Welcome to campus! As a college student in the bustling Cambridge area, the allure of museum trips, late-night ice cream runs, impromptu Red Sox games, and shopping sprees is sometimes hard to ignore. The good news? You don’t have to choose between spending money and having a good time! With some careful advance planning and money-saving strategies at your disposal, navigating local attractions on a budget is completely possible.
Saving On Your Wardrobe:
-If you need to shop, shop affordably. For clothes, thrift stores in the area like The Garment District (accessible via the Kendall stop on the Red Line) offer a variety of items for any trendy college student. Beyond their diverse selection of hand-picked vintage items for sale upstairs, they have a Pay-By-The-Pound clothing section on the lower level. For $2.00 per pound, you can grab a bag and fill it with items from the pile of new and vintage children’s, men’s, and women’s clothing all tossed together on the floor. While it takes some time to dig through layers of apparel and locate pieces that work for you, it’s an interesting (and much less expensive) twist on the typical thrifting experience.
One caveat: buying other’s clothes means you’re also taking in the damage to said clothes. In order to prevent thrifting from being a complete waste of money, you need to invest your time in the process. Inspect each item before you buy it and make sure it’s in decent condition. Look out for visible stains, tears that are unlikely to be easily repaired, fraying, or missing buttons. Also, check out the care instructions on the inside label and consider the amount of money you’d like to invest in a piece. You may love that leather jacket, but if it’s dry-clean only, will you really want to spend money on professionally laundering it? Consider how care and maintenance costs may add up over time. Also, try everything on! Slip clothes on over your current outfit (or head to the fitting rooms) and make sure each piece is a good fit before you purchase. Items that appear to be in your size may have been dried several times or even altered by the previous owner, thus making them tighter, shorter, or less comfortable than they appear to be.
-If you’d rather buy your clothes right-off-the-rack, then shop in between seasons. As you’re heading back to school, start scanning the clearance racks for shorts, tank tops, flip flops, and other summer staples. In an attempt to fill the store with full-priced, in-season fall inventory as soon as possible, stores will push their summer clothes out the door as soon as mid-July. While everyone else is focused on building their autumn wardrobe, put together your future looks for next summer at a fraction of the cost. The same goes for winter clothes: buy essentials like sweaters or leggings during the spring and summer months, and you’ll find yourself spending a lot less.
-Fast-fashion chains are also your best friend. While pieces from these stores typically aren’t of the highest quality, they’re good in a pinch when investing in higher-end pieces isn’t quite within your budget. Forever 21, H&M, and Aeropostale all offer staple pieces, like denim jeans, solid-color t-shirts, and sneakers at affordable prices.
-In college, every dollar does matter. It’s important to minimize the amount of money spent on items you’ll likely never pay attention to. Consider weighing wants versus needs when it comes to unnecessary, impulse purchases. What is the likelihood that the cheetah-print skirt you’re buying will still be in style within a year? Five years? Even though that cute pair of shoes you’re eyeing seems cool, how many pairs of shoes do you already have? Would that money be better spent elsewhere?
Saving On Textbooks:
-Before buying textbooks directly from the Lesley Bookstore, shop around and see if you can find cheaper versions elsewhere. Be creative– if you don’t mind some notes in the margins or stray highlighter marks on your text, you’ll often find used copies on Amazon that are much cheaper than any new version.
-If you don’t want to invest in a book you won’t keep long-term, consider a textbook rental service like Chegg. For a small fee, you can borrow a textbook for a semester, then mail it back after finals are over. This is a much more cost-effective option than buying a book for those who’d rather not hold onto their course materials after the semester ends.
-Another little-known source is your local library; a quick scan of any library’s online catalog may score you a completely free version of the textbook you need. One small inconvenience is the rental window, which likely won’t enable you to keep a book for the entire semester. However, if you’re willing to read ahead and take notes, this is an option for you.
Saving On Going Out:
-When you’re out and about in the city, your Lesley ID is your best friend! With your student ID, you gain free or discounted admission to different museums and attractions around the Boston area. This was invaluable to me during my freshman year, as it allowed me to see a ton of the city while spending relatively little money, if any at all. One of my personal favorites was the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), located in the Waterfront area of Boston. It’s accessible via the Red Line, as the museum is about a 15 minute walk from the South Station stop. Here, you’ll find some of the most thought-provoking multimedia pieces the city has to offer, tackling various political topics and social issues. The ICA offers free admission to Lesley students, as does the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), another iconic Boston attraction that is accessible via the Green Line.
-If you’re planning on attending a Red Sox game, before you splurge on expensive re-sale tickets or pay face value directly from Fenway, consider signing up for the Student 9s Program! For just $9, Boston and Cambridge-area students with a valid college ID can buy up to four $9, standing-room or bleacher seat tickets per season! This is a great, affordable way to catch a game if you don’t mind standing or a bit of a distant view.
-When traveling through the city, transportation costs can easily eat up a good chunk of your night-out budget. Depending on how far your destination is from campus, consider walking with friends. A short walk is a great way to get your daily steps in, and I’ve found that talking with friends while moving totally distracts you from the walk itself. Before you know it, you’ve arrived while spending nothing on transportation!
-The MBTA, while often crowded and congested, is an inexpensive way to get around. With a CharlieCard, a one-way ride on the Red Line is $2.40. If you don’t mind potentially standing up or cramming in a subway car with others, it’s a cheap and quick way to reach your destination.
-Uber or Lyft are not only substantially more expensive than other modes of transportation, but their fares fluctuate. Depending on what day of the week or time you’re riding, you may pay a lot more than you should. Fares are also dependent on events happening in Boston that day. I’ve gone to request Uber rides on nights of Red Sox games, only to find the cost to be upwards of $30. If you choose to travel via ride-share service, split the fare with a few friends to make it as affordable as possible. Despite its high costs, ride-share apps do offer the most direct way to reach a spot around this city, which makes them an attractive option for students.
-Finally, before you conclude that you must go out to have fun, consider attending an event on campus! You’ll likely meet a new friend and help to build community across campus. CAB (Campus Activities Board) and USG (Undergraduate Student Government) frequently run bingo nights, After Dark events on the quad, voter registration drives, and de-stress events (with snacks!) before finals.
By making small changes in the way you spend, you can still have an enjoyable four years at Lesley filled with new experiences and memories made with friends. Meanwhile, you’ll also be saving in preparation to enter the “real world” and face your student loans. Establishing money-saving habits now, through smart shopping and saving, is crucial as you move on to your post-graduation life and beyond.