Archive for October, 2009

Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Expensive Eating

This is the second in a series of articles directed towards college students – both graduates and undergraduates. As a PhD student in my 5th year after being an undergraduate for 4 years, you can call me a professional student. Through various experiences, I have learned a few things that can save money and help to reduce expenses. This series is dedicated to these suggestions. In the previous article I looked at textbooks.

After the costs of textbooks are taken off the table, the next area in which spending can easily get out of hand is food. Everyone has to eat, but the question is how you can eat without hurting much in the wallet? Here are a few of the things that I have seen that could help in managing costs of eating.

Attend Cultural Events: Every college campus has an international student organization and as a current (and former) member of several international student organizations I can attest to food being a major item in planned events. Most of these events take place on weekends, during dinner and cost little to no money. So instead of spending money at a Chinese buffet off-campus, support the Chinese Student Organization by attending their cultural event. You get the added bonus of interacting with people of other cultures in addition to eating well. Check your campus newspapers for details on these events and prepare yourself for some delicious dining.

Buy groceries: This is the most common way to save money. Knowing how to cook is an advantage but even if you don’t know how to cook there are easy food packages from Ramen to 5-minute rice to Hamburger Helpers. It’s a guarantee that you will save with a $2 ground beef and $2 hamburger helper package because it costs less than buying a similar food item that’s premade and you will usually have enough left over for a full meal. There are plenty of cheap and easy-to-make food packages ranging from oatmeal to Ramen to 5-minute rice. This is useful whether you live on or off campus. For more on grocery shopping tips, check out an older article from Get Rich Slowly

Cook in bulk: If you’re already buying groceries, take time on the weekend to make 2 – 3 different meals in bulk and refrigerate them for the rest of the week. Cooking more than one meal provides the variety required in a regular diet and reduces the monotony of only eating one meal (Of course if you’re like me and loves eating rice for days on end, there’s nothing wrong with that either). Another way this helps to save money is when it comes to resisting invitations from friends and co-workers who are constantly asking you to go to lunch when you just can’t afford it. Now you can say “I packed my lunch already.”

Make friends: If you don’t have a kitchen on-campus, offer to cook for a friend/classmate that lives off-campus and you both can share the meal. If you do have a kitchen off-campus and can’t cook or don’t have the time to, invite someone who can but doesn’t have a kitchen. This is basically an exercise in trade by barter. It still works even in 2009 (and beyond)!

Organize a Potluck: Although potlucks are usually organized as social events to foster camaraderie and conversation, it can also be another way to cut expenses. Consider that instead of eating out at a restaurant and paying individually, you can have a variety of dishes at a low cost. Although graduate students organize potlucks more frequently than undergraduates, this is a benefit to both parties. Using this idea, potlucks can be organized around themes (Game Night), sporting events (Super Bowl) or even T.V. shows. And if you are unable to cook, you can always offer to provide drinks.

Coupons: Before you skip over this section, remember that using coupons are more of a mental hurdle than anything else. How would it look eating at Applebee’s with a coupon for $5 off? Does $5 really make a dent in a $30 meal? It’s an internal battle, but when you think about it $5 is essentially half of a movie ticket or a haircut or 2 cups of coffee from the campus shop. Websites like campusfood.com and restaurant.com regularly offer deals and coupons to local restaurants. For those living off-campus, there is regular bulk mail delivered featuring pizza coupons and fast-food deals. Although these foods are inherently unhealthy, and minimizing them in your diet is the most beneficial habit, the focus here is not to eliminate bad habits but attempt to reduce their cost.

Brew your own coffee (or tea): From helping you make it through an all-nighter to giving you that extra kick in the early morning, caffeine intake usually increases proportionally with the time spent in college. A cup of coffee can range from $1 – $5 depending on the temperature, flavor and size. Yet this cost can be highly reduced if you make your own beverage from home. A little research using Wal-Mart and Walgreens website provides the following

Item

Cost

Coffee Maker with a Timer

$20

Folger’s Classic Roast (33.5 oz)

$13

French Vanilla Liquid Creamer (For Flavor)

$3

Coffee Mug

$10

Total

$46

Some people don’t consume that much coffee, but if these numbers are way lower than the amount you spend on coffee (Check out these useful tools) it might be time to modify.

