Diary of… A college student living on a tight budget

Alek Culpepper is a sophomore communication studies major. He is interested in journalism and loves to read. He describes himself as a theater junkie and has performed in many plays. His favorite quote is, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”

50 bucks. It could get you a single steak at a fine-dining restaurant or it could feed you pretty darn well for a week.

Moving to an apartment off campus for my sophomore year was great, but there are a few things I miss about living on campus. On campus, I didn’t have to worry about having enough rent money at the beginning of each month and I had a meal plan. Now, I have to keep track of every dollar I spend.

One of the most important things I have learned in college is how to budget my money. I work full time and I’m also a full-time student. After I figure out how much money I need for rent and other household bills, I allow myself $50 a week for things such as food, gas and entertainment.

I start the week by planning out what I need from the store. I only go once a week and get enough to last me for that week. Before I head out to the store, I find coupons. Why anyone pays full price is beyond me. I find most of my coupons at www.redplum.com and www.coupons.com

A typical food list for me consists of rice, noodles, dry beans, canned foods and pasta. I round it out with fresh veggies, meat and dairy products. Then I create a “planned leftovers” scheme. One day I’ll have meatloaf, rice and green beans, then the next day I’ll make fried rice using the leftover rice and add some stir fry veggies. Or I’ll make pasta and tomato sauce using crumbled meatloaf in the sauce. It’s all about thinking ahead when it comes to living on such a low budget. I plan each meal and think how I can reuse leftovers to create cheap and tasty dishes.

Then comes the first of every month — the worst time of the month for me — when bills are due. There are things that I do to keep me from unplugging the phone when bill collectors call. For instance, I unplug all my household appliances while I sleep and while I’m at work or school. I also keep my thermostat at 78 degrees and turn it off when I leave home. And I use low-watt light bulbs in all my lamps. These little things cut my bills in almost half.

Another big problem I face in my budget system is gas money. My money balance depletes as fast as I pour gas into my car. At the beginning of each week, I put $10 worth of gas in my car. That doesn’t sound like enough to get me around, but I only drive to places that are too far out of my walking range. For instance, walking to school is not a huge problem since I can literally see the DeSantis Building from my apartment window. And I work on Davie Boulevard, which takes me about five minutes to get to even on days with high traffic.

When others hear about my strict budget, they ask, “How do you have any fun with that budget?” I may adhere to some strict spending, but I don’t live under a rock and I do have some fun on this budget.

To me, going out with friends to a theater to watch the latest action film is a great night out. I found a perfect movie theater here in Davie called Cinema 8, which on certain days, plays movies for just five bucks — no tax. You can’t beat that.

Living on such a tight budget has really taught me how to save and make smart choices with my money, and I must say that living on this new limited budget has made me understand the value of a dollar.

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