20+ Important Life Lessons You Learn as a Poor Student

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July 19th, 2011

We’ve all heard the cliche about how college students are poor. While it may be an overused moniker, that doesn’t make it any less true. After tuition, room and board, books, fees, and food, there’s not enough left to go around (if you even had enough to go around for the essentials in the first place). Living as a poor college student tends to create a special kind of wisdom. You’ll not only learn how to get by on the cliche Ramen diet, but can pick up a few valuable life lessons as well. Read on to learn what some students discovered while making it work as poor college students.

  1. Life needs balance: When you don’t have a lot of money, you’ll learn that you can’t blow it all on one thing. Spend too much on food, and you won’t have any left over for entertainment. Stay up all night cramming for your next exam, and you won’t have the energy for your shift at work. PickTheBrain recommends finding balance in the four major areas of your life: health, family, career, and finances, allowing them to work together in tandem. You learn that balancing your money, efforts, and time results in a healthier, happier, and more relaxed life, no matter what you have in your bank account.

  2. Independence: For most students, college represents not only a time of living cheaply, but also living independently. One money blogger remembers going to college and quickly discovering that her bank account was overdrawn, a problem she had to take care of on her own. It may be scary, but living financially independent as a college student is a great way to learn how to be responsible and independent in your adult life.

  3. Cutting back feels good: Poor college students may limit water, laundry, and electricity to save cash, but it feels great to know that you’re saving the environment at the same time. Students at Mount Holyoke College implemented a water conservation plan for their campus, and they saved approximately 7,318,500 gallons. But not only that, they saved $29,274 in cold hard cash for the school.

  4. Little things make a difference: When you collect nickels and dimes so that you’re able to do your laundry, you quickly learn that even a little bit makes a difference, whether it’s change or doing something to go the extra mile. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire book, The Tipping Point, about this phenomenon, sharing his understanding of how little changes can have a large effect on your life and the lives of others.

  5. The best things in life are free: When you don’t have money, but plenty of time, you get resourceful. Poor college students know well that friends, experiences, love and free moments don’t cost a thing, but they may be the best things in your life. It’s a great financial lesson, as well as a smart way to live your life-recognizing that the things we most value have nothing to do with money at all.

  6. You’ll find a way to do what you really want: How do starving, cash strapped students somehow end up with a six pack to bring to the party every weekend? It’s a curious question with an easy answer: You’ll find money to use for what you really want, whether it means not paying a bill, or staying home all week to afford a great time on Saturday night. This is true not just with money, but with life choices. You can talk all day about how you really want to go to grad school, but it’s up to you to study for your entrance exam, even if you’re already working with a packed study schedule. If you really want to do it, you’ll make adjustments and find the time to get the work done.

  7. It’s easier to take care of things on time: It’s tough if you don’t have the money to pay a bill on time, but it’s even tougher to deal with the consequences of paying late. Late fees, reconnection fees, and other headaches mean planning ahead for bills makes sense. Learning this financial lesson can help you live a simpler, more organized life as well. Once you know it’s easier to plan ahead, you’ll find that things like packing for vacation, cooking dinner, and planning a wedding are all easier when you approach them ahead of time.

  8. Sometimes you have to say no: It’s fun to say yes. Yes to the credit card offer with a free t-shirt, yes to going out with your friends, and yes to helping out a friend with a difficult project. But say yes too much, and you may find yourself without enough money or time to enjoy yourself. It’s OK to say no. Sometimes you don’t have enough money to go out, or enough time to help someone out. As a poor student, you should master the art of gracefully saying no when it’s appropriate-saving you money and stress.

  9. Wastefulness costs money: Most college students learn to make good use of whatever they have. Whether you’re learning to make trash can punch or just using both sides of your paper, stretching a buck in college will teach you to conserve what you have. That means you can do more with less, whether it’s using limited resources at work, or finding ways to reduce waste and costs in your own home.

