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Pro Tips From a Recent Grad

How to Avoid the Expensive Mistakes People Make in College

Student Finances How to Avoide Expensive Mistakes People Make in College

College is an expensive endeavor no matter who you are. Between tuition, food, books, partying, clothes, school supplies, living, etc. costs add up quickly. It is easy to find yourself spending a ton of money in college and all of the costs seem necessary. Through my time in college I have learned that there are a load of costs that you cannot avoid, but there are ways to keep those costs fairly low. Here are a few areas where you can be a smart spender and save some money:

Mistake 1: “Let’s Just Get Take Out”

Food is an expensive cost that every adult has to face in their everyday life; however, this is not so true for college students. College students have the ability to utilize dining halls and on campus food suppliers.

Now, I understand that dining halls might not always be the most delicious option, but they sure are cheap. Many campuses offer meal plans where it will cost you a certain amount of points for a meal. These points are often purchased at fairly cheap rate through deals that schools offer. This is great because they usually offer a large selection of food and you can eat as much as you please (although the food itself may not be pleasing).

Eating out is always a temptation – but this is where you could really blow your food budget. Instead, the next cheapest option would be to cook your own meals. Now this part can be a little tricky, but if you focus on mastering a meal or two to start, you might actually really enjoy it (and the food!).

This is where you have the most control of your budget too – it’s important to be a smart shopper.

Pro Tip on Grocery Shopping:

Through college I found myself going to the grocery store mindlessly tossing food into my cart and easily racking up a $300 bill. As the weeks went by the food would either go bad or I would never touch it. Essentially, I threw a large chunk of money in the trash, which ultimately was not cheaper than eating out.

As time went on I discovered a much more efficient system that allowed me to keep cost low and be a smart shopper. I sat down and wrote out a meal plan. My meal plan accounted for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, with a general idea on what I might like to eat that day. I still allowed myself some variance where I could choose which meat or vegetable was on sale to keep costs low. Meal planning is important, but it is more important to be a smart shopper. Constantly look for sales, deals, coupons, or anything that can help you keep costs low while eating what you want. [From Mint: check out BrewingHappiness’ meal plan for under $150]

Mistake 2: The Book Store Took All My Money

I do not care who you are at some point in your four (or five) years you will have to buy books. Now it is easy to go to the book store and buy all of your books and supplies brand new, but this can easily turn into a $500 trip. There are a number of different ways to keep costs low for books. Each has its pros and cons, so you can figure out what works best for you.

Pro Tips on Finding Your Books:

The first is to get your books from a friend. If you are taking a class in the Spring semester that one of your friend took in the Fall people are usually very open to giving their books up for little to no cost. You can run into some problems if teachers start changing up their books, which some of them have tendencies to do. This can be a pain, but there are definitely ways around it.

One way around this issue is to rent your books. Beware! When renting books if you do not return them by a certain date you are charged the full price of the book. This can be a costly mistake if you’re forgetful, easily loose things, or are disorganized. So, if you are one of those individuals I would recommend buying your books.

In this case, I suggest hopping online to Amazon or some other website and buy a previous edition of your book. Your book will likely be slightly different than the current edition, but it’s unusual for the content itself to change drastically. What will differ greatly though is the price. I have seen instances where previous editions are offered for hundreds of dollars less than the current edition.

The last, fail proof, and cheapest option is the library. Most often there will be a handful of copies of the book in the library. This option might be a little more time consuming, but it sure keeps costs low.

Mistake 3: The Five Star Dorm Room


Gearing up for college life is a very exciting time. I can remember preparing to move into my dorm room. I wanted to have a cool dorm room like one of those ones you see in the PB Teen magazines. I bought a few sets of twin extra-long sheets, a mattress cover, a bunch of plastic sliding drawers to keep my stuff in, some dorm furniture, and the list goes on. It was great and all until I began my move off campus. I began to sort through everything in my dorm room and realized that almost all of it would not fit anywhere into my new apartment. After one year of living in the dorms I found myself, and well as many others, throwing out all of their dorm furniture because it was so specific to the dorm. Don’t get me wrong here, I believe that your dorm room should be a comfortable living space, but there is no need to spend so much money on things that you will only have for a year.

Pro Tip on Your Dorm Room Decor:

Short and sweet: I suggest maybe using sheets or furniture from a friend or family member. If this is not an option, just be a smart shopper and keep costs as low as possible. Also, try to think ahead to your future living situations.

Mistake 4: The Late-Night Spender

So, that header was edited by Mint. But you know what I’m referring to. As much as buying books is an inevitable part of college, so are parties and for many, drinking.

While socializing, it is easy to be careless with your money. You might splurge on a late-night extra-large pizza or decide to buy a round of drinks for your friends. These costs can add up or get expensive quickly depending on a few different factors.

Pro Tips on Budgeting Nights Out:

Before anything, make sure you have your budgets in place.

My advice to get through this is to go with a set amount of money you’re willing to spend for the night (reference your budget to figure out this amount, not just your available cash!). Since you know exactly how much you can spend, you’ll find yourself picking foods and drinks that will help your money go farther rather than blowing it all on your first round. Think ahead too: are you going to go out Friday and Saturday night? If so, make sure you are budgeting for both.

Also, if you know you get hungry after a night out with friends, preplan what you’ll eat. Maybe you have some food leftover from a meal you cooked (and so cheaply bought) or find a place you can get just a couples slices of pizza, rather than the whole pie.

Mistake 5: Ride-Share Everywhere

College can be exhausting. It consists of many late nights, early mornings, and long hours in the library. And take it from me, I know how easy it is to get lazy when you’re on this kind of schedule. One of the biggest things I noticed when I signed up for Mint was how often I was using a ride-share app as a result!

Ride-shares are an amazing service that allow you to order a taxi within minutes of needing one. This is great and all, but it can also be dangerous for the wallet. Especially when the laziness begins to kick in. It’s so easy to just call for a ride, but I know from experience it is rare to order just one.

Once you begin ordering rides, it becomes a bad habit. Those $6 trips add up fairly quickly and before you know it you could be spending somewhere around $100 a month on transportation.

Pro Tips on Getting Around:

Now my first suggestion to avoid this problem would be JUST WALK! But I definitely know from experience this is easier said than done. So, if you must get a ride, it is imperative that you utilize the actual ride share feature (like UberPool or Lyft Line). This cuts the cost of your ride almost in half. The only potential down fall is that you have to share your car with other riders, as well as the fact that it might add a few extra minutes onto your trip.

Remember that college is an expensive place and it is easy to spend money left, right, and center. It is of paramount importance that you keep your eyes out for these spending pitfalls. It is not always easy to save money in college, but I assure you if you avoid these five mistakes and stick to your budgets, you will always have a little extra cash in your pocket.


Connor Sweet is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley and has deep aspirations to invest his money in the future. He is in the process of getting his finances in order and paying off his student debt in order to reach this goal. As he begins this journey he wants to offer his personal experience, advice, and findings in order to help college students/young adults in this very confusing time/pivotal point.

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