Conserve your cash one dollar at a time

Nick Sestanovich
Nick Sestanovich

It’s amazing how much can change over the course of two years. I went from living in Craig Hall, where almost all my basic needs were provided for me, to living in a group home where I have to provide for myself. For the next nine months, I have to use my debit card to buy food and supplies while conserving enough money to pay for rent and utilities. But a tight budget like this can really help you learn how to be a good bargain hunter.

For many, discount shopping may include big box stores like Wal-Mart or Kmart. It also includes discount grocery stores like WinCo. But these champions of cheap pale in comparison to my favorite discount outlet: Dollar Tree.

Believe me, I never thought I’d find myself defending Dollar Tree. I was always turned off by its hideous decor and low-quality products and tended to visit it only as a last resort. However, on such a slim budget, I am starting to see the store’s value. It’s a good way to save on basic home items throughout the school year.

However, there are some people who share my initial sentiments on Dollar Tree. Whenever I tell people that’s where I bought something their response is usually a dismissive “oh,” often followed up with “their stuff is kind of tacky.”

My response to such attitudes: So what? I don’t have a paid job, so I don’t always have a steady flow of money coming in. I need to have some way to save money so I can still have some left over at the end of the year. Buying things at Dollar Tree is a good way to do that.

Besides, I’m not asking for high-quality products. I just want basic supplies to get me through the school year. Among the things I’ve bought at Dollar Tree are plates, silverware, oven mitts, dish rags, soap, scissors and napkins. Never once did I feel like I was paying too much for what I bought.

That’s not to say I plan to do all of my shopping at dollar stores. I know I can get better quality food at stores like Trader Joe’s. However, I can still find better deals on home products at Dollar Tree. I spend about $3 less on paper towels at Dollar Tree than I do at Trader Joe’s.

There are also long-term benefits to discount shopping. After you’ve graduated and moved out of your house, you’ll be able to take some of the dishes and silverware you’ve accumulated to your new apartment. That will mean there’s less things to buy in the future, and you won’t have to feel like you’re taking dishes away from your parents. It’s a win-win situation for all parties.

In short, college students should not feel ashamed about discount shopping. When you’re on a tight budget, you have to be economical about what you choose to buy so you don’t run out of money before the year ends. Shopping at discount stores is just one way to ensure you’ll still have money in your pocket by then. It might not be the greatest shopping experience, but when it comes to saving money in college, it’s the best you can do.


Nick Sestanovich can be reached at [email protected] or @Nsestanovich on Twitter.