It’s no secret that college students have to stretch every penny. We have to worry about covering tuition, housing expenses and food, all while trying to have enough spending money to live it up during the best four years of our life. But with all of the loyalty programs and rewards cards that businesses offer, it is also very easy to cut corners and score a free meal every once in a while. I have narrowed down the top five programs that I feel give you the best bang for your buck. Check them out:
5. Kroger Plus Card
Do you buy groceries and gasoline? If the answer is yes, then you should definitely have a Kroger Plus card. It gets you great discounts on groceries, and actually allows you to go online before shopping and pre-load coupons straight to your card so that you save even more money. Even better, you don’t actually have to keep up with that pesky piece of plastic anymore. Just type in your “alternative ID,” (the phone number associated with the card), and start saving money! In addition to great savings on groceries, you also earn 1 point for every dollar spent, which goes towards gas savings. This card will do nothing but save you money on food and groceries, which seems like a pretty good deal to me!
4. CVS ExtraCare Rewards
Although drugstores are typically known for offering overpriced products, the CVS ExtraCare card mitigates that stereotype by offering customers great discounts and coupons on a variety of products. This card personalizes the coupons it offers you by utilizing your purchase history to offer you great deals on the products you actually want and need. Not only are you offered great coupons, but you automatically receive the weekly sale prices with just the swipe of your card. To top it all off, for every 10 prescriptions you have filled, you earn $5 in ExtraBucks Rewards! So stop paying so much for those vitamins.
3. Qdoba Rewards
Regardless of whether you are team Chipotle or team Qdoba, the Qdoba rewards card is what it says it is – all rewards. Just for signing up you receive your choice of either a free large drink, or free chips and salsa. After that, all you need to do is swipe your card every time you visit. After purchasing 10 meals, and collecting 1,000 points, you receive a meal for free! You have nothing to lose and only free meals to gain by signing up for Qdoba rewards! Anyone else addicted to their guac?
2. Speedway Speedy Rewards
Don’t let the Speedway name fool you; the Speedy Rewards Card isn’t limited to discounts on gas. In fact, you can actually redeem your Speedy Rewards points online for gift cards to your favorite restaurants, clothing stores and gaming websites. In addition to earning points for every dollar spent on gas, every time you purchase a food item that belongs to a “Speedy Rewards Club,” you will receive that item for free after so many purchases of that item. I always use this card to score a free coffee before studying.
1. eCampus.com eWards
Let’s face it, no one likes buying textbooks. They’re expensive, they’re heavy and they’re painfully boring. But if you want to know what’s going on in class, they’re necessary. Now that eCampus.com has introduced their eWards program you earn points every time you rent/buy/sell a textbook. The points add up quickly and turn into HUGE savings for the next time you need books (like a $25 gift card)! Additional points can be earned just from referring friends or tweeting about deals. Enrolling is super easy and it’s free, so there is really no reason not to. Join me and more than 20,000 other students and become an eWards member and start saving now!
(BONUS: Double Points Days are starting May 29! For one week only, eWards members earn double points for selling used textbooks.)
What are your favorite ways to save money?
Many students choose to go away to college once they graduate high school, while others decide to stay at home and commute. I happen to be one of those commuter students (hence the name “Commuter Crystal”), and I have found many perks to this decision.
Going away for college usually means higher expenses, and I’m not talking about minor living expenses like food and gas. I’m talking about tuition and housing. Take the University of Pittsburgh, for example. If you’re going to the main campus and are an in-state resident, you’re paying anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 extra to attend compared to a branch campus, and that all depends on your major. For housing, it can be anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 to be housed on the main campus compared to housing on a branch campus closer to your home. Should you be an out-of-state resident, you could be faced with an additional $20,000 a year. Commuting from home can allow you to pay a minimal amount of rent to your parents or do chores in lieu of rent. Staying close to home isn’t looking so bad, is it?
After tuition and housing, you have to think about other costs associated with college. Meal plans are expensive, and buying your own food to live in an apartment off campus can rack up a hefty total too! If you live at home, you can buy food and make it yourself, but chances are your folks or a sibling will cook for you. You won’t have to stick to Ramen noodles every night, or cook things in bulk and freeze it for later. As for gas, everyone knows how the economy is today. Living away from home means driving back home for holidays among other things. While this could be great for your highway gas mileage, it racks up a big bill. If you stay at home, you may only have to drive to campus and back to your home.
While there are many benefits to living at home, there are also numerous drawbacks. For starters, you’re living with your parents or other family members. You’re not part of the dorm life, or out on your own and truly independent like you might want to be. Also, you have to travel in bad weather to and from campus. I live in a place where it seems like there’s no fall or spring, just summer and winter. Traveling to campus in the winter is a treacherous drive, and extremely dangerous. In addition, you have to worry about parking on campus. At my university, resident students are allowed to park in commuter lots. If you don’t leave early enough, you can’t find a spot near the buildings. While it saves money, living at home presents other hassles.
Living at home isn’t for everyone, but it is an option that is often overlooked. While you may have to make a few aggravating drives and sacrifice some privacy, you will save tons of money tuition-wise, housing-wise, and living expense-wise. My point isn’t to convince you that being a commuter student is the best option, because quite frankly it may not be for your circumstance. I would just encourage students to weigh all the options before making the decision to move away for school.
What are your thoughts? Are there any major perks or drawbacks that I missed?
As students, we all know that our lack of budget and time doesn’t exactly add up to being a whiz in the kitchen, but that doesn’t have to mean greasy fast food for every meal. My roommates and I love to cook, and have perfected a handful of meal ideas that are both budget friendly and time efficient.
