Aside from all the learning stuff, college is all about having a great time. Outside of class time you deserve to have some fun, and there are tons of opportunities at university to enjoy yourself and make memories that will last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, aside from college being the first time that you’re away from home and free to do whatever you like, it’s also probably the first time you’ve had to budget your money carefully. This may feel like a frustrating conundrum- you finally have the chance to have some fun but you can’t afford to do it.
Fear not– it’s entirely possible to stay entertained and enjoy your free time at college whilst still being frugal with your money, as long as you plan wisely.
Here are some of our top tips for having fun at college without parting with your precious cash.
Stay On Campus
Sometimes, the best way to save money while away at college is by staying right where you are. That doesn’t mean that you have to sit in your room staring at a wall- colleges often have tons of social events running all the time designed to keep you amused.
- Keep an eye out for flyers, Facebook invites and society events going on around campus- you’ll be amazed at how many events pass you by every day. These on campus activities can also be a great way to meet new people who you may not have come across otherwise, and to become more involved socially in your college environment.
- Instead of paying a small fortune on movie theater tickets or DVD rentals, go to free or lower priced movie screenings on campus. Don’t see any going on and missing the silver screen? Take the initiative and organize a screening yourself in a lecture hall- you’ll make new friends and help everyone save a few bucks.
- If you do want to rent a movie to watch in your dorm, get a few friends together to chip down the rental price and have a movie night- everyone can bring their own snacks and soda to share as a group and you can take turns picking the movie of the week.
- Catch up on TV without wasting any of your precious cash by purchasing a cable subscription. If you’re not doing it already, start streaming your favorite TV shows online with sites like Hulu. You have to pay for the premium content on these sites but you’ll find tons of shows available to watch for free. You’ll never be bored again- just remember to pry yourself away every now and again to get some studying done.
- Bring stuff from home. Got an Xbox or Wii at home, or a TV in the spare room that no one uses? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ll look silly bringing it to your dorm with you. Your new friends will appreciate the free entertainment opportunity and you’ll save yourself from spending money on similar stuff away from home.
- Join clubs and societies. As well as being a great way to generally improve your college experience, if you’re a member of plenty of different organizations at your school, you’ll never be short of things to do. Clubs and societies tend to have tons of events running all year round, depending on what you’re interested in, and you’ll always be kept entertained and surrounded by like-minded people.
- Get involved with sports. If you’re the athletic type, trying out for college teams or just taking part in recreational games on campus without the more intense competitive aspect can be the perfect way to blow off steam between deadlines, keep your body healthy and have some fun.
Not got much talent on the field? That doesn’t mean that you can’t use fitness as a cheap way to enjoy yourself, too. Going for a good swim at the college fitness center or playing tennis with some friends might be more fun than you expect, no matter how unfit you feel at first. Take advantage of all of the free facilities that come with a college campus and use them as much as possible- you’d be surprised how quickly four years can go by without ever setting foot in the gym.
Don’t want to move an inch? That’s okay, too. Try mustering up some school spirit and attend college games and matches with some friends- they can be way more exciting than you might think, and you’ll have the chance to support your peers on the field.
- Start a game night. Remember all those silly board games you loved playing as a kid? They’re still fun! They’re especially fun when played with a group of new friends and can be a good way to get to know people without spending a load of cash or partying and ending up with a horrific hangover. Not a fan of board games? Why not start a card game night with some friends and brush up on your Texas Hold’em skills. Play with chips though, and leave the real money safely in your wallet!
- Experience the arts. One of the best things about college is how easy it is to access a ton of culture without parting with your cash. While theater tickets, art galleries, concerts and dance performances might all set you back in the “real world”, at college there are student performances, shows and displays going on all year round for a fraction of the cost.
Support your fellow students and head out to as many of these events as you can- often the plays and artwork you’ll see at college are just as good as any professional shows. You could even have the chance to see a star in the making.
This might seem obvious, but it’s amazing how often we can found ourselves sitting inside thinking, “I’m so bored” when there’s a huge outdoor world to explore that we haven’t stopped to notice. Getting out into a nature can be the perfect way to pass a Sunday, particularly if you’re lucky enough to go to college in an area with lots of beautiful scenery.
Take a hike, go for a leisurely stroll, organise an ultimate frisbee competition in the park or just sit in the sunshine and read a good novel- all of these simple activities are completely free and will do wonders for your mood, physical health and general feeling of wellbeing. Sitting staring at a computer screen writing papers and doing research can start to make you feel crazy if you don’t get a little fresh air every once in a while. Getting out into nature could be good for your body, mind and bank balance.
Find Free Local Events
If you need a bit of space from campus and want to explore the wider world around your college, you could take a look at what’s going on in your local area. While some things might be a little out of your price range, there are often concerts, festivals, events, talks and activities going on in your town that won’t cost you much at all, and may even be free.
