Re-embracing the College Lifestyle

The picture above might be a bit extreme, but I think a lot of useful nuggets can be ascertained by re-examining the college experience. No, not THAT college experience! But the other aspect of college life that was perfected so well – having a good time, while still being cheap about it.

They say that college is the best 4 years of your life. I didn’t think so at the time, but after some years, I do reflect back and start to appreciate all the good times more. As soon as I do, I realize that all this fun happened in spite of me not having a dime to my name! It’s funny, when you don’t have something, or many somethings, you always seem to find ways to improvise, and get by.

Sadly, once I started collecting a paycheck, I lost this mindset completely. No longer did I do things for myself, or even use my brain to try and come up with ideas. Instead, I took the path of least resistance – I paid someone else to do the task for me. Once I started working, this became the norm. My expectations for things also shot up with my paycheck. Whereas I use to make do eating top ramen, totino’s pizzas, the dollar menu at fast food joints, etc., I now expected much higher quality food. Public transportation was now frowned upon, and I bought into the hype of wanting a flashy ride.

I’ve since learned that the human capacity for wants and desires are endless; it knows no bounds. Instead, we have to force ourselves to come back down to earth a little bit, and realize that we don’t have to spend our entire paychecks to have a good time and high quality of life. On the other hand, since we are now collecting a paycheck, we also shouldn’t have to “suffer” as much as we did in college. The compromise is finding the happy medium.

Here are some ideas on how to recapture that thrifty college mentality without sacrificing much (if any) in utility:

It’s just a meal:
Whenever I go out to eat with friends or co-workers, I usually suggest eateries that give you the most food for the lowest prices. In college, this meant sticking to places where you could get a satiating meal for under $10. I now try to apply this same exact rule when eating out.

For instance, if I had the pick of where to each lunch, I would insist on eating at places like: Chipotle, In-N-Out Burger, or Panera Bread. At Chiptole, I can get a burrito, chips and drink for under $10. The meal is tasty, filling, and doesn’t put a dent in my wallet.

Get your money’s worth

If my companions insists on eating at more expensive restaurants, I simply make do as best I can and try and order something cheaper on the menu. Of course there are times this may be inappropriate, but ‘downgrade’ whenever you can. I usually give the excuse that I’m just not feeling particularly hungry. Or, that I have a big meal coming up later that day. While I do that, I’ll let the others order the Surf and Turf meal + drinks for over $60. I’ll subsist on the steak sandwich + water for $15. While others may end up spending 300% more than me, I’m almost certain we will both be hungry again, later, at exactly the same time. Does the Surf and Turf meal really taste 300% better than the steak sandwich? You decide.

Flash vs Substance:
Some people have the incessant desire to jazz up their lifestyle soon after they enter the workforce. An easy way to do this is to purchase a motorbike. I’ve ridden motorcycles before, and do find them to be extremely fun and cool. But I’m simply not willing to put in the sizable sum needed to purchase one. Not to mention the costs of: clothing, gear, continued maintenance, regular fueling, registration, insurance, etc. Further, if you already own a car,  this added expense is hard to justify. Here is a crude example, but a basic, conservative rundown of the initial ownership costs:

$3000 Used bike
$150 registration
$200 insurance
$500 gear

$3850 total

A better alternative would be to invest in a top-quality bicycle. $1500 for a state-of-the-art road bike might seem like a lot (especially compared to a motorcycle), but the return on utility is much greater. You never have to worry about fuel, and you should be able to easily ride it for the next 20 years or so. When it comes to selecting a road bike, it’s worth it to spend more upfront to ensure you are buying quality that will last. Biking is good for the environment, your health, and maintenance costs are low. If you live close enough to your work, you can also save on commute by choosing to ride instead of drive. This will allow the bicycle to pay for itself in no time.

The other bike

Smart enough phone:
I’m a big fan of Apple and its products. The iphone 4 was probably the best phone I ever used. However, it’s hard to justify the monthly data plan rate. Adding a data plan would increase my monthly cell phone bill by at least $40-$60. When I think back to my time in college,  I remember a time when smart phones were in their infancy, and nobody I knew had one. Back then, all that mattered was finding a phone that had: reliable service, good sound quality, color, camera, and text messaging. In 2006-2007, I would have described the above as the perfect phone. I didn’t need a smart phone then, and I probably don’t need one now.

The original “cutting edge”

Return on fun:
Hobbies are a personal choice and everyone’s preference for fun is different. But consider the following – when investing in a long term hobby, try and select ones that provide the the most bang for the buck.

For example, becoming a home theater enthusiast will not come cheaply. Getting started alone will require the following purchases: big screen, projector, receiver, speakers, blu-ray player + discs, etc. This type of equipment is, unfortunately, prone to becoming obsolete (think VHS and laserdisc). As such, new devices will have to be purchased in the future in order to keep up with the latest and greatest. Also, the old devices will have not fetch much on the open market, as yesterday’s technology tends to only depreciate in value. Furthermore, if you want to build a library of movies, this means continually having to purchase new titles that can cost as much as $30 a disc.

