How I Survived College Financially

Free collegeIf you’ve read my post last week, then you know that I got into some credit card debt while in college. While I talked about working a summer job, I didn’t go into detail about the other ways I earned income throughout college. I thought that writing this might give some others that are in college (or even recent grads looking to earn a few extra dollars) a couple of ideas or at least start the creative thinking process begin.

Freshman and Sophomore Years

When I first began college, I held a work-study job. I worked in the library for 10 hours each week. Back then, minimum wage, which is what I was paid, was $5.15. Every two weeks, I would get a paycheck for roughly $100. During my freshman year, this was fine. I didn’t have a car and ate all of my meals in the cafeteria, so I really didn’t have any outside expenses.
But during my sophomore year, things began to change. I did have a car and while I did live on campus, I didn’t eat every meal in the cafeteria. With the addition of my girlfriend, my $100 bi-weekly income wasn’t lasting me.

Junior and Senior Years

During the summer of my junior year, I decided to forego the work study job and try to find a job outside of the college that paid more and allowed me to work more hours. This was great in theory, but didn’t work out because I was lazy and didn’t look that hard. I did however discover eBay (which was in its infancy) and was able to earn some money that way.

During my senior year however is when things really began to change. I again chose not to do the work study job but this time landed a job at Enterprise Rent-A-Car washing cars. It paid $6.00 per hour, but they were extremely flexible with my working hours. I was bringing home close to $100 each week.

I also began to use eBay as a source of income. For a little reference, back in the late 1990’s eBay was all of the rage. People didn’t use sniping tools and wait to bid at the last minute. They would bid early and often. Many times after including shipping, I would sell items for more than the item was worth. In fact, I sold a $5.00 bill that was in perfect condition, for $6.00. There was nothing special about this bill, other than it was in excellent condition.

Some of the ways my roommate and I made money were to attend estate and yard sales, join CD clubs (like BMG and Colombia House), and win prizes online and then resell them on eBay. I was able to make about $100 per month doing this as well. I’m certain I could have made more, but I had to balance being a student along with making money.

Lessons Learned

All told, once I started to find other ways to earn income my senior year, my finances slowly began to improve. While I don’t think you can use eBay like I did because of the novelty being worn off and “professionals” working that field, there are certainly other ways for you to make extra money in college. You just have to think a little bit out of the box. For example, if you are able to produce short videos (and if you have a Mac, this is relatively easy), you can get paid to help small businesses create videos.
Also look at the needs of the area you are in. When I was in college, I attempted to start my own business. I ended up not following through with it but it would have been web based and had very low startup costs.

Someone always needs something, you just have to figure out what that thing is, whether you can make it and whether or not they would be willing to pay for it.

Lastly, be certain to work a summer job. Going into my freshman year of college, my Dad helped me to land a job at the local factory. It paid well, but was a horrible job. He helped me get the job so it would serve as a wake up call to me: if you don’t go to college, this is what you are doing for 40 years. By working every summer, it helped me to survive college financially. Had I not been foolish with my credit card, I am certain I would have come out of college ahead of the game.

10 Responses to How I Survived College Financially

  1. Anytime you have to be resourceful, you learn something. I did not work in college, but I had summer jobs that supported my spending money. There were some occasions I needed to earn extra money and I did paid experiments for the Navy or others. I even iron shirts to earn extra money at times. The lessons learned were invaluable!

  2. Very great idea’s. I thought about the online store/resell business idea in college, but I just didnt have the time to commit to do it right between all the extra’s I was a part of in college. I worked as a tour guide though and that job paid well at the university plus there are perks with it that made it even better.

  3. I did a work study job while in college also. One thing that worked out great, that I never would have guessed, was how my own business developed. I started a website, with the intention of bringing in some extra money, and I taught myself all the design and programming. It never really made any money, but I learned enough about we design to actually get an entry level job in the field. Just goes to show that when you work hard things will eventually pay off.

  4. Great post I can relate as the parent of a 2010 college grad, a soon to be 2013 grad and a rising college junior. All three have been resourceful about earning money and keeping up their grades. Going back to my college days a long time ago I had a great (paid) position supporting a student government committee during the school year and worked in a sausage factory for three summers as well.

  5. I think the work study is a great option for many. You won’t have travel expenses and the people you work will are more than likely going to be willing to give you a great reference once you start looking for a job at the end of college.

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