I’m packing up for back to school, and I find myself a little hard up. A little 4th of July weekend turned into a week-and-a-half vacation with some friends that ate up two-thirds of my bank account. I don’t regret a thing, but I’m not living on campus this year. My parents are certainly not paying for my living supplies. I don’t spend tons of money, but I’m looking to cut down on my budget without sacrificing quality of life. I go out to eat a lot, which I know isn’t good, so my food budget is my target. What are some ways to cut costs?
Yours is a common problem with a simple solution. With the whole school year stretching out in front of you, it can seem like you’re doomed to a life of purity. But fear not. We’ve assembled two super-easy tips on how to get the most bang for your buck.
A lot of students, when scrounging around for cheap meals, tend to gravitate towards cheap ready-mades like ramen. This is counterintuitive. Ramen may seem cheap, but at $2 a meal, you can still do a lot better. You know what is cheap? Rice. A 1-pound bag of rice costs less than $1; a 20-pound bag is less than $10. Rice can be a little tough to cook on a stovetop, so you’ll want a rice cooker, which runs less than $20 at your local big box store. You can make cajun dirty rice, risotto, fried rice, omurice — because rice is so cheap, so universal, every culture has its own version of a rice-centric recipe. You may have to learn how do do a little cooking, but what is college for if not learning new things?
Another budget-buster? Coffee. Yup, your daily caffeine fix can easily spiral into a $1,000 per year habit. How, you ask? A coffee a day may not seem like much, but all those cups add up. A 20-ounce freshly brewed black coffee has a $2.45 sticker price. Multiply that by 365 days a year and you get $894.25, not including tax and tip (and people, you should always tip your baristas!). And this is, note, a black coffee, not a cinnamon dolce peppermint-white chocolate macchiato we’re talking about here. That’s $1,000 spent on what is basically bitter drain water.
If you’d rather save some dough, and not support corporate coffee while you’re at it, make your coffee at home. A coffee maker costs maybe $30, and a french press is less than $20. Pick up your coffee at a grocery store, or better yet, have it delivered to your door as part of a coffee subscription. Coffee subscriptions have exploded in recent years. Now, rather than relying on big coffee to bring you the same homogenized flavors, you can explore the world of craft coffee. You’d be amazed at the diversity of aromas roasters can extract from their beans. By brewing at home, you can also experiment with all sorts of different brewing methods, from cold brew to trippy methods like a Vietnamese Drip Filter. All you need is water and a bag of grounds, and you are saving yourself hundreds of dollars a year.
Some of these tips may go against conventional wisdom. To save money, don’t buy ramen? Pay for a coffee-delivery service? Saving money often does go against conventional wisdom, though. The truth is that most conventional people aren’t all that good at saving. But if you learn how, and learn now, you will be amazed at how far you can make a dollar stretch.