In college, I knew a lot of people who played music for fun. This is a fantastic example of finding a hobby that has a high return on entertainment cost, per-hour. There are literally billions of songs you can choose to learn, mastery typically requires tens of thousands of hours of practice (you’ll continually be challenged), and it provides an outlet to be creative.

Whether you choose to play piano, guitar, violin, etc., take comfort in knowing that you typically only need to invest in the gear once. Also, brand-name, vintage gear typically carries with it high resale value. If you choose wisely, you may even be able to profit in the future (should you choose to sell). In that case, the gear purchased can really be seen as an investment. A high-quality guitar and amplifier will typically set you back $2000. If you commit yourself to playing 2 hours a day, everyday, for the next 20 years, the cost / hour on the initial $2000, comes out to be less than 14 cents an hour.

Cheap entertainment

The above examples provide simple solutions to help save money. By giving up on the more expensive luxury items in life, one can instead turn to cheaper alternatives that bring just as much satisfaction. In fact, it may even be argued that a sacrifice isn’t being made, since nothing is really being given up.

A new job, or salary increase has a way of distorting our thinking into believing that we must increase our expenditures to offset the pay raise. If we give in to external influences, we are likely to fall victim to this trap. On the contrary, if we tap in and reconnect with our thrifty, college-self, we will be better positioned to making the smart decision. Early financial independence can be achieved without forcing one to compromise. Wow, I’m glad I learned something in college, after all.

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Jon Rhodes
8 years ago

Some good tips. I do sometimes like to sometimes spend my money on quality things, but yes, it is so easy to throw your money away on hyped goods if you’re not careful.

I like going out for meals, but sometime instead I will go to the store and buy loads of quality goods – steaks, prawns, whatever, and cook with my wife. You can get what you want, and it still costs a fraction of what it would dining out. Also it can be enjoyable cooking whilsy drinking wine

John @ Married (with Debt)

I guess I sorta still live the college spending mindest: spend as little as you can on the stuff you hate so you can splurge on the things you love. Instead of splurging on drinking and partying, it’s international travel (so I can drink and party in another country)

Aaron Hung
8 years ago

Some interesting points. Cheaper meals doesn’t always means better, it saves you money but bad on your health so you gotta balance it out. Can you imagine eating Chipotle everyday? I eat it once every 3 months and I feel so sick everytime…but it’s so good

Nunzio Bruno
8 years ago

I loved this post and the best part for was calling people out who ramp up their spending after landing their first job. I know people go through a honey moon phase when they see their first few “real” paychecks but after that – it should be about maximizing your saving and efficiency. Making the most out of each paycheck takes monitoring expenses and really getting the most return out of those dollars. So like you said: think used, plan meals and start to earn some interest!

Jai Catalano
8 years ago

I know food is always a big concern when it comes to money but health is first and if something is too inexpensive you have to wonder what is in it and how it can cost you in the future.

Christopher @ This That and The MBA

I always loved the cup o noodles. Not to stray from topic though it is good to keep yourself in check sometimes. We can get carried away spending on food. I know my wife being italian that she is loves to have only the finest foods and we need to make a new meal each night we cant have left overs. And we always have to have dessert too, my stomach thanks her. I really would love to go back to the college mindset and saving money and spending as little as possible for that one big splurge, back then… Read more »

8 years ago

Great post! I do many of the same things you do. I still don’t have a smart phone and even more blasphemous is the fact that I don’t even have text messaging! I also try to stay on the lower cost end of menus and LOVE Chipotle. It is too bad they don’t have any where I live now 🙁

JW @ AllthingsFinance
8 years ago

Very good tips. Much like the guitar example, I’ve managed to turn my high-end electronics into investmests also. For example, I plan on purchasing the brand new HTC EVO phone for the third year in a row. I root the phone and take great care of it so I’m always able to sell the old phone for $50 more than the cost of the new one after carrier rebates. This way, I enjoy a new device and make a little money at the same time.

8 years ago

This was a fun read for me, because I just graduated from university and have yet to find a “grown up” job! I’ll try to resist buying a motorbike. 😉 Other commenters said the same things I was thinking about food, so I guess I’ll just mention the other point I disagreed on: smartphones! I absolutely love having a smartphone, and it’s definitely helped me organize and improve my life. Simply having Google Calendar integrate with my phone has relieved so much stress, not to mention all the other productivity apps and the benefits of having a moderate-quality camera on… Read more »

P2P4U Baseball
8 years ago

Aw, this was an exceptionally good post. Taking the time and actual effort to produce a superb article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.

7 years ago

I wish I could do the same! What a life when at college! But with family it is sooo difficult!