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Instead of my usual bi-weekly schedule, I have decided to post weekly during the month of August as a way to share some tips for new and not-so-new college students. The posts will have a different theme for their 10 tips, and they will also have plenty of advice that can be applied to people not connected to school life, as well. Most of the advice relates to lifestyle in a more general sense, but a few tips (especially during week 3) will tie directly to school related activities and events. This week’s post focuses on shopping tips for anyone on a budget. Here’s a look at this month’s full schedule:

Week 1: Shopping Tips For Students/People on a Budget

Week 2: Helpful YouTube Channels for Living a Balanced Life

Week 3: Advice to Students from a Teacher’s Perspective

Week 4: Kitchen Tips and Fast and Easy Snack/Meal Ideas

This week’s post has been published today because it’s the first of August. The next three will be posted on Fridays, as usual, though they will occur every week rather than every other. I hope you find plenty of tips that relate to your life this month, whether you’re a student, teacher, parent, or none of the above!

August has arrived more quickly than I would like, but it seems that happens every year. Back-to-school shopping has already begun in my house. As this August in particular marks the beginning of my 10th year as a college student (I went straight from working on my BAs to MA to PhD), I thought I’d dedicate today’s post to shopping tips I feel every college student in the U.S. should know. I can’t speak to shopping in other countries, but some of these tips can definitely cross international borders, as well. So, if you’re a new college student that needs to shop for dorm/apartment furniture or a 10-year student like me who’s always looking for new ideas – or any student in between these two points – this post is for you. And actually, if you’re a teacher, parent, or just a run-of-the-mill blog reader, most of these tips could apply to your life, as well. I’ll start this post with six general shopping tips, move on to one anti-shopping tip (it’ll make sense soon enough), and end with my personal top three things to buy as a college student.

So, without further ado…let’s talk shop!

1. Cash Back Is Your Friend: Rakuten (formerly Ebates)

If you need to shop for dorm/apartment furniture, having it delivered by shopping online will save you a lot of hassle. Or, maybe you just need new school supplies like pens, ink, and paper or a new wardrobe for your internship. Whatever the case may be, if you’re going to shop online, use Rakuten (this is my referral link). What is it? It’s a website/app that gives you cash back when making purchases via their website. So, let’s say you want to buy your school supplies from Target, Office Max, Walmart, etc. Instead of just going to the websites of these stores directly, go to Rakuten first. They list thousands of stores on the site. Find the one you want to shop at, for example Target, click on the shop link, and it’ll take you to Target’s website. Only this time, when you buy something via the Target website, you’ll get a (very) small percent cash back on your purchase.

While it’s pretty much always a few cents to (rarely) a few dollars cash back, isn’t getting back a little cash for money you’re spending anyway a better shopping decision than just shopping without this perk? Rakuten also provides lists of coupon codes for the stores that are connected to its site. Signing up and using it is free. Obviously, the purpose of this tip isn’t to get you to shop online for things you don’t need. But, if you’re moving to a new state or trying to revamp your college supplies, or if you’re going to shop online just because that’s what you do, use this site to get back a bit of your money.

2. If You Don’t Mind Slow Delivery Times, and Love Amazing Deals, Check Out Zulily

Zulily is basically a less expensive version of Gilt. It’s a website/app where tons of clothing, accessories, and home goods are sold for extremely discounted prices. I’ve bought four pieces of clothing from this site so far: two outfits for upcoming weddings, a dress for professional occasions, and a teaching-appropriate blouse. Each of these four items of clothing were $9.99, and delivery was about an additional $5. I saved over a hundred dollars by buying through this site, but delivering the items almost always requires at least 2-3 weeks (because of how the site works). I really suggest this site for anyone wanting to revamp their wardrobe on a budget, but it’s also great for office supplies and home goods. If you’re buying clothing, though, make sure it’s eligible for return and makes sure you’re pretty certain about the correct size, since there are return and restocking fees. And since this is a back-to-school themed post, definitely check out the back-to-school category on the site, as well.

