How I Manage My College Life with Limited Finances

How I Manage My College Life with Limited Finances Change and Books

I am always complaining about my lack of money on here (Check out my Worry Wart Three Part Series) but, isn’t every college student short on cash flow? I’ve been a college student for basically 7 years now so I guess I would know. Wait! Don’t leave! It’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m just pursuing an advanced degree. I’m trying to become a PharmD. Anyways, from a public university to a private university, here’s how I’ve managed my finances.

Undergraduate Studies at a Public University

I didn’t realize it before but my cash flow was definitely more popping in undergrad. They estimated your tuition with living expenses included and the tuition was relatively inexpensive. Sure, I had my times of extreme broke-ness but, I always found a way to come up with some last-minute cash. That brings me to my first tip.

Research meal plan options.

For some people, they save money with a savings account. I never had a savings account but, I stored my money in my on-campus food budget for my meal plan. What do I mean by that? Well, I remember my first year on campus; my financial aid was wasted on a 7-day open access meal plan because my mom was worried that I would not be eating.

However, I ended up cooking in the dormitory kitchen more than eating at the dining halls. The dining halls were not even open much on weekends and closed on holidays so that sucked. I ended up not using the plan as much and couldn’t get a refund for my unused meals. That wasted more than $1000 extra that could have gone to my living expenses.

Later, I would ditch that unnecessary meal plan for one that better fit my needs. I could load my financial aid into an account and the money I did not use for meals would roll over from semester to semester and year to year. That was not the case with the previous meal plan.

I calculated the budget that I needed to eat on campus 2 times a day ($10/ day) for the entire semester minus weekends and holidays (everything was closed) then, added some cushion room my budget ($400-500) for emergencies. I knew that I was not always going to eat on campus so, the money served as a savings account that I couldn’t touch easily. If I was in urgent need of groceries, the on-campus convenience store was an option because they took that plan too. I was also able to transfer the money to other school accounts such as the bookstore if needed with some restrictions.

After I graduated, I was able to request my unused balance and was mailed a check for over $600 in unused meal plan funds. So moral of the story is research your meal plan options. Do they allow rollovers? Can you get refunded for unused meals?

Did I mention you only got the refund after graduation if you requested it and did it before graduation? A lot of people did not know that and lost some money in the process. So, research your meal plans so you do not end up spending unnecessary money. I ended up using my extra money to get ready for graduate school: plane tickets, deposits, required school items, etc.

Get an on-campus job.

Working on campus was a lifesaver in undergrad. I worked at the bookstore so while we had to deal with a lot of demanding parents around tour times and orientation during the summers and rowdy alumni on game days, working there was really convenient. I made extra money to supplement my life and I was always within walking distance of class. Also, because we were on-campus, my supervisors understood that school came first and they were really flexible when it came to scheduling us around our school schedule.

If you want higher pay, you may have to sacrifice that and work off-campus but, I know a lot of people who made it work. In fact, I know people who had 2 jobs in undergrad. I would not be able to handle it but, it is possible for those who need to do it.

The extra money, in addition to whatever you may or may not be receiving as financial aid, is very helpful. There was a summer in college where I basically had no financial aid available and had to fund my summer classes and living expenses through my on-campus job working about 35 hours a week. It was tough but I made it. I also had some of my meal plan money that had rolled over so I did not go hungry.

Sell old textbooks.

How I Manage My College Life with Limited Finances Sell Old Books

A side hustle is great when your job and financial aid isn’t quite enough. I mostly side-hustled in the summer when the money was extremely tight. Selling old textbooks on eBay was a semi-quick way to put extra money in my pocket. I didn’t get the original money I spent on the textbook but, that was financial aid money so technically it wasn’t my money. Sometimes I could make about $500 extra in total selling my old textbooks. That could buy me groceries for a while, pay for online access codes, etc.

There is an option to sell the books back to the campus bookstores but, they usually buy it back for way less than you would receive from eBay. If you do not buy textbooks, you can still try selling regular books.

You can even check the regular price of books using an app called BookScouter to see how much you can sell your old books for. I personally like learning from physical books which is why I bought textbooks but you can always get books online or find free .pdf versions of your class textbook if your that’s your financial situation. That is my current financial situation now.

Let people know you are in college and that you are still in college.

Don’t beg for money but, remember to go back home and visit the older people in your life. I know some people hate being around their parents’ friends or “old folk.” But those people are the most helpful even if you aren’t close to them. They tend to have an idea of the financial situation in college and will sometimes slide you a $20 bill on the low.

There are so many times when I would go back home and come back with an extra $20, $50 or even $200. Sometimes, I get messages from family friends and they say they are routing $50 to my bank account and the Lord know how much I needed it. I had a teacher who would give me her old gift cards. They would have $100, $50 or some other random amount and you never know when that gift card may come in handy. I just recently used my 4-year old Macy gift card to buy me some much-needed shoes.