Not sure where to look to find out what’s going on? There are tons of resources out there to find easy entertainment on a budget:
- Bookstores and libraries. If you’re a literature lover, you should be able to track down free talks, book signings and events just by checking the notice boards at your local library or book stores. There may not be something going on all the time, but if you keep checking in you might discover some interesting evenings ahead.
- Museums and galleries. This is an especially great option if your college is located in a metropolitan area with plenty of culture. Museums and galleries frequently run free exhibits and events, and many local museums offer totally free entry. Find your nearest ones and start exploring- you might even learn something too, and it’s a lovely way to pass a rainy Sunday afternoon without spending a penny. If you’re lucky you may also be able to score some free food and drinks at art exhibit openings, so keep an eye out for these.
- Newspapers.Do you normally avoid newspapers and get all of your current events online? You could be missing out on some great tip-offs about free local events. Keep an eye on your college town’s local paper to stay up to date. Totally averse to printed news? You can also take a look at the newspaper’s website for suggestions.
- Local tourism websites. When you live in a place it’s easy to ignore the information that seems specifically aimed at tourists. Don’t make this mistake- tourism websites can be full of fun activities and free events for anyone to attend, visitor or not.
- Check online. When all else fails, Google is your friend. Simply do some quick searches each week to see if anything interesting and cheap is happening nearby. There are also website specifically geared toward helping you find events in your area- sites like eventful.com allow you to type in your zip code and find everything that’s coming up in your town.
- There’s an app for that. Finding a free event nearby is easier than ever these days, as long as you have your smartphone at the ready:
- Field Trip: This app has been produced by Google to give you non-stop access to all the latest info on what’s happening in your area. As you walk around your town or city, Field Trip will let you know what landmarks are nearby and what events are going on today.
- Vamos: This app fills you in on local events based on who’s attending them- it connects with your Facebook to tell you where your friends will be that night and, crucially, how much the event will cost. You can use the app to find the best deal for your evening’s entertainment.
- Eventsions: This simple app figures out what you like and finds you fun things to do according to your interests. You can book tickets directly through the app and then share the info with all of your friends. Best of all, the app is totally free to download.
- Localmind: Want a recommendation from people in your area on fun free stuff to do? Localmind lets you find users who have checked into a particular location or event and ask them if it’s worth doing- so you can find out the pricing and details from those who know what they’re talking about, and not from potentially misleading marketing material.
- Time To Enjoy: Want to find tons of fun local events and create a schedule for your weekend? This app tracks down everything that’s going on in your town and pencil them in to an itinerary for you, and it’s free!
Grab A Discount
One of the major advantages of being a student is the many discounts you can grab all over the country just by flashing your card. These discounts can cover a huge variety of purchases and services, and we’ll discuss plenty of them in the other chapters, but one of the best ways to save as a student is on your day-to-day entertainment.
You’ll only get this kind of special treatment as a student, so be sure to make the most of the your student discounts and grab them while you can.
Many of the discounts listed here are available to any student with a valid university card. All you have to do is show up and make sure you have your college card on you, ready to prove your student status.
However, to claim some of these bargains you’ll have to get yourself an ISIC card. This is the only valid international student ID in the world, and it can be used to save you money wherever you are, from your hometown to college to the other side of the planet. We’d definitely recommend grabbing one of these while you can so that you can have as much fun at college as possible without burning out your bank account. Not only will it save you cash on these activities, it can also save you money on travel, food and accommodation wherever you go.
We’re not going to list every possible entertainment discount available with a student ID here or you’d be reading all day, but these are some of the highlights of the fun things you could do with that simple piece of plastic:
- Madame Tussauds: Go check out those creepily realistic wax figures and get 15% off your admission.
- Let’s go to the movies: Visit any AMC movie theater on a Thursday and get a cheaper ticket. You can also find discounts with your ID at Rave Cinemas and Cinemark Theaters around the country, so if there’s something you’re desperate to catch and can’t bear waiting for the DVD then do not fear- you can still go see the silver screen while on a budget!
- Soak up some culture in Tennessee. Studying in Tennessee? There are tons of great ISIC discounts, along with normal college student discounts. You can get a big cut off the cost of a ticket to shows at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, and classical music fans definitely shouldn’t miss the chance to grab $5 tickets to certain concerts at the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
- See the Big Apple. If you’re studying in NYC or just visiting, there are tons of great discounts available for students. You can get discounted opera tickets at The Met, $10 tickets to performance at Carnegie Hall, and major discounts on shows at Lincoln Center. Musical theater fanatics can also score as much as 40% off the cost of their ticket to any Broadway show.
- Go to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Students can go check out this international sensation in either Baltimore or Times Square at a discounted ticket price.
- Go fish!Student studying in New England (we know there’s a lot of you!) can grab cheap admission tickets to the New England Aquarium, and gain access to special student events all year round.
- Jump on some rides. Those lucky enough to visit California can get up to 20% off on rides at Pacific Park at Santa Monica Pier. While you’re in the area, you can also score 20% off your tour of Warner Brothers Studio and $5 off an LA pub crawl to round off the most fun day ever.
