Though college looks different this semester, managing a budget can still be challenging. From grocery shopping to transportation to school supplies, the costs of being a student quickly add up. Here are some online resources and budgeting tips that will help you avoid experiencing the dread of missing student deals.
Budgeting apps and tips
Free budgeting app Mint allows you to categorize your budgetary expenses. The easy to use interface is a great way to keep track of where your money is going. You can sync your credit and debit cards to the app, as well as manually record your spendings.
Short for “You Need A Budget,” YNAB is a budgeting app for people committed to smart spending. It employs a zero-based budgeting system which ensures that your expenditures subtracted from your income equals zero. YNAB’s detailed spending plans help you overcome debt, aggregate savings, and avoid living a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. The app costs $11.99 a month with a 34-day free trial, but students can opt in for an extended 12-month free trial.
If you want to save more and spend less, make a list of your monthly purchases that keeps track of your spending habits. You should also distinguish fixed expenses from flexible expenses. As its name suggests, a fixed expense remains consistent across payment periods and is often a necessary living expenditure, such as rent, insurance, or loan payments. Flexible expenses are more variable and easier to budget for. Food, transportation, and clothing are examples of flexible expenses that are necessary to consider when budgeting. So if you live off campus, document your rent, electricity bill, and other living fees to determine how much you actually spend within both categories.
In addition, keep track of your discretionary income, which is the amount you have left over after your fixed and flexible expenses. These funds go toward non-essential expenditures, like vacations, dining out, and extra clothing. It is always a good idea to add discretionary income to an emergency fund or savings account, but also feel free to responsibly treat yourself.
Couponing apps and online databases
It’s a good habit to check for coupons on online sites like Groupon or RetailMeNot before buying anything. Google Chrome extensions like Honey, Piggy, RetailMeNot Deal Finder, or Shoptagr can automatically find you the best prices for online purchases. Some grocery stores also have weekly bulletins that contain coupons for in-person use.
Corporate Shopping employee discounts link students and faculty members of the University to discounts from a range of well-known brands, including Costco, Target, Ralph Lauren, Restaurant.com, and over 250 other retailers. Register now to get great deals!
TUN is an online database that connects students to thousands of merchants offering student discounts. It even has an interactive map that shows nearby businesses with deals just for you. Check out the top 20discounts for Columbia University students, and download the TUN Student Discounts mobile app for on-the-go access to vendors in your neighborhood that grant student deals.
Discounts on technology
University members have access to discounted Dell and Apple products, courtesy of Columbia University Information Technology. To purchase personal devices from Dell, just provide Columbia’s Dell Member ID (US24184416) when ordering online or contacting its member purchase program at +1-800-695-8133. For discounted Apple products, visit the Apple University Store or call +1-800-800-2775. A prospective student who does not yet have an activated UNI but wants in on the deal can call 1-800-800-2775 and let a sales representative know they are a Columbia student.
Members of the Columbia community also have access to free or discounted software, including computer security software, secure shell and file transfer software, and mathematical software programs. Plus, undergraduates can download exclusive Microsoft products and access a free edition of Windows 10, Office Professional Plus 2016, Project Professional 2016, or Visio Professional 2016. Visit the Microsoft Software Portal for more information on other Microsoft products that are either free of charge or heavily discounted for University students.
Still apprehensive about taking public transportation around the city? Columbia students can book a ride through Via, the affordable ride-sharing app. Download the app, go to Promo Codes, and enter the code “CU2020” for 20 percent off private rides. With the exception of University holidays, operation times for the fall and spring are between 4 p.m. and 4 a.m. every day, and between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. in the summer. The evening shuttle’s service is bounded by 103rd and 135th Street, between Riverside Drive and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Check out the Via service-area map to learn more.
If you’re looking for an alternative to SoulCycle or just don’t want to spend money on an Uber, Citi Bike offers bike rentals for $3 per trip and a day pass for $13.15. Rides are priced by 30-minute intervals, so you’ll have enough time to ride through Central Park or around Morningside Heights. There are numerous locations near campus, including 116th Street and Broadway, as well as 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
Don’t pay full price for textbooks. Book Culture, located on 112th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, allows University students to purchase and sell used textbooks. Instead of spending money on a book you most likely will not need again, you can buy or rent them for less and support a small business! Alternatively, if your textbook is not available at Book Culture, rent your book through Amazon or Chegg and return it at the end of the semester.
If you would rather borrow a copy of the book for a semester, the FLI Partnership Library has a reliable collection of textbooks for first-generation low-income students.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to the office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing for more help with paying for course materials.
Check out the Buy/Sell/Trade Facebook groups and other secondhand groups to trade or buy items at a discount.
Facebook groups are markets of their own, and the Buy/Sell Facebook groups of Barnard and Columbia bring affordable opportunities to you. These secondhand trading groups are where you can search for everything you need to furnish a home in and around Morningside Heights, with the comfort of buying and selling among your peers. The offers vary, from co-subletting an apartment to discounted home appliances. If you want to enhance your living situation, the Buy/Sell Facebook groups are a great place to start.
Facebook Marketplace is another digital middleman that connects local buyers and sellers. Like Ebay’s service, it sells just about everything—property rentals, vehicles, electronics, office supplies, and apparel, to name a few. Click on an item of interest, and Facebook Marketplace will connect you with the seller via Messenger.
Saving on food
Sick of overpriced coffee? Pret A Manger offers classic and premium coffee passes for unlimited coffee. The classic pass is $9.99 per month and includes all coffee and teas. For $19.99 per month, you can get unlimited coffee and tea, as well as lattes and milk substitution choices. You are limited to one drink per hour, which hopefully should not be a challenge for you. To purchase a coffee pass, download the Pret A Manger app and ask to sign up for the pass in-person.
Meal prepping is an easy way to make sure you don’t overspend on food. Instead of using UberEats or DoorDash daily, save significantly more by incorporating trips to affordable grocery stores into your routine. Trader Joe’s has tasty and healthy options for meals, snacks, and cooking ingredients. Buy organic fresh produce, fridge basics, delicious vegan frozen meals, and more—its signature Buffalo Style Chicken Dip is an all-time favorite! Take a Citi Bike or a Via ride down to 670 Columbus Ave., or take the 1 train down to 72nd Street at its 2073 Broadway location.
For more on great student deals, make sure to check out our Spectator article on what discounts your Columbia ID or Barnard ID can get you!