The Practical Benefits of Living Like a College Student (Until You’re 30)


Quick – when you think of college students, you think of…

a.) essays

b.) pizza

c.) high student loan debt

d.) Animal House

… a? b? A combination of the above? What if I were to go ahead and add the option: e.) financial gurus

While most people don’t automatically consider college students to be financial leaders, college students showcase some financially secure tendencies that can be instructive for the rest of us. Financial lessons are often learned from trial and error and come about through times of change and growth. That’s why we can learn a thing or two from those college kids out there, who are busy learning, growing, and transitioning. And evidently – setting some great examples for the frugal financial-ista.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, you could benefit from implementing any of these highly effective habits of the college student:

The Ramen Strategy

I’m not saying that you have to eat ramen until you’re 30. It’s a comforting and cheap meal but your heart would probably shrivel 3 sizes from the sodium. BUT there’s something to be learned from the eating habits of college students – mainly, that you can get by without spending too much and by cooking at home. Food often takes up a good chunk of the budget so it’s a great place to look for spending vacuums.

A college student appreciates the value of eating in before going out and throwing house parties to avoid the strain of spending on pricey drinks or restaurant meals. If you can look for ways to cut back on food expenses and create a meal plan the financial payback will be fairly quick to show itself.

The Roomie Factor

When I was in college I lived with 6 other people. And a dog. And a snake. And a rat that lived in my wall. That meant that we were desperately in need of a chore wheel but also that I escaped each month without having to write a huge check for my rent. Had I chosen to live by myself I could have easily dropped $1,000 plus utilities (this is CA we’re talking about) every month, but by living with roomies the rent check dropped to $450, all utilities included.

Since we often spend so much on housing, seeking out a roommate is an excellent way to cut costs! The more money you save now, the more financial choice you’ll have later. Independence is wonderful, but sharing a space can save you hundreds each month which translates into thousands each year.

The Tendency to Upcycle

I used to do something I liked to call “night creeping” during my college years and no, it’s not what it sounds like. Essentially, I would hit the streets with a few of my friends and we would look for furniture that was left out on the street. It wasn’t nearly as unusual as you might think. College students rarely buy new furniture – and there’s a reason for that. Besides limited funds and the unsettling knowledge that it will in all likelihood be maimed by a spaghetti stain, most college students are in a wonderland of passed down possessions. They’ll swap couches, re-use older microwaves – the list goes on.

Instead of always opting for the newest version of an item, consider going the used route. Much of the time the item is perfectly usable and at a fraction of the price. If you can inherit stuff from friends or family, all the better!

The Encouraging Learning Environment

One thing that college students have going for them is that they’re in a continual state of exposure and growth. It’s the tail end of a long line of educational milestones and while college students have the added benefit of increased flexibility and independence, their schedules are structured around education and learning to ask (and answer) thought-provoking questions.

It’s important to maintain that sense of curiosity and tendency to research and report. When it comes to your personal finances, this desire to learn can translate into financial knowledge that will be incredibly beneficial down the road. (Hint: Check out the ReadyForZero Resource Centers)

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Walking the Walk

You probably had that one friend with the car when you were in college. Or maybe you were that one friend. But one thing’s for sure, not everyone had a car. College students often use their two legs to get to and fro but I could easily add bicycle enthusiasts or public transportation fans to their resume.

Owning a car is a big commitment and it costs a significant amount of money. If you can hold off on making car payments, you’re likely to have a more successful interaction with car ownership. You won’t feel bogged by high insurance costs and monthly payments and you’ll still be able to interact successfully with the lay of the land!

Embracing Experiences Over Things

It’s not that possessions don’t matter to college students – they do. But when you’re living in a dorm, you know not to get too attached to the space since you know you’ll be leaving. Add to that limited physical living space, and you don’t have too much room to store acquired stuff. But you certainly are racking up the experience points! Meeting new people, trying new things, and generally finding the value in experimenting with new interests takes precedence over buying items. It’s a healthy mind-frame to maintain and one that could help you to reign in your spending!

So let’s give the college students a break and take a leaf out of their book! You never know when the students could become the teachers.

Image Credit: Andrew . Walsh

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  • Dee

    Love it! Great point. There have been times in my life since then when I have pulled some tricks out of my college days to use again since those were the uber frugal days!

    • Claire Murdough

      Yes!! College teaching definitely extends beyond the classroom… frugality being one valuable perk of the experience 🙂

  • Marie

    For just under $100 a week my son has a roof over his head every night, hangs out with his buddies, utilities, high speed internet, a swimming pool, close to school, restaurants, and clubs, and probably best of all to him…a girl can spend the night!!!

    • Claire Murdough

      Haha, I love it!! That sounds like a pretty good deal 🙂

  • I love that you called it “night creeping.” Hehe, that’s awesome. To this day, every time I drive by a piece of furniture on the road, I can’t help but rubberneck.
    I still live like a college student in many ways, too. After I finished school, I knew getting my finances in order meant living below my means, so I figured I might as well keep living like a student. I’ve definitely still held onto some of those frugal tactics.

    • Claire Murdough

      Me tooo! I have NO need for more furniture but just this weekend I saw a “free” sign on a table and I had to hold myself back!! Luckily, I can’t carry much on my bike!

      And that’s also awesome that you kept up with saving after graduation! Frugality should start being a header on a resume 🙂

  • hvmnl

    So, tell me what would change when hitting 30 then?
    Any reason why age would determine my behaviour?

    • Claire Murdough

      Great questions – these tactics can definitely be applied past 30!! The age cap is just to hit home that some habits can be kept up even as you tack on years. Ideally we can continue adding new good habits (as we continue to form and collect them) in the next decades too!