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How to Party on a Budget – A University Student’s Guide to Thrifty Fun

Let’s face it – one of the greatest (if not primary!) perks of running away to University is the social aspect of the college experience. It’s a pivotal opportunity for post-secondary students in their undergraduate program as it’s a prime time for climbing the social ladder not only for the popularity benefits, but for nabbing study-buddies, joining social circles and forming long-lasting friendships, and most importantly – networking.

Now, networking may not matter to you until post-graduate job-hunting time, but is great to keep in mind when considering who you’re shaking hands with in social situations!

Despite the above said benefits, there’s an incessant, nagging question on most university/college students’ minds – how the hell am I supposed to afford socializing while going to school?? The following list isn’t necessarily going to make you a millionaire, but could certainly make the school/work/social life balancing act a bit cheaper – as long as you’re cool with saving cash legally – all while growing your social circle.

1. Choose to eat in rather than eating out regularly.

Now, I know from experience what it’s like to miss Mama’s (or Dad’s, Grandma’s – whoever took care of you) home cookin’ – and how much easier it is just to grab Subway or hit up Red Lobster every other night to fill that nasty void and fear of your own culinary skills. The reality is that if this becomes your habit, you’ll be on the receiving end of a sweet slap from Mama rather than a hot plate of her sweet lasagna for your spending habits.

Make an effort to regularly grocery shop – whether it’s by bus or catching a ride with a friend if you have to (I’ve seen people walking and cycling with their groceries)! Do your grocery shopping on a full stomach – you’re more likely to over-spend or buy too much food (that will eventually go to waste) when you shop hungry. Having a few reasonable choices stocked in your kitchen at home will definitely make the choice to dine in a bit easier, rather than choosing between a bottle of ranch and going to Montana’s due to some laziness in the grocery shopping department.

Make a promise with yourself (and fellow broke friends, if you have any) to save eating out for a once every week/two weeks/monthly – whatever works best for you – so that it’s more of a treat or saved only for special occasions. Who do you tip? No one! You get a meal that probably cost you less than twenty bucks (unless you’re bringing booze) and all of the social perks of dining out! This will definitely slow the flow of your hard-earned cash into restaurateurs’ pockets and instead saves you a bit of money stress down the road.

If you’re naturally a social eater, why not have friends over for meals? Host potlucks (or lean on a friend to host their own) or dinners as a great way to get to know your friends and to your friends’ friends. Side benefits of this include the funny themes that you can run with (think “Bad Sweater”, culture nights), creating your own dining atmosphere, getting to know your friends’ food tastes, and the great fact that you can put your public dining manners to the side in favour of some inappropriate, obnoxious funnies.

2. Ditch the over-priced nightclubs in favour of some fab campus events.

Looking back on my early undergrad years, it pains me to think of all of my money spent bar hopping – cabbing it everywhere, hour-long line-ups, the ridiculous cover charges, costly beverages – all for some narsty, sweaty clubs playing music that you probably already have on your iPod (somewhere in Jersey there are some guidos and guidettes wanting to punch me for saying that…)! What I’m trying to say is that you can still have the bar-esque experience (drinks, dancing, and a solid ratio of guidos to guidettes) all while having par-tay experiences on slightly more collegial/interactive/personal levels. Most of these events are free for students or have cover charges and drink prices that are significantly less than city venues.

Campus bars and social centres continuously seem to host impressive entertainment events serving a wide variety of social and cultural groups. There are live shows to feed most music tastes – punk, indie, hip-hop, country, metal, you name it! If you prefer less of a party scene, do check out the campus-hosted pow-wows, drag shows, sitting in on guest speaker sessions, plays being put on by senior year drama students, career fairs, sporting events (football, hockey, whatever your sport is – always free for students at most schools), or jazz nights (most commonly put on by the university’s music students’ jazz band). Great way to meet fellow students and to mingle with faculty (depending on the event) – don’t forget to network!

3. Seek out cheap movie nights!

Rather than paying $12.00 per person, plus your $3.00 bottle of water, plus $5.00-$10.00 in snacks…curb your spending a bit on movie nights by searching out a night at your local theatre that offers discount prices on certain nights of the week. Many cities do have theatres that are entirely discount-priced (I’m talkin’ $2.00 to see whatever movie you want), but often includes waiting some time for your flick to trickle down the charts in popularity – but so worth it as long as you aren’t a movie snob. Some university campuses host theatre nights as fundraisers for certain student organizations, so keep your eyes peeled for these as well as they are often at a cheap rate to attract as many supporters as possible.


