you decide to go out and eat, bring your i-card and take advantage of the college specials many restaurants offer around campus.

Hit the books a little more often

According to Forbes, college students spend only about 16 percent of their time in class and doing homework, while 51 percent of their time is spent socializing. While socializing is essential to a balanced collegiate life, it often includes spending money in some way. Spending a couple extra hours a week on schoolwork can’t hurt anyone, and you will conversely help equilibrate your budget.

Eliseo is a freshman in Fine and Applied Arts. He can be reached at [email protected]