Stephanie wrote with a common question: How can a college student save money when she doesn’t make enough to make ends meet? Here’s her story:

I am a full-time college student living on my own for the first time. I moved out of the house about nine months ago, and have found that even though I have a great job, I’m not making enough to support myself.

I saved up a lot last summer when I was working, but was forced to burn through my savings during the school year. Fortunately, my parents are very willing and financially able to help me when I run into trouble, but I’m making an effort to be independent as much as possible. This is hard, because as I mentioned, I am not making more than I have to spend.

I’m very careful about what I buy, and try to save money whenever I do buy something, but I’m at a stage of life right now where I’m not sure it’s possible for me to be completely independent. I do have some credit card debt that I’m trying to pay off, and may ask my parents for a loan of sorts, just to get me out from under that burden. I wonder if you or any readers have advice on how I can save my money when I’m not really making enough to put any away.

I believe that in most cases it’s not possible to pursue a degree while saving money. Most people are going to accumulate debt. (I finished college without school loans, so I know it is possible, but this is an exception and not the rule.) In an ideal world, everyone would be able to save money, even while in school. In reality, there are a variety of reasons this might not be practical:

  • Low income
  • High expenses
  • Poor money management skills
  • Unexpected emergencies

Each person should aim to make the best choices possible based on his individual situation. Sometimes, though, even the best choices will lead to deficit spending and increased debt. Sometimes patience — and a temporary deficit — are required for a brighter financial future.

That’s nice in theory, but it doesn’t help Stephanie now. She still needs to know how to manage her money when she’s not making enough to cover expenses. When I was in college, my strategy was to work as much as possible. At one time, I held down five different part-time jobs. If I hadn’t become addicted to credit cards, this income would have been more than enough to see me through graduation. (Though in retrospect, I wish I’d focused more on my studies.)

What about you? How did you make ends meet when you were in school? Did you work more? Did you live like a pauper? Or did you simply surrender to inevitable debt? Do you have advice for others who might be in a similar situation later in life?

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