This guest post from Steve Robinson is part of the “ reader stories ” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Steve writes for Homesales.com.au, an Australian real estate portal that caters to student shared housing. Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.
With the new academic year upon us, the term “living like a student” is often thrown about, but what does this actually mean? Like anything else, it's relative to personal experience. Yet there are certain commonalities to student life. I've attended universities in both Boston and Melbourne, Australia, and found that although the cities and academic experiences were slightly different, the financial strategies needed to get by as a student could be applied to both locations.
While expenses like tuition and academic fees can certainly leave you feeling broke, being a student can also yield some great discounts and provide you with the opportunity to start figuring out what financial independence feels like. Learning the art of frugality early on certainly helps in the long run when the time comes to finally start paying off the loans! The following are a few ways to take advantage of your student status to pinch a few pennies.
- House Sharing Cost-of-living calculators like the one on Numbeo can help you calculate what your living expenses will be, and for most students rent will be the highest cost. This leads to the need to rent shared housing, whether it's on or off campus. A site like College Rentals has listings in college towns all over America. There are usually popular student districts in university cities, where you'll find cheap rent and student-friendly cafes and bars. I ended up living with 12 different roommates as a student, and although not all of them are bosom buddies to this day, a side benefit of saving money is that you learn how to deal with all sorts of different personalities.
- Student Discounts Once you have been issued your student ID card, the world is your oyster. Museums, restaurants, shops and transportation systems offer discounts usually ranging from 5-15% to students. The Student Edge program in Australia also gives you additional retail discounts, with free signup. A comparable U.S. offering is the Student Advantage card, but it has a $20 fee for a year, with lower fees if you buy the card for two or three years. You'll also be inundated with vouchers and coupons at the start of the new academic year as local businesses vie for student attention. Hold onto these for use down the road when your loan money runs out.
- Budget Travel When the weekend rolls around and you want to see more of the world than your roommate's dirty socks, take advantage of student travel discounts and social networking sites to get out on the road. Couchsurfing.org can hook you up with like-minded people who have a free place for you to crash, while student travel websites like STA Travel offer cheap fares and information on hostels. For travel on a shoestring, you can't beat the bus. Firefly and Greyhound take students all over Australia. In the U.S., the Megabus, Bolt Bus and GoToBus.com offer good discounts for anyone, not just students.
- Potluck Dinner Parties You don't have to be a gourmet chef to throw a dinner party. Pick one or two dishes that you really like to eat, and learn how to prepare them well. Although I'm no master chef, I practiced making lasagne, which is always a crowd-pleaser. It's far more economical for guests if everyone is just required to bring one item to a party, and you end up with an impressive spread (or about 10 bottles of wine and some chips).
- Happy Hours Let's face it, nights out are a big expense as a student. If you're of drinking age, happy hour guides and open bars are your best friend. Party promoters only get paid when they are able to fill the club with young, attractive people and who are young and attractive? Students! To fill seats, bars will offer special deals, such as 2-for-1 drinks or even free cocktails for an hour to kick off a dance night.