-Strawberries and Cream waffles: Begin by toasting a frozen waffle. I like Kashi multigrain waffles- they’re delicious and healthier than the alternative! Spread low fat cream cheese on the waffle and top with slices of fresh strawberries. Such a delicious combination that tastes so indulgent and will fuel you for your long day of classes!
-Three-ingredient Banana Pancakes: Mash 1 banana in a bowl. Add 2 eggs and ½ cup of instant oats. Mix together, pour, and flip! And there you have it- delicious, fluffy pancakes in less than 10 minutes time.
-Pesto Pizza: This is definitely a favorite amongst my roommates and I. Start with a whole-wheat wrap and spread with a thin layer of pesto (you can make your own, or buy some at the store). Top the pizza with whatever you have in the fridge! My favorite toppings are feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, olives, and grilled chicken. Drizzle to top with a little bit of olive oil, and pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes or until the crust begins to crisp on the edges.
-Homemade White Bean Dip: Start with a can of your favorite white beans and drain- I usually go with great northern beans or navy beans. In a food processor or small blender, add beans, a tablespoon of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth and serve with pita bread and fresh veggies for dipping!
- Greek Yogurt Chicken Breast: I absolutely love cooking with Greek yogurt because it makes dishes creamy, without adding tons of calories. Start with a cup of plain Greek yogurt and add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Season the mixture with whatever you have on hand (I usually add garlic and basil). Coat your boneless, skinless chicken breasts with the yogurt and let it marinate for 2 hours. Cook the chicken at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, and enjoy! Serve with steamed veggies and brown rice.
But, now that I’m footing the bill, shopping goes a little differently. I’m frugal and picky. I need to make sure that whatever I’m buying meets a list of highly thought out requirements.
1) It’s inexpensive (or on sale)
2) It’s delicious (nutritious is a bonus, but not a requirement)
If an item doesn’t make the cut, it can’t go in the cart. Now, I thought that my college shopping techniques were subtle—There could be a million reasons why 90% of the cart was pasta or carbs. However, despite my attempts to conceal my budgetary grocery needs, clerks at checkout knew instantly that I was a student.
I was surprised at first. I wasn’t wearing my school shirt. I didn’t use my school I.D to pay. How did they know that I was a college student, on a college budget?
Let’s examine my cart:
Case of Soda
Macaroni and Cheese (at least 3 boxes)
Gallon of Skim Milk
Bow Tie Noodles
Chips and Salsa
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised after all.
In between working, taking classes, and trying to enjoy summer, it’s hard to find time to shop and afford the kinds of groceries you really want. Yes, I would love steak, or tons of fresh produce. But, it’s easier and cheaper to buy cheaper and stick to one or ton items from the “fresh” section. Plus, did you know there are about a million ways to prepare bowtie pasta?
Although I’m embarrassed that the guy at the check out called me out on my Chef Boyardee raviolis and ramen noodles, it doesn’t change what I like to eat and shop for. Sure it’s not the healthiest or the most balanced—but those things can be altered. Ingredients can be added, side dishes can be prepared. However, grocery budgets don’t just appear. While you’re in college do the best to eat balanced meals, but also remember that you’re only young once. I’m pretty sure I can only get away with buying spaghettios for so much longer—I might as well take advantage of it while I can.
It’s like freshman year all over again…the dreaded thought of weight gain. In a foreign country with an entirely different diet than the States, it can be hard to maintain your weight and fitness—especially when you have to juggle class, exploring your new home, and venturing off on the weekends to new places! Not to mention having a host mom who likes to fill your plate with three courses at 8 pm. Others try to save money or avoid the weight sitch entirely by eating infrequently and as little as possible—no buono!
Food is an important part of every culture. Italy is all about the pasta, bread and vegetables, versus Americans chowing down on hotdogs and hamburgers. But if you look around Italy, you’ll see mostly skinny or average weight citizens ordering light lunches and big dinners. So how can you handle a pasta lunch, and a pasta dinner followed by potatoes, meat and salad, and ending with a fruit salad? You have to keep your food quantities in perspective. Follow the culture. If they eat a lighter lunch, follow suit. You might get hungry again before dinner if you’re used to eating earlier or having a larger lunch, but give yourself some time to adjust. Grab a snack or go exploring to keep your mind off food (though passing so many little gelato stores might make it worse). After an adjustment period, you’ll be able to eat on the same schedule as the Italians, or whatever culture you’re experiencing, do.
Saving money is always a concern when abroad, but don’t let that keep you from eating! You don’t have to go to a nice restaurant every time you want to eat. Check out grocery stores—they often have cheap, already made options for lunch or ingredients to make your own. Go out to eat with a large group and try sampling a variety of dishes; by splitting the bill, you’ll still get all the flavors of your country at a lower price then trying to work your way through the restaurant’s menu on a variety of visits. Also, simply checking out the smaller cafes and lesser known restaurants on side streets could lead to big money savings—and having a secret hangout!
Besides money and weight gain, others are just concerned about pleasing their host families. When you first arrive, just talk about what you can or can’t/won’t eat and go from there. Get a sense of their eating habits—how much they eat and when they eat—and try to mimic them as much as possible. They want you to have a good time studying abroad and want to make the adjustment easier, which can mean making you feel at home with a big hearty meal. Don’t feel like you have to eat it all. Learn how to say “I’m full” or something along those lines, and politely decline. They won’t be offended and it can actually help them learn how much food they should make so it’s sufficient for the whole family.
Most importantly, you need to enjoy your abroad experience. Don’t let counting calories or coins hold you back from eating and doing what you want to do. Once you immerse yourself in the culture, measuring out everything you eat won’t matter anymore. Besides, there’s always time to lose weight if you need to or form a stricter budget for the rest of your stay. In the meantime, buon appetito!