Having fun in college on a tight budget

Thrifty Student Life

by Celeste Buttermore-Ulsh

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(editor's note: This originally came in as a response to a reader's question. We hope that you'll find it helpful.)

I am responding to Rebecca at Iowa state that was wondering how to be a thrifty college student and still have fun. Well, Rebecca, you are in one of the best situations to do that! First of all, if your college is like my husbands (Colorado State) your student ID or activity card is your ticket to hundreds of free events. You just have to make use of them.

That ID/activity card usually entitles you to free entrance to most athletic events. Decide you will support your school in swimming, basketball, soccer, volleyball, anything and go to the games. At CSU students even get into football games for free.

You also can get into the school productions for very cheap if not free. We paid $9 for the both of us to attend an Opera put on by the school. Plays are just as cheap.

Other free events include concerts, indoor and out. And lectures- Spike Lee came to CSU and his lecture was free to all students. At the beginning of the year when you get your free calendar (I have yet to be at a school that didn't give out a calendar in the union at the beginning of the year), go to the section that tells how to contact the athletic department, theater dept., etc_ IMMEDIATELY call all of them and ask to get schedules sent to you or to get on the list to get them when they are published. Go through the schedules then and write them in your appointment book. I have found that if I don't write it down, and it's free, I end up not making the effort to go. So, make a commitment to go to these things.

How about joining a club on campus? Believe me, political and environmental groups will put you to work. Don't have anything to do tonight, please call these 100 people and see if they can work at our table at the next fair!

What about sports yourself? If you are even slightly athletic, pick up a bike at a garage sale (about $10) and go bike riding, roller blading, or to the student athletic center (free also to students at CSU).

Want to entertain at home? Have a pizza party. You can buy frozen bread dough in the grocery, 5 loaves for about $2. Have your friends each bring a topping. Hit some garage sales and buy some games. I got trivia pursuit and taboo for $2. Even cheaper, learn some card games. Like to drink beer (assuming of course that you are 21)? Have a micro-brew party. Have each of your friends bring a different micro-brew and have a chart on poster board so everyone can rate how they like each. Keep the poster as a running list for future parties.

Like to go to restaurants and socialize. Keep a list of all the good happy hour deals in terms of free or cheap food and know which is the best deal for the night you want to go out. When I was in school, every Thursday night I went to the same Mexican restaurant and had two draft beers and all the chips/salsa/beans I could stuff in me and with a decent tip for the waitress spend only $5. Also, most movie places have a rent one, get one free night. Know which night that is and make it a habit to rent on those nights only.

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Make your own traditions. Have a monthly "chick flick" night. Rent some good sappy movies and have your friends over to watch them. Make a big deal out of it. And don't be afraid to make things "pot-luck" style. Tell people you will supply the movie and tissues and ask them to bring their favorite snack to share for the movie. If it becomes a tradition, your friends will put that on their calendar and put you on their invite list for when they decide to have a get-together.

Local music acts are also free during the week. Most places don't charge a cover Monday- Wednesday. Watch your local paper and see what is playing and where. Call the place if it doesn't say and ask about a cover charge. I believe there is no reason to EVER pay a cover. If you go see a particular band play on the non- cover nights, and they see you as loyal followers, they may be able to get you in free on cover charge nights.

My husband and I hope to always live in college towns. There is more going on free than we could ever get to. Keep your mind open and vow to try everything just once. You may decide you like watching your college swim team or really enjoy the opera!

My last advice is to never pay full price for pizza. If you can't make it (since you live in a dorm or something), always use a coupon! The pizza wars are alive and well and if you watch, you can probably find a coupon to every pizza place in your town.

Good luck and enjoy yourself!!

Since I've been married, either my husband or I have been a student and so we have had to live on one income. My philosophy is I don't spend money on things that are not important to me so I have money for things that are. I would love to one day launch my own print newsletter because I have so much fun being thrifty.

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