Illustration by Keith Brown
The Easy (Mac) Life
The Easy (Mac) Life
Ramen every night might cut food costs, but keep in mind that cheap college living requires more than a high tolerance for salty, freeze-dried noodles.
Being frugal is a lot like keeping off the freshman fifteen: It’s a practice in self-control. Eat in the dining halls instead of restaurants. Buy only what you need. Pass up the most up-to-date electronics for the basic models.
Not all expenses, however, will come down to saying no. Textbooks run upward of $150 apiece. Linda Mackey, the financial aid director at Central Methodist University in Fayette, says that students often underestimate the educational costs of their college. “They’re not prepared for expenses other than tuition, such as books.” She suggests that students come to college with a budget that allows for $900 a year for textbooks.
A good way to limit costs, Linda says, is to limit purchases made on credit. College students have easy access to student loans, but they should be careful not to take out more than what school fees ask for. School loans and credit scores follow you long after you get your diploma. “A lot of students borrow more than they need to and use the money to buy a new car,” Linda says. Instead, she says, students should take advantage of work-study programs to help pay for school expenses.
College finances might be a challenge, but finding cheap things to do for fun is easy. Campuses often offer free or reduced-price entertainment for students through student activities organizations. Truman State’s Student Activities Board offers free events such as movies, music, and comedy shows for its students. So does Mizzou After Dark and Missouri State’s Student Activities Council.
At the state’s largest campus, the University of Missouri at Columbia, students have their own opinions about how to cut their spending.
One of the easiest ways to cut costs is to live in the dorms. Alexandra Bennett, a nineteen-year-old theater major from Boonville, says she’s living in a residence hall for a third year because they don’t have extra utilities fees. Cable and internet are standard. The campus also has free wireless internet that comes in handy when off-site internet fails, says chemistry major Sarah Hirner from West Plains.
Alexandra says she takes advantage of the Mizzou After Dark activities and dollar-movie rentals in MU’s student union. Downtown Columbia also has inexpensive events. Sarah says she scopes out coffee shop bulletin boards for free nighttime activities.
Nineteen-year-old St. Louis native Sam Reed says campus dining saves cash, too.
Student for Hire
Sara Ridley, an eighteen-year-old music education student from Fallbrook, California, says she works part time at Target to bring in some spending money. She follows the advice of her high school government teacher. “Whatever income I get, I put 10 percent in savings.” That includes birthday money, Sara says.
Some students find it easier to work when they’re not in school. “Every time I go home, I work every day and don’t spend much money,” Sam says. He tries to cut down on his spending vices such as McDonald’s and tanning while he’s at school. Sam says the no-McDonald’s rule is hard, as MU has one across from its library.
When she’s looking for things to do, Sarah thinks outside of the usual dinner and movie options. “I do a lot of outdoors stuff—Frisbee, bonfires,” Sarah says. “CoMo’s pretty great for that.”
Sarah also saves by cooking at home. She’s found that fruits and vegetables are not as expensive as some people make them out to be. Tuna and Ramen are also good stand-bys, she says.
Piano performance major Anne Robinson from Hannibal says she cuts corners on shopping and transportation. She prefers second-hand clothing and uses her bicycle as much as she can. “I try to bike downtown instead of drive,” she says. She recommends that students stay away from cards of any kind. “No credit cards, no plastic,” Anne says. “Just don’t do it.”
But college isn’t all textbook fees and self-denial. A purchase that follows a difficult exam can feel deserved. “It’s okay to reward yourself,” May graduate and Ste. Genevieve native Jason Viox says.
After all, if you overspend a little, there are always Ramen noodles for dinner.