I'm fancy like that.
A few weeks ago, I received an email saying I had been nominated as one of ecollegefinder top finance blogs, and would I like to answer a few questions to be put in the finals? Um, yes, yes I would please. Part of the application was the offer to write a blog post about college finances and include that in your submission. I didn't have time to get it done before the deadline, so I said I would be writing a post and was told that was fine, but could I write a few thoughts about what the post would entail?
I am paraphrasing here, but I pretty much submitted: "healthy, cheap, easy food, home remedies that save you money, and fart jokes. Ramen bad."
You can imagine my surprise when I received an email saying I had been placed in the top 50. I kinda felt like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde getting in to Harvard.
So, college students, come worship at my feet of cheapness. I will lay down the gauntlet of wisdom and edumacate you in staying fiscally sound during your time in higher education.
First things first - don't get into consumer debt. Kinda a no-brainer, right? I know it's easier said than done, but there are very few people who aren't able to work a little bit during college. I delivered pizza while going to Washington State University full time. I worked a few nights a week and made an enormous amount of money doing that. I saved all my coins from tips and that would net about $100 a month. That money would go in to savings. I lived (food, gas, etc.) off of my cash tips, and put my paycheck and the mileage fee that the company gave us in to the bank. It wasn't fancy work, and it wasn't challenging, but it was a great way to keep extra money in my pocket.
Ok, so I said the obligatory "don't get a credit card" speech, but saving money in college is so much more than just not getting in to debt. Most of the rest of this post will focus on ways to save money as someone living on their own for the first time. Many of the tips won't apply to dorm living because when you're at the mercy of a food plan and dorm fees, there isn't a lot of wiggle room. In my experience, people don't live in dorms forever, so consider these your "Sophomore year" tips.
Cleaning your new place
Don't waste your money on conventional cleaning supplies. Not only are they expensive, but often they're full of fragrance and other harsh chemicals that can harm your health. It's so easy and inexpensive to make your own. I buy many of my ingredients at Costco, but even if you don't have a membership, these things are cheap at grocery or other big box stores.
I wouldn't buy a mattress second hand, but I sure as hell would (and have) bought clothes, dishes, kitchen items, home furnishings, etc. at thrift stores, garage sales, and off of Craigslist. You don't need new. You want new. But you don't need it. Besides, new is boring; used is fun and full of character!
Food is what I think about a lot throughout the day. If you don't want to put all that effort in to it, check out my posts every Sunday to see my meal plan, and how much I spend on groceries. You'd be surprised at how much delicious food you can get for such a small amount of coin. Spices, herbs, and a few go-to sauces will make you the king or queen of your apartment complex. People will always ask what you're cooking, and perhaps would there be enough for one more person to come to dinner.
Simple and healthy food can be a no brainer. To accomplish a lot of my easy recipes, you're going to need a few things, all which are readily found at thrift stores. Get yourself a crockpot, at least one cast iron skillet, and a dutch oven. For tips on refurbishing thrift store cast iron, click here.
Ramen and processed food are full of sodium and crap you don't need to be eating. I'm also a huge proponent of "cook once, and eat multiple times". Make yourself a giant batch of soup in your newly acquired crockpot, and then freeze in small portions. Voila, you now have an instant meal to take to campus to eat between classes (assuming you can access a microwave). And the best part is that you don't need to pack it with a ice pack, because it is its own ice pack!
One of my favorite easy/cheap/"get a lot out of this meal" meals is roast chicken, skillet potatoes, and a vegetable. Roast the chick in your dutch oven, roast the spuds in the your cast iron skillet (bonus you don't have to wash cast iron after cooking in it!), and make a side salad. That night you'll feast like the royal family.
After you've eaten your fill of the chicken, put aside a little for lunch in a container with the leftover spuds. Then pick the extra meat off of the chicken and set aside in the fridge. Tomorrow, you're having taco bowls! Put the chicken carcass in your crockpot with water and some veggies, and cook on low for 12 hours. Then, strain, and freeze in 2 cup portions, You just made 3 meals (dinner, lunch for tomorrow, and dinner for tomorrow), plus about $4 worth of chicken stock for just the price of your chicken and a few other ingredients. Mind blown, right? Right!
Before I close, here are a few of my favorite dirt cheap, but healthy recipes. Enjoy, and feel free to email me or leave a comment if you have any questions!
Black beans in the crockpot