No lie. Most – if not all – students receive free memberships to their university’s central fitness complex (well, it’s rolled in with your tuition) as well as free access to fitness classes (spin, bootcamps, yoga, etc.). Consult your campus fitness complex’s website or front desk for a schedule of class times and hours of operation. It’s a great way to get buff and socialize with friends – and if you’re on the market, can be a great place to check out the opposite sex!

5. 2 words – House. Parties.

Pretty much the greatest idea of all time. As per the potluck-ing for group dining, why not follow up with a house party? If you prefer beverages of the alcoholic genre (and you’re of the legal drinking age), split a case or a bottle of your favorite brand with a buddy to share. House parties are great venues for meeting new people, partying comfortably without shelling out too much cash, and there’s room for extra fun such as drinking games, karaoke, and funny party themes – all under one roof! You’re more likely to engage in conversations and to meet more people here than you would a bar. House parties can usually be quite a bit safer too with fewer creepy randoms and as long as everyone invited is in the same social circle, less likelihood of conflicts between people

6. Seek out special interest clubs for students on campus.

University campuses are major hubs for students finding social groups to latch onto. Whether it’s a hobby, sport, culture, academic, religious, or lifestyle club you are interested in joining, the campus of your choice has a larger variety of these than you could ever imagine finding in one place. A bonus to not being able to find your club of choice? The freedom of being able to start one! Talk to a few people at school to gather some information or creep on your school’s website for listings of social clubs as well as for special contact numbers if you are interested in starting your own special interest group. There are more than likely some regulations and paper work that you will need to go through to start a university-associated club (for liability reasons) – so as long as your club is healthy, safe, and doesn’t compromise the school’s reputation, you will have no problem heading one of your choice.

7. Milk that “student” title as long as you can.

Milk it like you’ve never milked anything in your entire life. By that of course I mean seek out any sort of program, business, or organization that is geared towards helping students save money. Scour your campus and city newspapers, campus guides, or daily planner (often given out free on campus during your first week back at school) for coupons. Often these coupons are geared towards food, drinks, and shopping expenses – all of which students do take part in at some point during their school year. Most services (public transit fees, movie theatres, cell phone companies, financial institutions, etc.) include a list of fees that are set aside especially for students – in other words, your regular-Joe rate but at a discounted price just for being academic. When paying at or inquiring about a company that you suspect may offer student rates on their services, just ask and make mention of your student status! Most places will request proof of student status, so it’s a good idea to carry your student card at all times.

8. Manage your phone plans wisely.

Moving great distances away from friends and family? Then right now would be a good time to review your current cell phone plan, or to shop for the right one if you haven’t yet got a mobile phone. Rather than sticking with the ol’ faithful evenings/weekends/monthly minutes plan that worked for you while living at home, inquire about student plans that include room for long distance chatting. Telus has some fabulous plans that include a “Pick 5” that you can bundle into your cell plan, as well as an unlimited texting and data option which I believe is called their “Student 50” plan. For 50 bucks you can essentially nab a plan that includes 5 unlimited long-distance phone calls, unlimited texts, data, and evenings/weekends for local calls; all of these on a regular plan can really add up, so speak up to save yourself some dough! For competition’s sake, other cell providers such as Rogers or Bell have plans that are also worth looking at, depending on whether you prefer a GSM or CDMA network.

9. Organize your income and expenses.

A key to saving money while you’re a busy student on-the-go is knowing where your money is going. Visit Mint’s website for free financial organization to help your spending habits. It’s super easy if you have a few minutes to create a profile for yourself and are OK with being told the cold, hard truth about where your money is going – before your parents see your financial statements!

10. Get a job!

Okay, you’re not that busy. Once you’ve got a grip on your social and academic life, it might be time to consider a small part-time job to off-set your expenses. Campus jobs are usually ideal as they employ the most amount of people (think campus bars, libraries, bistros, coffee houses) to allow for maximum shift flexibility. To be considered part-time you have to work a minimum of 16 hours a week, so if you’re lucky enough to find a flexible employer, you can spread your hours evenly throughout your week or hammer out your hours on weekends.

Doesn’t saving money feel goooood? Drop by our website if you have any questions about this article or leave us a comment in the comments section. Hope it helped!