Eating well does not have to come at a premium and food doesn’t have to bite into your pocket money if you network with people and make some of the things you pay high prices for. What are some of the other ways in which you have been able to reduce costs? I’ll update this article based on the suggestions I receive.

Coming up next in the series – Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Housing

Image from PhD Comics
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Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Expensive Textbooks

This is the first in a series of articles directed towards college students – both graduates and undergraduates. As a PhD student in my 5th year after being an undergraduate for 4 years, you can call me a professional student. Through various experiences, I have learned a few things that might save money and help to reduce expenses. This series is dedicated to these suggestions.

So you have a stipend or loans or money from the parents to cover your books, somehow it still doesn’t make parting with $400 for textbooks any easier. Even more painful is paying $120 for a new book and only to sell it back to the bookstore for a measly $40. I know this experience very well and I learned (as a senior) that I could have saved a fortune over the course of three years. Some of the methods I tried require more effort than others and one of these methods (using older editions) you may never try. However, the goal here is to get to keep more of that textbook money in your pocket (or bank account).

ProfStud_Book_1
  1. Buy Used Books: The most common technique is to buy used books from sites like Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and half.com. These sites usually have various editions and versions of the book and connect you to other vendors (usually students) who are selling the book. A disadvantage with this method is that you may not know the required text until the professor hands out the syllabus on the first day and then you have to spend more money on shipping to receive the books on time.
  2. Contact your professor: When you aren’t aware of the required books, email the professor(s) over the break to ask about the books for the class. You can let them know you want to get them ahead of time to cut down costs. Almost all professors will oblige you. Once you get the response, go to the aforementioned sites. An added advantage to this route is that the professor will already know your name before the course begins and that never hurts.
  3. Bookstore Website: Once in a while, you come across professors with tardy responses or no response at all. In that case another option is to try your college’s bookstore website. The bookstores get the list of course textbooks way ahead of time and then list the books on their site for purchasing. Take advantage of this and look up the required books on the site and then get them cheaper from other sites. Think of this as sticking it to them for buying back your books at ridiculously low prices.
  4. Use the Library: Request the book from the school library and use it while waiting for your book to arrive from the site that you will order from. Better yet, use the book over the course of the quarter and renew it as many times as possible. In the state of Ohio, all public college libraries are linked so if you don’t find a book at Wright State University, you can rent them from from Ohio State University. Ask your school librarian if there are opportunities like this at your school. This means you should know where the library is if you don’t already.
  5. Use preceding edition(s): Something I have noticed (especially in the sciences) is that material doesn’t change much from one edition to the next especially with books that have undergone several revisions (Really good books undergo very few revisions and revisions are years apart) Changes usually involve extra examples, problem sets and pages with the subject material unchanged. When I went this route, I just made photocopies of relevant questions using my friend’s textbook. If you want to insure yourself against risk, borrow from the library to compare how drastic the changes are to help you make a decision on obtaining the newer edition. Note: If you decide to do this, make sure to check with someone in the class who has a recent copy to make sure that assignments are the same.
  6. Rent and Exchange: While writing this post, I learned about two other opportunities I haven’t tried, but are useful nonetheless.
    • A student of mine recommended chegg.com and rentabook.com which are sites where you can rent textbooks. I would advise anyone who is doing this to check the math just to make sure that it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s better to own than to rent especially in cases where you might need the book for a whole year. If you’re into nature preservation, you will like that chegg plants a tree for each book you rent. Environmental Awareness and Expense Control all at once.
    • Another student referred me to a book exchange website hosted by the school’s student senate. I am not sure if other schools have this sort of network, but I know that most schools maintain a listserv dedicated to students trying to sell their materials at really low prices. Your Resident Assistant might be a helpful resource here.

Buying textbooks are a basic part of any college student’s career and the experience is that much sweeter when you know that you won’t be breaking the bank every semester.

Coming up next in the series – Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Expensive Eating.

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