 3. Coupons Are Not Just For Extreme Savers

This is an obvious tip, but I thought I’d include it for anyone who’s been ignoring this fantastic option. As a college student, saving money is always a priority. If you’re going out to shop/eat/adventure, check out and use sites/apps that compile thousands of active coupons for anyone who takes the time to find them. For example, the RetailMeNot app. It lists active coupons for tons of stores and restaurants. Just type in the shop/restaurant name in the search bar, and load the best coupon, if any are available. You don’t even need to print out the coupons if you have a smart phone. Here’s a link to a list of other apps with similar functions.

4. Sign Up for Loyalty Perks or Rewards

For stores/restaurants you go to regularly, check if there’s a customer reward program and ask how it works (and if it’s free). For example, if you’re part of the Chili’s reward program, you get a $25 credit each time you spend a total of $250 over the course of eating there (including take-out orders). While it might take some time to reach that goal, eventually you can get basically two meals for free (always read the fine print: you need to spend the whole $25 credit at once and it expires about a month after you reach the reward). Smoothie King has a good rewards system, as well. If you’re an artist or crafter, Michael’s has a rewards program app that houses all its current deals and coupons. Tuesday Morning has discounted prices on tons of home goods and stationary, and they also have a rewards program. Basically, if you go to the same places over and over, make sure you’re taking advantage of any perks to being a loyal customer.

5. Check for Student Deals

A lot of shops offer discounted prices for college students. You usually just need to provide a valid college email address or ID. For example, if you shop a lot on Amazon, get Amazon Prime. Two day free shipping is amazing, and students get a discounted price. There are other perks, like video streaming, as well. If you’re sharing a dorm room or apartment with someone else, you can also consider sharing the prime account so you can split the bill. For music lovers, Spotify also has a student discount on a premium account. It’s $5 a month, instead of the usual $10, and with premium, you can download playlists to your electronic devices. I basically always listen to Spotify when walking to class or working out at the gym. These are just a couple examples. There are tons more out there, if you’re just willing to look.

6. If You’re Searching For Adventure, Go To Groupon First

I admit, I rarely use Groupon. But really, that’s because I’m both a PhD student and a bit of a hermit. If you’ve moved somewhere new for your college years, or you’ve lived somewhere for years and have just never explored it, Groupon can be a great way to afford some local (or not so local) adventures. While this site offers deals on restaurants, electronics, and other goods, what I like about it the most is the offers for discounted experiences like water parks or laser tag or painting classes. So, if you’ve made some new friends in your dorm or just want to experience something different from you’re usual semester routine (remember, self-care is essential), see if there’s anything on this site that strikes your fancy before spending too much money on one day’s activity.

One More (Anti)Shopping Tip: Don’t Shop. Check Out/Rent.

My final shopping tip is basically an anti-shopping tip, but I thought it important to include on this list. If you feel like you need to buy something, but you know you won’t need or want it for long, consider what avenues are available to you that don’t involve spending money on this ephemeral object or experience.

Example 1: As an English student (and now teacher), buying long lists of books each semester has always been an expected expense. This summer, though, I stumbled across an app offered by my public library system: Axis 360. This free app only requires my library card number and pin to work, and it gives me access to thousands of free ebooks and audiobooks. I can check out and hold ten books at time, create a wish-list of whatever length I want, and re-checkout books I haven’t finished by the return date (unless someone else has it on hold). While the timing of holding and checking out books on this app can be tricky for required books, it’s a great option for students who enjoy reading on their off time or who are taking courses that require non-textbooks like novels, biographies, and plays. You can also find tons of cook books, productivity books, and educational books, alongside the romance novels and science fiction texts. I’ve been really impressed by the books on offer via this app, so if your library doesn’t have this particular app, check and see if they have any others with similar possibilities.

Example 2: I taken up crafting as a hobby this past year, as a way to de-stress after a long day or week of work. While I’ve bought supplies as part of this hobby, I also am always on the lookout for free opportunities connected to it. This summer, I traveled a bit out of my way to a library that offers dozens of free classes for things like painting and using Photoshop. I painted a box shaped like a book that was 3D printed just for me. On another occasion, I went to a Michael’s store for their free class on making a bookmark for my planner. They provided all the supplies to make the bookmark and I left with a few extra pieces to create another one on my own time.