  10. Mistakes happen, then you move on: In 2010, more than 80% of students carried a credit card balance of over $2,000. For most of these students, that credit card was a mistake — often the result of a desire to get a free t-shirt, iPod, or pizza as a bonus for signing up. But making a mistake like this one doesn’t have to be devastating to your financial life, and you can learn from it. Make a plan to pay down your debt, and move on from your mistake-a lesson that is useful for all aspects of your life.

  11. Getting organized will save you stress and time: If you don’t have the money to go out and buy another hole punch because you can’t find the one you bought at the beginning of the semester, you’re going to find a way to get that hole punch back, whether it means digging through your dorm drawers or borrowing one from a friend. And you’ll probably learn at the same time that it’s essential to get organized, finding a place for every item in your home and reducing clutter. You may also find that getting rid of duplicates (or preventing their purchase altogether) saves you money and limited dorm room space.

  12. Fun times don’t have to be expensive: Poor college students can make a great night out of video games with friends, free student group outings, or school sporting events. Trent at The Simple Dollar highlighted 100 things to do that don’t cost a thing, but are fun to do on the weekend or any other time. These activities are free or cost very little, but offer great memories of times with friends.

  13. You can’t blame others for your problems: At college, you’re in charge of your own destiny. If you forget to pay a bill, it’s on you and no one else. Sure, you may have a roommate that’s late on rent, increasingly high tuition, and surprise fees. Those are easy ways to lay the blame elsewhere. Ultimately, you’re in charge of your life and how you react to your roommate, tuition, fees, and any other issues that pop up in your life.

  14. Convenience comes at a price: ATMs, fast food, and coffee from Starbucks may be lifesavers when you need them in a pinch. But poor college students know that a few bucks here and there for convenience will add up fast. Learning to limit your use of convenience items isn’t just good for your wallet — it’s good for your life. Planning financial transactions ahead of time, cooking your own healthier food, and spending time sleeping in instead of standing in line for coffee can go a long way to improving your life.

  15. DIY makes sense: Doing it yourself isn’t just fun, it’s frugal, too. Making your own coffee, snacks, and even crafts can save you money while giving you something fun to do. Not only that, but learning to DIY can teach you a great lesson on independence, and even spark an entrepreneurial spirit that can lead to a great career.

  16. Ask questions: It’s one thing to go with the flow. It’s completely another to completely flow through life without questioning anything, and this practice can get poor college students in lots of trouble. Forgetting to read the fine print can result in major surprises, fees, overdraft charges, rate increases, and more.

  17. Giving is great: In college, poor college students often work, but still stay poor because they’re working for free doing internships and volunteering. It can be a rough financial situation in the short term, but it pays off in the long term, resulting in experience and hiring power. Giving your time can pay off throughout life, whether it’s helping a friend, volunteering in your community, or getting good karma and tax writeoffs.

  18. Huge efforts don’t always mean huge returns: Anyone who’s spent years of college waiting tables can tell you — hard work doesn’t always pay off big. It’s a hard lesson, and harder to make things work financially, but it teaches students about varying degrees of payoff. You’ll learn that some things (like time spent in class) have a great return on investment, while others may leave you hanging. With this lesson, you can discover the best way to pursue tasks and work that will pay off the best.

  19. You’re never too good to buy used: Students frequently buy their books used, and find great value in doing so. But this lesson doesn’t have to stop with books: furniture, clothing, and other items work well used, too. Money expert Liz Pulliam Weston recommends several items you should never buy new, including DVDs, cars, and furniture.

  20. Privacy is valuable: In a world where students often overshare on Facebook, it’s hard to remember how valuable privacy is. But students will learn how to keep their credit card number and social security secure, even if it takes a stolen credit card to learn the lesson.

  21. Food tastes better when you don’t have to make it yourself: On a college student budget, food is often far from gourmet. Missing your mom’s cooking can make you realize how easy you had it at home and how badly your cooking skills need improvement. But your time as an independent cook may spark an interest in healthy, delicious cooking that will serve you for a lifetime.

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