Cheap Living for Broke College Students and Graduates

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Cheap Living for Broke College StudentsIt’s hard being young and poor today and with the job market tough, a college degree is beginning to feel a lot like a high school degree. Power bills and gas are getting more expensive. Although states can now set individual minimum wages, most still go by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, hardly a living wage. It has been years since the federal minimum wage has been raised. With all these factors against us, we must find ways to work within the system to save and earn money. But we can still eat, drink, and be merry for cheap. Here are some suggestions as to how:

Cheap Food:

1.) College Events: Lots of college events have free food like pizza or sandwiches. Even if you’ve graduated from college, you can still show up at the events. Even if the event is happening at a college you never attended, you could still show up, grab some food, and leave. Most events will be big enough that no one will notice/care if you’re actually a student. It’s not like they make you show college IDs to get into stuff like that. But if anyone does ask, you can tell them you’re visiting a friend who goes to the school. So do a little research and find out what’s happening at the local colleges and when.

2.) Day Old Bread/Dumpster Diving: It sounds gross, but you can actually find fairly good food still in packaging in dumpsters outside of grocery stores. Also check bakeries for day old bread, which is usually very cheap but still tastes fine.

3.) Potluck Dinners: If you have broke friends and you’re all sick of eating the same things all the time, plan a potluck and arrange it so that everyone brings something different to eat. Maybe the portions will be small but the variety will be nice.

4.)Food Not Bombs/Soup Kitchens: Food Not Bombs is a really positive organization that offers free vegetarian meals a few times a week. Some states have a lot of them in various cities, while some only have one or none. There are also usually soup kitchens to be found in cities. If you feel guilty about eating at a soup kitchen, volunteer at one. You’ll be doing good, and you can probably get some food at the end of shift.

5.) Coupons: Yeah, it sounds so pedestrian but cutting coupons can really help save money at the grocery store. Also, look for buy one get one free meals at local restaurants and other such deals.

6.) Free Samples: Find a grocery store that has a lot of free samples and go sample everything. Twice. Think of it as a buffet. If you know of more than one such store, tour them all. Fill up on free samples.

7.) Restaurant Complaint: If you’ve had a bad experience at a restaurant, write in or call in a complaint. Many places will give you a free gift certificate to pacify you. On a similar note, if you ever have a problem with food you bought at the grocery store, don’t hesitate to return it. For example, Harris Teeter has a double-your-money-back produce policy, so when I returned a bag of carrots that were bad when I bought them, I actually made money from the deal.

Cheap Clothes:

1.) Goodwill/Salvation Army/Thrift Shops: A lot the clothing in thrift stores is outdated or in bad condition. But then some of it is really nice, recent, and in good condition. You just need to look around carefully.

2.) Rugged Wearhouse/TJ Maxx/Marshalls/etc.: Find the cheap clothing stores in your area. Buy out of season (like buying winter clothes at the end of winter, and summer clothes at the end of summer) because these will often be on clearance or greatly reduced.

3.) Friend’s Closets: Clean out your closet often and pass things on to friends, and see if they’re willing to do the same. If not, borrowing works just as well.

Cheap/Free Miscellaneous Items:

1.) Yoga Classes: A lot of yoga studios offer potential customers a free class. Call the local studios and ask them about this policy. They also usually offer discounted classes to students so even if you’ve graduated, if you still have your ID you should be able to get in for cheap.

2.) Libraries: It sounds obvious, but many people forget about the library or take it for granted. The local library is a great source of free books, CDs, movies, and often Internet access.

3.) End of Year College Dumpsters: You’d be amazed at the stuff people throw out at the end of the semester (or maybe you wouldn’t; maybe you’ve thrown out crazy stuff too). People throw out everything from perfectly good shoes and clothing to posters to fridges to rugs to furniture…and the list goes on. Just check in and around the college’s dumpsters throughout the last week of the school year.

4.) Spring Cleaning: People, especially in rich neighborhoods, will leave interesting things out on the curb. My house got some of its furniture this way. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

5.) Complaint: This is similar to the restaurant complaint above. If you’ve had a bad experience at a store, especially a large chain, send a letter or e-mail, or call in to complain. I have a friend who complained about a trivial experience at CVS and got a $5 gift card.