Basically, check for free options before going for a buying option.

Blogger’s Choice: My Top 3 Things to Buy As a College Student (Or Teacher)

1. A Planner Structured in a Way that Works for You

If you’re more of a digital calendar/task-list person, then you might have no use for a paper planner (GoogleCal, Evernote, and/or Wunderlist might be more up your alley). Still, you might find certain advantages to keeping track of your life via an inexpensive planner (for example, when your phone runs out of battery unexpectedly or you accidentally leave it at home). Planners can be as cheap as $1 at a Dollar Tree or less than $10 at a Walmart or Target. I think spending a dollar is worth it, just so you can know if paper works better for you than an app. if you know you’re a person who has a lot to keep track of and who doesn’t care much for digital calendars or task-lists, I’d suggest paying a bit more for one of the better brands of planners.

While Erin Condren is often the go-to planner brand, I really don’t see the point in paying over $50 for a planner. Instead, I suggest either a Happy Planner (HP) or a Passion Planner (PP). Both these planners come in different sizes, and they both have plenty of pros with very few cons. If you’re going to buy a Happy Planner, I suggest buying it at Michael’s using one of their 50-60% off coupons or a great sale. Passion Planners are now available via Amazon Prime, I believe, though you’ll probably want to see their whole selection on the company’s site first.

I have multiple HPs and a PP. If you plan on taking your planner with you to class, the gym, work, etc., I suggest either the mini or classic Happy Planner or the compact Passion Planner. However, if you like to plan by the hour, the PP is a better choice. If you don’t, go for the HP. There are plenty of other planners out there, but these are the two I recommend because I have experience with them. If you want to see other planner options, I have a video on this topic.


Left: Academic Passion Planner; Right: 3 Happy Planners


Left: Passion Planner, Right: Big and Mini Happy Planners

2. A Book Bag with Two Straps and Multiple Pockets

As someone who travels around campus with a bag full of books, notebooks, snacks, water, and electronics, using a bag with one strap is a recipe for a bad back. Using a bag with little to no pockets is just asking for something to spill or get lost in the shuffle of finding a single small item. Solution? Using a bag that a) straps onto my back, not across my chest or on one shoulder, and b) has pockets intended for keeping small items like pens and paperclips, medium sized objects like notebooks, and electronic items like an iPad or laptop (a side pocket for a water bottle is a great bonus). I don’t have a particular brand of bag that I recommend. This item really depends on your style and your needs. As a staple of the student experience, though, I really suggest you get a comfortable and functional one.

3. Pens that Write Smoothly

As someone who writes a lot, pens that dry super quickly or that smear constantly when I write (I’m left handed) frustrate me like no tomorrow. I also like to color code my notes, but using different highlighters all over my notes can be headache-inducing. My solution to these problems? PaperMate pens. These can get expensive, but they tend to go on sale for the back-to-school season. I actually bought a set of multi-colored pens for less than $3 at Walmart this week. Instead of using highlighters, I can just color code via the pens I write in. For those who like thicker lines when they write, the flair pens are great, too, and are also on sale pretty often. If not on sale, these pens are sold in plenty of places that have coupons for regular price items. This brand also sells mechanical pencils, but I haven’t tried those out yet.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of other tips out there. Here’s a post with a couple more of my own tips. YouTube is filled with videos targeted to students and teachers, for example (there are a lot of back-to-school giveaways on there at the moment). I’ll get into some great channels to subscribe to in next week’s post. [If you’re a college instructor or grad student, I recommend my channel.] For now, I hope these tips are helpful not only for any college students reading this post, but also for anyone looking to save a few bucks when doing their day-to-day shopping or spontaneous splurges.

Comment Below: What are some of your own shopping tips for those of us on a budget?

Need help staying on a budget during the school year? Here are ten tips to help you save money. #college