Any college student needs 3 things: food, entertainmentfun & love.
You can’t really buy love, so I guess you save some money there. As for the other 2, you probably need them and they cost a bit. Suffice to say, given the state of the economy, I’ve been saving money on food and entertainment.
Money saving strategies for food:
I pay a lot for a decent on-campus housing. With the price comes a fully equipped kitchen and this is where the saving starts. Since I’ve moved in, I’ve cooked my own meals everyday. The money that I’ve saved from not getting a meal plan or eating at the cafeteria adds up quickly. Groceries are bought from costco, Lucky, Safeway and more recently, the National Dollar store at Geary & Fillmore. You’ll be surprised by what you can get at the dollar store. I find that canned goods such as coconut milk and tomato paste are safe bets – you should always check the expiry dates though!
However, cooking my own meals does not mean low quality. Thankfully, I’m a decent cook – especially when it comes to Asian cuisine and random stuff. Most of the time, I cook large batches of food such as Thai green curry, Japanese Katsu curry, chicken stew, beef stew… you name it. These keep pretty well and helps me to avoid wastage and they taste as good as freshly cooked food when heated up properly. Most of the time I share my ‘spoils’ of cooking with my roommates. On average, I’ve spent about $8.30 on groceries for the last 4 months. In other words, I spend only $8.30 on food a day. In addition to that, I’ve been attending a church in SF that cooks meals collectively and for every member on Sundays and Fridays. That has helped to lower my expenditure a lot.
Money saving strategies for entertainment/fun:
Most entertainment in SF requires you to travel a bit to get there, such as theaters, Golden Gate park and etc. Purchasing a Muni pass from USF was the best $90 I’ve spent on transport. Getting around is practically free if you don’t consider the time taken. If I were a real scrooge, I’d just enter the bus from the back of the bus like three quarters of the SF commuters do. But I’m not.
I’ve restricted movie watching to only “must-see” action blockbusters – only because you can’t enjoy the full blown action sequences and sound effects on a tiny laptop. Examples include: James Bond, Quantum of Solace and Tropic Thunder. When watching movies at a theater, it helps to sneak in your own walgreen-bought snacks in your bag as opposed to buy snacks at the ticket counter. That alone saves 30% on snacks.
Beyond movies, Golden Gate park is a pretty good place for free entertainment and relaxation and its just around the corner. The Japanese Tea Garden is free on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with a 9 to 10 am entry. Running around Snow Lake is free exercise too. Besides, who needs to have a gym membership when you have a free gym in USF plus Lone Mountain to climb everyday.
However, the biggest money saver I’ve discovered while living in SF is being involved with a club or group on campus. I’ve been attend USF Koinonia the last few months and they are an on campus Christian group. We do alot of activities together such as visits to Monterey Bay, Ocean Beach barbeques and Thanksgiving celebration feasts. Needless to say, these are all practically free beyond a small donation and yet provides days of meaningful fun and social activities. As a Christian and ‘poor’ college student, this has been the best investment of my time since the economic crisis. You can beat friendships for entertainment – the only thing it costs you is time.