Cutting Down on Expenses

If you find that your expenses are quite high, here are some steps to develop a spending plan to move toward balancing your budget.

By Kaitlin Meyer — January 23, 2023

Cutting Down on Expenses


Before buying a car or bringing one to college, consider the extra expenses involved. In addition to the cost of the car itself, you will have to pay for gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs, and the occasional traffic or parking ticket. Another expense if you live in a more populated area is parking, whether you pay to park in a residential lot or pay for a campus parking pass, plan to spend at least another $1000 for a school year. You will also have monthly payments if you purchase the car using a payment plan. Some of these expenses are predictable, such as insurance and regular maintenance, but others can be unexpected and come at the most inconvenient times. A sudden repair can cause havoc not only on your schedule and transportation but also on your bank account. While having a car during college has many benefits, consider the financial implications before purchasing or bringing a vehicle to school.

Eating out

Whether going out with friends, grabbing a convenient lunch during the day, or eating out to avoid cooking dinner, paying for restaurant meals costs a lot. Grocery costs for one person range from $50-$100 per week. Each meal costs between $2.38 and $4.76. On the other hand, going out to eat can cost anywhere from $10-$40 for one meal. You are likely not going out to a nice sit-down dinner at a high-end restaurant too often, so an average meal out costs $15.

These expenses can add up quickly. For example, if you go out to eat three times every week, you spend roughly an extra $32 every week. That's $128 every month and $1664 every year! While eating out can be quick and convenient, the additional cost may not be worth it. Limit yourself to one nice meal out every week or month. Setting aside one day each week to meal prep can alleviate the inconvenience of cooking. Alternatively, opt for a meal kit plan if cooking is not your thing. While these are generally not as cost-effective as grocery shopping, they tend to be cheaper than eating out. Last but not least, staying on the school's meal plan and putting in the extra energy to make it to the cafeteria for every meal might be the best option.

Small Purchases

You knew this was coming: it's time to talk about your latte money. If you purc hase one latte every morning of the week, you are spending $1825 every year on coffee. That is a little extreme. Let's say you buy a fancy coffee drink three or four times a week or a drip of coffee every day. That still adds up to $912 every year. In less than a year, you will have spent enough money on coffee to buy your own high-end espresso machine, as well as coffee, milk, and electricity to power it. This is not to suggest that buying an espresso machine is the best option, but taking the time to make your coffee or at least purchase drip coffee regularly and save fancy drinks for special occasions would be in your best interest.

Perhaps you don't drink coffee. You are still susceptible to the subtle nature of seemingly harmless small purchases. Whether going to the movies, buying popcorn and snacks at the movies, or other small activities, like bowling, the small bills add up. Try to regulate these expenses by setting a weekly petty cash budget and prepare for situations where you are tempted to spend money. Pack snacks, plan activities that don't cost extra money, and ensure that the activities and items you spend money on are worth it.

Textbooks and School Supplies

Textbooks are ridiculously expensive and tend to depreciate over time. New editions generally come out every one or two years, and the fundamental textbook for a particular class might change every five to ten years. One option is to get as many books as possible from the library. While this might not be possible for textbooks you constantly refer to, the library is a great place to look for supplemental materials.

Regarding textbooks, ask upperclassmen or other students who have taken a class before if you can borrow their textbook. Several services, including Amazon, allow you to rent a textbook for one semester either online or as a physical copy for a much smaller fee than if you were to purchase the book. If you choose to buy your textbooks and do not need them for regular future reference, resale them online or locally to other students after your class ends. This way, you can resell the book before it becomes outdated.

Streaming Services

Netflix and other streaming services can make up significant portions of your spending budget. They are a challenge because once you sign up for a service, you never have to consciously choose to enter your credit card or pay for it every month. It's easy to forget you subscribe to something. Netflix, the most basic plan, costs $120 every year. If you also sign up for Disney and HBO Max as a free trial and then forget to cancel your subscription, your total rises to $408 yearly. Remember to track which services you subscribe to and triage the most important ones. For example, maybe you decide HBO is the best streaming service for you, so you cancel your other subscriptions and go in on an HBO subscription with a friend. Sharing will cost you substantially less money. Also, watch out for other subscription services, such as music, subscription boxes, magazines, gym, and other memberships. Another way to save a little money here is to freeze your gym membership when you go home for Christmas break or any other long period of time.

Shopping for Clothing

Shopping for clothing and other incidental items that aren't groceries can be an expense that takes you by surprise since these are not necessarily regular, weekly expenses. Decrease the amount of money spent on both needed and extra items by avoiding impulse purchases. When you need a new item of clothing, consider how to incorporate it into your budget. Consider thrift shopping for clothing and decor to save up for particular high-quality new items. For example, you might want to buy used jeans and t-shirts and save up for a nice pair of waterproof snow boots.

The key underlying cutting down expenses successfully is learning how to create and follow a budget. Before you can cut down your expenses, you need to know your expenses. Check out our article on budgeting in college to learn more!

Kaitlin Meyer

Kaitlin Meyer

Kaitlin Meyer is a Master's student at Ohio State University (OSU), and is writing a thesis on snow microstructure inspired by her love for skiing. She earned a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Wyoming Catholic College (WCC).
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