A college student’s financial situation is a three-way tug-o-war between newfound freedom, expanded expenses, and increased responsibility. This seems even more true for international students as a new and strange environment seems to amplify all three aspects. Being an international student myself, I would like to offer a few money-saving tips, most of which were derived from my own experiences, with the hope that they will help ease some of your worries.
Budget, budget, budget
Budgeting is a useful way to practice self-control and monitor your use of money.
A good way to start is to sign up for a budgeting app. Most apps offer monitoring in the form of charts that show how you earn and spend money. They will also offer tools to help you set limits on each category of expenses and inform you of your progress in following them. Mint, the app I currently use, even sends me alerts if I go over any limits on my budget.
Having a budget has the same effect as having only so much cash in your wallet. By pretending that you only have so much to spend at any point, you can stop yourself from squandering.
The perks of being a student
Temple University has many resources that often go unnoticed. Do you know that professional courses on Lynda.com, statistical software, and free blog hosting are all available to you for free from TU Portal? Do you know that the library leisure reading section has new and popular books which would cost more than $20 per new copy? Now in my junior year, I regret not using the library more in previous semesters as I found out how easy it is to go to the desk at the Media Center in Paley’s basement, borrow movies, and watch them in the viewing room conveniently nearby.
Student discounts are available all around campus and in Philadelphia, but you’ll have to keep an eye out for them. Businesses such as restaurants or cinemas may offer discounts to students but forget to tell you, so keep your Student ID with you, and always ask. Such perks exist online as well – Amazon and publications like New York Times and The Economist all have student subscription plans – so make sure you know what all that is available to you.
For such a historical and culturally relevant city as Philadelphia, it is worth saying that cultural attractions, museums, or theatres can be very generous to students. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s eZseatU membership gives you unlimited concerts for the whole season for only $25; the Wilma Theater offers a $30 student package for all shows in a season; and Campus Philly has a big event every year where students travel to and visit attractions all over the city either for free or a very small fee. And if you want a pleasant night out without the drudgery of dragging yourself out to the city, remember what I said about Temple, check out the Calendar List, and explore the wide selection of exciting performances right here on campus.
Buy in Bulk
This strategy applies best to essentials since you likely already know your preferences and consumption habits. You can find personal care products such as sunscreen, soap, and shampoo in packages at grocery stores or on Amazon as part of a subscription package (signing up for goods to be delivered on a regular basis). Packages are usually priced at a discount and are less expensive than buying each unit separately. At times, you will find it more economical to spend around $4-6 for a trip to Walmart and buy more than usual so that the savings will make up for the time and travelling costs.
This also works for non-perishable food. A personal example from me: I knew that I enjoy bulgogi sauce, and so my friend and I found and bought 12 bottles of Bulgogi sauce on Amazon for only $20. You can check out other grocery shopping tips from this helpful Freely video.
Alternative shopping spots
FreshGrocer is open 24/7 and right around the corner, so it is likely your first destination for groceries. However, when it comes to particular niches, other stores can offer much lower prices. East Asian food items, including fresh meat and vegetables, at Hung Vuong Supermarket and the Asia Supermarket are usually cheaper than their FreshGrocer equivalents, if FreshGrocer even have them.
Of course, saving money does not mean never buying any cool things. What if I tell you, by buying old things you could save money and get awesome stuff at the same time ? Philly Aids Thrift, a prominent thrift store in Philadelphia, sells clothes, kitchenware, CD records, books, … you name it. The store holds unique items that are hard to find anywhere, at great prices. It was there that I got my favorite science fiction books, in their old-timey pocket-size formats, for less than $4 each, and I absolutely love them. Have I mentioned that all proceeds go to local organization dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS?
Takeaway coffee can be bitterly expensive
So brew your own.
Some students desperately need coffee to function. However, getting a three-dollar cup from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts every morning adds up very quickly. Imagine your coffee bill for a year: $3 x 7 days x 52 weeks = $1,092. Instead, invest in a decent coffee maker (<$90) and a selection of coffee packs or ground coffee varieties (usually <$1 per 12 oz cup). This should cut your coffee cost by half or more. Even better is that international students will find this an opportunity to explore and recreate the coffee taste from their home countries, a feature hard to expect from mainstream cafes such as Starbucks. And remember, there is always tea.
Time equals Money
By “time”, I mean time spent on research and planning. All the above strategies – from budgeting, using student privileges, to seeking out alternatives to your daily routines- will only be effective if you spend time looking for proper information. This might seem like common sense, but one of the age-old bad habits that plague students is Procrastination. The longer you wait before analyzing and planning your own expenses, the more money you are unknowingly wasting. For some, the cost of procrastination is a few coffee packets at 2AM before the due date tomorrow morning. Believe me, it is a lot more than that.