Ways to Earn Money:

1.) Housesitting/petsitting/babysitting: These are all great ways to make money if you’re in college, between jobs, employed part-time, or even employed full-time but looking to pick up some extra cash. Housesitting is one of the sweetest jobs ever. It usually just requires staying at someone’s house while they’re out of town so it looks lived in, and keeping up with the plants and mail. It’s generally a pretty easy job, and the perks often include free food, free laundry, cable, and of course, getting to stay at a nice house. Just be sure to keep it nice and clean. If you’re good, you might get recommendations.

Petsitting is similarly enjoyable and if you’re a dog or cat person, this is a perfect job for you. People usually pay well to have their pets taken care of, and you get to play with them. This one is especially fun if you don’t have pets yourself.

Babysitting is the hardest of these, but it pays well and once you start it’s not hard to find regular babysitting jobs. This one may also come with free food and cable.

The best way to get sitting jobs is to keep your eye out for someone you know that might need help. Once you’ve done it for someone you know, they may recommend you to their friends. You can also advertise your willingness to do these types of jobs by putting up flyers with your name and number on them (or giving out cards) but make sure you have references because people are hesitant to trust someone they don’t know with their house, pets, or children.

2.) Odd Jobs: This is similar to the one above, but opens the door a little wider. Odd jobs can include anything from sitting to cleaning to lawn care to running errands for someone who can’t drive. Start a business by yourself or with friends and put up flyers or give out cards. Put flyers in mailboxes of nice neighborhoods. Tell people you know who may be interested. You never know what you might end up doing, and the beauty of it is you can always refuse a job if you’re not interested or don’t have time that day.

3.) Selling Things: There are stores where you can sell or consign clothing you don’t want anymore and get cash or store credit. Plato’s Closet is a chain that buys and sells clothing; to see if there’s one in your area, go to: Or look under consignment in the phone book. There are also places where you can sell used CDs, books, and movies; sometimes consignment shops take these but in some areas there are specialized stores that will pay more for them. You can also trying selling things in the newspaper in the classified ads, but this costs money, so only do it with items that you’re fairly certain will sell. If you’re really desperate for money, there are always pawn shops. Just look under “pawn” in the phone book.

4.) Teaching/Trading/Tutoring: If you have a specialized skill (ex. play an instrument, know how to ballroom dance, etc.) see if you can make money or arrange a trade teaching those around you. People might not want to pay you for lessons, but maybe they’ll trade some knowledge or skill that they have. This can work with a variety of things: If you know how to do an oil change, you can change a friend’s oil in exchange for dinner or some other trade. If you have a subject matter that you specialize in, or even if you don’t, you can be a tutor. If you know anyone with school-age children, see if they’re interested in hiring a tutor.

5.) Bingo: This is one that costs money but you can also win large amounts of money. I’ve heard that some places like to let newcomers win so they’ll come back again.

Things to do for Free/Cheap:

1.) Swimming/Hot tubbing: It’s fairly easy to get into a hotel pool or hot tub. Just make sure to show up before they close (usually around 10 or 11pm). Most of the time, the hotel employees will not ask you to give proof that you’re staying there. Just steer clear of high-end, expensive, ritzy hotels and you should be fine.

2.) Nature: Explore the woods, parks, and lakes in your area.

3.) Art Galleries/Museums: A lot of art galleries are free (they can often be found on college campuses) and sometimes museums are free, especially city sanctioned historical museums.

4.) Games: Play Kick the Can or Capture the Flag, or some game from your childhood. Give it a try, you’ll probably be surprised at how fun it still is. Or just play a sport outside for fun, like soccer or basketball.

5.) Free Shows: A lot of local bands play free shows at local bars and venues. See if your town has a free weekly entertainment guide and see what kind of music is going on.

6.) Poker/Cards: You can play for money but you don’t have to. Get a big tournament going and if you don’t want to play for money, offer something else to the winner, such as your undying love and devotion.

7.) Pet Stores/Animal Shelters: These are kind of like a free trip to the zoo. Visit them and commune with all the lonely animals. Hold the birds or pet the cats. Take a puppy out and play with it. I bet they’d love the attention.

8.) Bonfire: Find an appropriate place to have a fire (Create a fire circle in the woods, a field, or a backyard), invite people, and bring instruments. You could even grill over the fire.

These all are just suggestions. They may not all apply to your town or city, but hopefully you’ll find something that does. Good luck!

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