When socializing with friends in college, a couple of fun nights out here and there or a few extracurricular activities every semester may seem like a good idea at the time – but they can quickly put a dent in your wallet.
No one wants to stop college students from having a life. After all, your four years on campus aren’t just about taking classes, writing papers, and sitting for exams.
Regardless of whether you’re attending a large university in a big, urban setting or a small private school in a rural locale, you should also get out there a bit and enjoy yourself.
But there’s a right way to go about socializing while in school – and a wrong way to do it as well. (Spoiler alert: being known in college as “that drunk guy/girl” is not a good thing).
Here are 5 ways to keep socializing, extracurricular activities and other hobbies from running your college budget.
Focus on Free Activities
One easy way to keep more dollars in your bank account is to focus on engaging in free, or nearly free, activities.
If you have a busy social life, and you’re constantly doing things with your college pals, this may require some conscious effort on your part. But it is very doable.
At least once-a-month, try to make social events with your college buddies center around free activities, like visiting museums or just hanging out together in dorm halls — as opposed to doing things that cost money, like going shopping, going out to the movies or going out eating. With all that going, going, going, your money will also be going — out of your wallet!
Some extracurricular activities and hobbies that students want to pursue in college are free. But as I reveal in College Secrets, other school activities rack up big bills.
Say you want to be on the cheer team at San Diego State University, hoorah for you! But it’ll cost you $600 a year. So be mindful of upfront and ongoing costs that you might incur for any and all social activities – whether those events take place on or off campus.
Favor Outdoor, Off-Campus Activities
Speaking of off-campus events, outdoor activities will generally be easier on your wallet than indoor activities, where you may have to pay an activity, usage or admission fee.
So take advantage of local or national parks, municipal sites, and other government attractions often fall into the free or low-cost categories. Those are real budget-savers.
They can also get you outside, and help keep you from feeling too cooped up when you’ve been in a dorm room or classroom way too long.
Don’t Load Up On Gear for Any New Hobbies
When choosing hobbies, favor those that require your time, creativity and knowledge — as opposed to your money, special equipment or costly gear.
Also, don’t buy a ton of gear upfront — especially when you’re just learning a new skill or getting into a hobby for the first time. If you need gear when you’re a novice, rent it. There’s no point in going all out and buying expensive golf clubs, high-tech camera equipment, or costly ski gear if you’re not going to regularly use those items.
You may take an initial interest in golf, photography or skiing, and then decide after one season or so that you’re not that into it any more. Save yourself money by forgoing upfront purchases for such hobbies and extra-curricular activities.
Get a Two-For-One Savings
As a final way to save cash, consider taking on hobbies that can slash your costs in other ways.
For instance, if you get into biking as an exercise pastime, can you envision yourself giving up your car and lowering your auto expenses?
Having a car on campus is a major money drainer. So your newfound biking hobby could also save you a bundle on hidden college costs, such as campus parking fees. It’s like getting a two-for-one savings.
Or what about those who love arts and crafts? If you enjoy woodworking, painting or cooking, you may be able to make gifts for others — and not have to spend money on store-bought gifts for your loved ones when holidays, birthdays or other special occasions roll around.
By letting your hobbies double as methods that can save you cash in other ways, you’re really being a smart college student – and you’re learning practical money-management skills that can help you for many years to come.
Reconsider Bars and Clubs
The legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old. But obviously, that doesn’t stop many college students who aren’t yet 21 from hitting bars and clubs and consuming alcohol at frat parties or in dorm functions.
At the risk of sounding like a goody-two-shoes, I have to point out that drinking and excessive partying often make for a terrible combination in college. So I recommend that you get comfortable saying “No” to all those offers you’ll likely get to down a few beers, wine coolers or other alcoholic beverages.
Even if everyone around you seems to be boozing it up, you’re better off having a few non-alcoholic beverages instead, keeping your finances in tact and keeping a level head as well.
If you’re of legal age, go ahead and drink alcohol if you choose to do so – just do it in moderation and not because you feel pressured to “go along” with everyone else.
Those 21 and older can save money (and avoid the risk of DUI as well) by purchasing alcohol from a grocery store and consuming those drinks on campus, instead of paying premium prices for drinks at clubs and bars, and then worrying about how you’ll drive back to a dorm.
Obviously, though, if your college or university has a “no alcohol” policy, you should observe that rule – no matter what your age.
Following these ideas can help you have fun safely, legally, and in a way that’s financially responsible so that extra-curricular activities and socializing don’t kill your college budget.