Want to Save Money? Live like a College Student

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Live Simply, Save Money

Live Simply, Save Money

Last week, I got together for lunch with one of my old friends from college. We’ve known each other for 12 years now, have kept in touch and even though now we’re both married guys with kids and mortgages and “careers” of sorts, every time we meet up for lunch, it’s just like old times. We eat at slightly nicer restaurants, but for the most part it’s just like when we were 19 years old and living in cheap student housing.

What does this have to do with personal finance? The fact is, if you’re trying to build a solid financial foundation, the less your lifestyle changes between college and adulthood, the better.

Many recent college graduates fall into a financial trap of immediately upgrading their lifestyles once they get a job. They get a nice apartment (or buy a house) and buy or lease a new car. They buy a lot of expensive clothes and start eating at restaurants every day. As tempting as it may be to start living a more lavish lifestyle once you’re out of college and finally have a “grown-up” paycheck, that first paycheck often doesn’t stretch as far as you might expect.

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Here are a few easy ways for new college grads (or people of any age) to save money by “living like a college student.”

Get a roommate.

I’ve written before about how if you want to save serious money, you need to “think big” – and getting a roommate (or renting out a room of your house) can be an ideal way to immediately improve your monthly budget. Many people like living with a roommate instead of living on their own. Humans are social animals, after all. Having a roommate not only helps you save money, but it also keeps you connected to a wider network of people.

Lower your expectations for living standards.

When I was a college student, I lived for four years in tiny dorm rooms with communal bathrooms, with roommates. So when I went out into the world as a recent college graduate, I had a pretty low standard of living. My first apartment (in Japan, where I was working as an English teacher) cost less than $300 a month (and was about the size of my present-day living room – and I was fine with that). My first apartment back in the U.S. was a $465-a-month studio.

To be sure, your cost of living will vary depending on which city you live in, but if you can lower your expectations and go without all the frills and features, you can save money and enjoy a more relaxed way of life.

Don’t buy a lot of expensive furniture and clothes.

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Instead of spending thousands of dollars on “real furniture” and a “professional wardrobe” as soon as you get your first place, cut corners. Check Craigslist for used furniture that people are trying to get rid of. Often when other people buy new furniture, they will be in a hurry to sell their old couches and chairs at a steep discount. For clothes, keep a core wardrobe of one or two weeks’ worth of career-appropriate business casual or professional attire – but beyond that, be frugal and creative. Shop at thrift stores and consignment shops. Check the clearance rack for last season’s items. Saving money never goes out of fashion.

Go on vacation with friends.

So you just finished your first six months at your new job and you’re eager to take a week off and travel. Unfortunately, by the time you factor in plane tickets, hotels and food, the costs can quickly put a dent in your budget. Just like saving money by getting a roommate, you can have a fun-filled and budget-friendly vacation by travelling with friends.

Whether it’s a road trip, a beach house rental or an urban excursion, vacationing with friends can cut your travel costs in half. Some of the best vacations I’ve ever had were simple trips with friends: going to a Major League Baseball game, driving to Las Vegas, staying at a lake house for a week while splitting the costs of gas, lodging and food.

Drive an old, paid-for used car.

You don’t see many college students driving new cars – and this money-saving advice holds true for “grown-ups” as well. Many people pay too much for their cars as a percentage of their total income, not only in terms of the down payment and loan interest, but the ongoing maintenance, insurance, gas and registration fees.

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“Living like a college student” doesn’t have to mean homework and hangovers – instead, it’s a matter of devoting your attention and energies to the simpler things in life. Instead of filling your life with things that money can buy, living like a college student will help you focus more on spending time with friends and simple activities that don’t cost a lot of money.

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