- Go to the zoo! Students can get 25% off at Austin Zoo in Texas, as well as 20% off at Zoo Miami.
- See the sights. Don’t just sit in your dorm- check out your new home on a professional tour. You’ll be able to get $5 off on Capital City Bike Tours, 10% off City Segway Tours and $10 off at San Francisco Electric Tours. If you’re in New York or Boston and want to see where all your favorite TV shows and movies were filmed then grab your 20% discount on a ticket with On Location Tours.
As you can see, there are tons and tons of ways to use your student status to get a good deal all around the United States. That’s definitely not all that’s available- check out this site for a more complete list of student discounts, and view the full list on ISIC to find deals in your area.
If you go to book tickets to a show, see a movie or attend an event that isn’t specified on one of these sites, it’s always worth asking anyway. Many places offer student discounts that they don’t advertise, so flash your card anyway and see if you can get anything off- it can’t hurt to try!
Party On The Cheap
There’s no getting around it- partying is a major part of college life. We’re not going to be completely boring and tell you to stay in your room and hide away from this aspect of the college experience, but be aware that this is one area where you can really see your money spill away quickly. From overpriced clubs to endless packs of beer, those crazy nights out (or in) can start to add up.
- Check the specials. If you’re living in a college town, odds are tons of the bars and restaurants in the area will offer specials on different days of the week. Keep track of these offers and plan your partying accordingly.
- Buy cheap. If you’re going to drink a ton of beer, there’s really no need to make it anything fancy. Chip in with friends and hit up wholesale supermarkets like Costco for deals on larger amounts of booze, or find cheaper brands. You probably won’t taste the difference.
- Attempt to abstain. We know this one is easier said than done, but try and pass on the alcohol on some nights out, or organise booze-free parties where the focus is on something else. Not only will you save yourself a headache- you’ll give your wallet a break, too.
- Group together. If you’re throwing a party, make sure everyone involved chips in on the cost of the kegs and whatever else you’re providing. If you really want to tighten the budget, consider making the party strictly “BYOB” or “Bring Your Own Booze”- this way you’re only paying for your own hangover, and not everyone else’s.
- Leave behind your valuables. If you’re going to a big party or going out on the town, try to limit what you bring along with you. It’s all too easy to lose a bank card or cash in the chaos of a good party, so minimize the risk by just carrying the cash you need and the bare necessities, rather than taking a full handbag of possessions with you for the ride.
- Pre-game. If you’re going to drink, try and limit the amount you’re spending on expensive drinks at bars by boozing up at home before you head out. Just be careful- if you drink too much then you could end up losing your inhibitions, spending even more than you meant to at the bar and getting far more trashed than you had intended at the start. Have a few drinks back at the dorm and then save the rest of the night for dancing- you can try to limit the temptation by not taking too much cash with you.
- Stay Smoke-Free. This is probably an obvious one but it’s easy to slip on this issue. Avoid cigarettes at all costs– they’re ridiculously expensive and the medical bills later in life won’t be a pretty picture either.
Random Other Ways To Save While Having Fun
- Look around. Aside from the many student offers available out there, it’s also possible tofind discounts that aren’t just for students. For example, many movie theaters offer special matinee rates or particular days of the week where the prices are discounted. You’ll find similar deals at theaters and art galleries, so stay on the lookout for any special rates that could help you stay entertained while saving money.
- Find deals in strange places. Sometimes, you’ll find coupons in cereal boxes or voucher offers on the back of a receipt. You’ll also find coupons and discount deals at the back of the newspaper. Keep your eyes peeled to make sure you don’t miss out on any money-saving opportunities.
- Prioritize. It’s okay to splash out every once in a while on movie tickets, bowling or a night out on the town. To minimize the damage to your bank balance, try to find other ways to cut back so that you don’t spend everything all at once. We’ll discuss this more in the “Budgeting” section, but doing things like eating before you go out and bringing your own snacks and drinks can save a significant amount in the long run.
- Volunteer! If you feel like you have too much free time and can’t afford to take part in pricy activities, volunteer to do something you’re passionate about, like dog walking at an animal shelter or helping out ushering at a local theater. By volunteering you’ll be able to watch things for free, play with animals without spending money on a pet of your own and help others while enjoying yourself.
- Compare prices. Find the best deals in your town by shopping around and comparing costs. Movie theater feel like a rip off? Try the smaller, arty cinema a few blocks away- odds are you’ll find a better ticket place and probably some interesting movies that you might not find at the big multiplex. You’ll also be helping out a small business, rather than giving even more cash to a big one.
So as you can see, there really is no need to become a hermit and hide in your shell throughout college in order to save yourself from spiralling into debt. By keeping an open mind, staying alert to potential deals and free events and prioritizing your cash, you can easily have an awesome time without breaking the bank.