This is a guest post from Lucie, of Unconventional Origins.
The phrase “college student” brings to mind a particular word – broke (the same still applies to other more impressive student labels, like “grad student” and “law student”). As a parent, there are a lot of things you don’t want to be, and one is financially struggling. So as a student-parent, you have to get creative.
Why you have to get creative with your money
You are a parent, but a lot of the realities of student life still apply to you. Even if you are lucky and are raising your child with a partner, time you spend in class and on your studies is time you aren’t working. You have all the obstacles any student has when it comes to managing your money, combined with the new obstacles of supporting a family. Sure, when you are a lone student it’s okay if you make it through finals on a diet of coffee and ramen, and dinner through the rest of the semester can be summed up as “.99 cent Margarita night,” but as parents we cannot expect our children to make it on 19 cent noodles.
Luckily for us student-parents, we can use some of the old tricks when it comes to saving money and stretching a dollar. But we also have to take our children into consideration, which means being willing to spend more money in some areas (food) while cutting money in areas that might be considered essential to the average student (beer).
Frugal tips for all students:
- Make a budget. This is especially important if you live off a once a semester loan disbursement. There are plenty of resources to help you with making a budget – I suggest checking out Dave Ramsey if you want to get serious about making a budget. For further reading on things to take into consideration when making our budget check out Kelly’s post on the hidden costs of going back to school.
- Buy used books. I cannot stress this enough. As a law student, if I bought all my books new, I would spend between $600 and $700 a semester. Not pretty. You can browse for used books in your university’s bookstore, or better yet check out Amazon for super-cheap used options. The person who owned the book before might have had a thing for orange highlighters and writing notes in the columns, but it is still worth the money saved.
- Take advantage of the school exercise facilities. A gym membership can cost over $50 a month. Sure, the great outdoors are free of charge but it is hard to motivate for exercising when it is ten degrees outside. The school gym is the best of both worlds – indoors and free. Your university might also have a natatorium where you can swim laps, and check the bulletin boards around the gym for super cheap yoga and martial arts classes.
- Take advantage of the school library. If you cannot afford a computer, or if you have a computer and cannot afford to pay for internet services, head over to campus and take advantage of their student computer section. This works best if you live close to campus.
- Take advantage of your student ID. In my fair city this guarantees me free bus rides, discounts at the movies, and admittance to certain events (plays, speakers, etc.) at a reduced rate. You would be surprised the places that give you a discount for the hard work you do as a student – JCrew, for example, offers a 15% off discount in their stores with a student ID.
- Pack your own lunch. I cannot stress this enough. Even if you eat relatively cheap (as I did as an undergraduate, off the Wendy’s dollar menu) you are still spending three to five dollars a day. This is $15 to $25 a week, or anywhere from $780 to $1,500 a year.
- Make your own coffee. The same logic and math that applies to making your lunch applies to bringing your own coffee. Especially if you are like me and you have a latte habit.
Frugal tips for student-parents:
- Rethink Ramen. Sometimes we only have one serving of a meal to save as leftovers. When money is tight, SLB (the fiancÃ©) and I will make the cheap option for ourselves (yes, sometimes this means Ramen) and Reesy (the almost-one-year-old) gets the leftovers (i.e. real food). This is a win-win: Reesy gets a good meal and we stretch our groceries one more day.
- Look into university sponsored day care. Not all universities offer this, but some do, and it can be considerably cheaper than what you would pay otherwise.
- Buy your books used, and sell them back. As a (childless) undergraduate I kept some of my more interesting books. But as a student-parent, this is no time to be building your book collection, not when you can trade your books for cash at the end of the semester. There is an exception to this rule – if you paid $150 dollars for a book only to be informed that next semester a new edition is being used so they can give you $3 for it, feel free to keep that book. Your righteous indignation is worth more than the $3.
- Look for scholarships for parents – this is especially true if you are a single parent. We know us parents, especially the ones doing it alone, deserve some credit for all that hard work. And there are people out there who agree with us.
- Consider going to school part-time and year round. This has numerous benefits. If you elect to go to school part time you can have more flexibility to work (a paycheck is a very reassuring thing). If you are lucky enough to have a partner, you can also skip the job and try to arrange your schedule so one of you is always home, making child care costs unnecessary. Daycare can be outrageously expensive, and the money you save can in some cases be more than you might make a week at your job. If you take one to two classes in during the summer term you can accelerate your path to graduation in spite of your part-time status. The only thing to keep in mind is that if you, like so many students, rely in part on student loans for certain costs (for example, rent) that you will receive less loan money is you are enrolled in school part-time.
- Be content to live like a parent, not a student. I am on the younger side for a parent, and I am pretty much the only one of my friends at school who has children. It can be difficult when everyone is planning on celebrating finals by going out for drinks, or when people plan to get together and go see a movie. Spending money going out to bars or the movies are not things we can afford to budget in, so that means I typically miss out on doing things with my friends from school. Even though that bothers me sometimes, it is the right decision for my family. Try to wait until people have parties at their homes or there are other school sponsored events where you can socialize for free.
Living frugally as a student-parent isn’t easy, but it is very doable. You just have to get a little creative with your money (and it helps to always come equipped with a good sense of humor, for those times when your baby spits up on that book you were hoping to see back at the end of the semester).
How do you students and student-parents out there get creative with your money?
Lucie is a new mother (and soon-to-be-step-mom) who blogs about redefining perceptions of the American family at Unconventional Origins. She writes about life as a member of an interracial blended family as well as other hot topics, family issues, and creative ideas for around the home. Lucie lives in a small apartment that is big on personality with her fiancÃ© and three sons. She is a full-time law student who loves baking, coffee, and pretending to be an interior designer. If you enjoyed this post check her out and consider adding Unconventional Origins to your reader!