The "poor college student" is such a cliche these days that I think most parents are forgetting to give their kids tips on saving money prior to jumping the nest. But college is the time when parents and organizations are most willing to throw money at you! And part-time jobs are easier to get! So stop living with your head in the clouds and start pocketing all you can.
Step 1: Transportation
Most colleges and universities these days have their own buses or trains, if the campus is large enough. Become acquainted with these routes! They'll save you from deciding to skip classes when it's raining and your umbrella just broke and your shoes will soak through, blah blah blah... Also, buses are yet another place to meet more people at your college, which is half the purpose of college!
If buses or trains are unavailable, get a sturdy, stylish, waterproof pair o' boots and/or a bike.
Whereas bicycles were dorky in high school, they are a total status symbol in college. A person is made automatically cooler when seen on a bike on campus. Just make sure you've got a helmet (get a kitschy one with lightning bolts or ninja turtles on it for added hip-ness), and try to get a friend who's a bike-nerd (or become one yourself!) so you always have someone to consult if you need repairs or a bike rack or advice on bike locks, etc...
As a general rule, I try not to eat on campus. Campus food is typically gross and grossly overpriced.
I've always always always got two items on hand in my backpack: a cool coffee mug and a handful of teabags, EmergenC packets, instant apple cider packets, and instant coffee packets. Pretty much all eatery places will give you hot water for free if you bring your own mug. And there's always free sugar, lemon juice, honey, and more. Pack apples or oranges in your backpack (apples are good for when you have no time to sit and eat; oranges are good for leaving an intoxicating smell, which is often a good conversation starter for the sexier specimens of the opposite sex). If you're going to be spending a lot of your day on campus, pack a lunch (you can get creative with this one) or examine your salad bar.
Most college cafeterias have a salad bar which can range from yucky, limp, browning vegetables to a veritable Garden of Eden. However, a few common salad bar items tend to be good bets across the board. Cucumbers, carrots, and romaine lettuce make a good start. Whatever else looks good, pile it on. I try to keep my salads 50% veggies and 50% protein, which tends to give me the most energy for the longest amount of time. I dress mine with olive oil, vinegar, and sometimes lemon juice (but I love lemons, so...). These usually come to around $2.50 for me, but may cost more depending on how much you want to eat, etc..
Eat at home as often as possible. Suggest that you and your friends cook for each other or have a picnic on a nice day (these are both incredibly good date ideas, by the way). I get all my food at Aldis, which is the cheapest grocery I've ever found. If you shop there, be prepared to bring your own bags and a quarter for your shopping cart. If you live around a Trader Joes, I hear those are spectacular as well.
College is a fantastic time to learn to cook! Buy one meat per week, and get creative in turning the leftovers into something new each day. A roast could become a sandwich, a part of an omelet or stew, or a welcome addition to a pasta dish.
Step 3: Alcohol
Drinking? It's a part of the college experience. It's a money-sucking, gut-widening, bad-decision-inducing part of the college experience, but I'll be gosh-darned if I don't enjoy a good beer-buzz.
To keep it from causing too much of a dent in your wallet, you should:
1. Limit your drinking to the weekends.
2. Don't keep alcohol in your fridge. Drink it only at your friends' places or bars.
3. Try to avoid bars. Bars are incredibly expensive because the price includes the stimulating atmosphere, the music, and the insurance. If you can, stick to house parties. Sometimes, if you know the people well enough, you can drink for free.
4. Be the one throwing the house party, if you can. If it won't upset your neighbors, buy a reasonably-priced keg, invite every person on the planet, and charge $5 a cup. With a little luck and some good advertising, you could make money.
5. Make your own liquor. I've made hard apple cider with great ease and some friends of mine made a very tasty mead. Make sure all your equipment is sterile, and mix UN-PASTEURIZED apple juice (I just put some clean apple slices in a blender and strained the pulp) with some yeast (which is really cheap). Put it in a sterilized bottle with a punch-balloon stretched over the top with holes punched in it. Wait a month. Remove the top liquid from the sediment which has collected at the bottom. Yay!
6. Pay attention to your local paper and your town's website for weekly specials.
Step 4: Beauty & Fashion
First off, the most effective thing you can do for your overall beauty is to be as healthy as possible. Try it out for a week to see miraculous results. Jogging 4 or 5 times a week will add a beautiful color to your cheeks and actually improve the quality of your skin (not to mention tighten your entire body). Getting enough sleep and enough water will ensure that the whites of your eyes are as white and clear as possible and your skin will be taut and clear. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables and lean meats will give you energy, improve the luster of your hair and nails, and aid in keeping your skin fresh and your figure lovely. All of these things will also improve your day-to-day mood noticeably, making you beautiful inside and out. This natural beauty is nature's way of ensuring that the people who can take the best care of their own bodies will be more likely to reproduce.
Getting into beauty products, there's a lot of multi-tasking you can do with each product. My mother taught me to use a tab of your favorite lipstick mixed with moisturizer (always moisturizer with spf) as a cream blush and eyeshadow. If you've got a tiny paintbrush or makeup brush, you can use your mascara ink to line your eyes with. You can buy perfumes in lotion form. I use the cheapest good-smelling shampoo I can find as a bodywash and a shaving lotion.
Take advantage of your parents' closets, as many of the fashions in their heyday are now back in style. Take advantage of Goodwill. If you've got cool friends who are about your size, arrange a clothing-swap.
Also, one of the advantages of being in college is that you usually have the room in your schedule for something random, like a sewing class. This would give you the skills necessary to give yourself exactly the clothes you want at a minimal price, for the rest of your life. Yay!
Step 5: Dating
Dating in college is something wonderful. It can be just light enough not to be stressful or just heavy enough to be deep and meaningful. Either way, the most romantic dates are often the cheapest ones. A few tips:
1. Take advantage of the weather. Is it walking weather? Is it picnic weather? Is it jumping-in-puddles weather? Is it snow-angels weather? Is it stay-inside-drinking-hot-cocoa weather?
2. Take advantage of recent holidays. Carve a pumpkin together. Make a gingerbread house together. Drink green beer together.
3. Homemade gifts are, by definition, swoon-worthy. And memorable. Whatever's your talent, milk it. Make a mix tape if you've got a head for music, or dedicate a short-story to them if words are your tools of choice.
For all of these, it helps to know your audience. Think about what he/she really loves in life and try to incorporate it into any of these tips.
Step 6: Making Something From Nothing
Here are some ideas to actually make cash when you're in a pinch:
1) Donate plasma. Find your local plasma center by googling "plasma" and your town. If you can get past the horror of having a needle stuck in your arm for around 45 minutes a visit, you're basically getting free money. I get about $50 a week that way and it's not that bad. Last time, they were showing "Tommy Boy" on the television and I laughed the whole way through.
2) Sell stuff you have lying around. I've never sold stuff on ebay, but I hear good things. I sell things to Half-Price Books and a local clothing store.
3) Sell your arts and crafts. If you're on Instructables, chances are you enjoy making things. And chances are, the things you make are sellable. You can sell things off of your own site, or off of etsy.com or even in local boutiques if the product is relevant and you can convince the owner.
4) Get a job. Duh.