Get decent grades.

I am not going to tell you that you need to have a 4.0 GPA because I didn’t and some people can’t with all the extra things going on in their lives. But, get decent grades. Sometimes, you might end up with some random scholarship or grant that you never heard of due to your GPA.

Pick up a side hustle.

How I Manage My College Life with Limited Finances Surveys

I can tell you that my side hustle game was strong in undergrad. I was also taking surveys and getting paid for it in addition to selling textbooks. I would sign up for freebie websites and get free tea, laundry detergent samples, etc.

I made hundreds of dollars from surveys. The only thing is that you really need to have the patience for them. They are not always guaranteed and do not always pay well so they shouldn’t be a sole source of income.

But, I was able to finance my rain boots in freshman year with the money from the surveys; it rains in Gainesville a lot and after I slipped and broke my sandals, I knew it was time and those boots are still serving me well. I also got various gift cards, checks, and free products to test which was cool. Now my side hustle game is so weak. I actually had more cash flow back then than I realized. Don’t mind my nostalgia, just keep reading.

Graduate School at a Private University

I’m sorry to say this but, the money situation gets tougher. I really do not think that private schools have as much scholarship and grant opportunities as public schools. Don’t quote me though. It is also just more expensive. One year at my private university costs more than 2 years at the public in-state undergraduate institution I graduated from. I’m still trying to figure out how to spread my cash flow efficiently so that I have a reasonable amount of savings.

My finances now are definitely different from my undergrad situation because I could always come up with money from somewhere. Some of the things that have changed my financial situation, besides the fact that I am out-of-state and attending a private university, are that I no longer work during school semesters and public transportation is no longer included in tuition. Now, I’m mostly trying to conserve funds because this school is always trying to squeeze more money out of me! Also, there are never any freebies on campus! What’s up with that? But, back to finances.

Budget before requesting financial aid.

How I Manage My College Life with Limited Finances Budget

Something that is new for me is that the estimated living expenses are not included in the cost of attendance anymore so, I have to request the extra living expenses myself. Do not just request the maximum amount possible! Budget for your living expenses then add cushion room for some random catastrophe. Don’t try and be stingy and request exactly what you need because things will happen. For example, Mercer increased tuition costs and decreased the number of scholarship funds, unexpectedly. If I had not added an extra $2,000 to my financial aid loan request, my funds would be even tighter than they are now and trust me they are tight. My budget worked perfectly for me last year but, this year I’m struggling. Don’t expect your finances to stay stagnant.

Make a plan to pay your bills and do it on time.

Late fees are a pain. If you couldn’t pay your bills before, this will hurt you even more. Try to pay your credit cards and any other bills on time. If you are tight on funds, find out if you can request an extension on the due date or pay the minimum. Do not wait until you can pay over the minimum! Late fees will just take more money from your pocket. Avoid getting new credit cards if you can.

Sometimes, you can’t. Last year, my laptop completely died and I needed one to take exams so I had to get a new laptop which I had zero money for. I bought a laptop and opened a new credit card to pay for it. I opted for the no interest for 12 months option and paid off my laptop within the 12 months without paying a cent in interest.

It was tough and I had major road bumps but, I followed my plan and now officially own my laptop for real without paying extra interest. (Read about my laptop and credit card struggles here) We can’t always do that but, if its possible, make it happen. It’s definitely going to take me a while to pay off my bank credit card though but, it saved me when I had rent emergencies especially in undergrad.

Make sacrifices for your finances.

Not fun but, not everything is going to be great all the time when it comes to finances. There will be times where you will have to sacrifice. My first semester of pharmacy school, I loved getting my nails done professionally. There is just something about nicely manicured nails that make a person feel like they have their life together even when it’s not.

By the end of the semester, I knew that I would have to sacrifice that luxury if I wanted to continue to eat well and be able to go home during the breaks. I have not gotten my nails done since. I miss pretty nails but, they are not my priority.

I also had to give up ordering food from outside. I used to treat myself every other Sunday because cooking all the time gets tiring but, my finances this year do not allow it and I have no job or transportation so, that money needs to go towards transportation, groceries and professional development opportunities such as professional conferences.

Everyone’s priorities will be slightly different based on their finances and way of life but, you need to figure out what is worth giving up and what is worth keeping if you want to sustain your finances until you get your next check or financial aid disbursement.

Wrapping it all up

As you can tell, my finances have changed many times throughout my college career and I think that is the same for life in general. Don’t expect your finances to stay constant, they shouldn’t. You should always be aiming for higher and if not, try not to become worse off financially although sometimes it is not in our hands. Be resourceful, especially in college. I wish you all the best of luck in school and with your finances.

Thank you for reading my rant!

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Shika Tamaklo is a pharmacist who graduated from Mercer University (2020). She is a college lifestyle blogger who writes on fitness, health, life struggles, creative side hustles and, occasionally dabbles in creative writing.

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