Category Archives: Budgeting

Student Voices: Life on a Budget

“…anyone who lives within their means, suffers from a serious lack of imagination.”
– Oscar Wilde

Going Out

“MIIS offers monthly happy hours with kegs, wine, small appetizers, and a fun crowd that is free so long as one brings a cup…”

“Clubs like the United Nations, the American Red Cross, and the Environmental Task Force offer free movies and activities during the week and weekend…”

“Volunteer at tourist events, such as the Monterey Jazz Festival and Wine Tasting Weekend. By volunteering, the sponsor will often provide you with a free admission ticket.”

“The aquarium usually costs $20 per person; however, they offer one week in December which is free to everyone living in Monterey County, with proof of residence.”

“Peter B’s Happy Hour: You can’t beat this happy hour. Featuring a wide selection of appetizers for a few dollars each, and don’t forget the $2.50 beer.”


“…arrive at the Farmer’s Market right at closing time, and many food vendors give away or discount their remaining food.”

“Check out the Produce Market, a small, well-priced store on North Freemont Street.”

“Save coupons until the item goes on sale, then receive the coupon discount in addition to the sale price, which will often save 50% or more on the item.”

“…shopping in ethnic grocery stores is the cheapest place to find rice, curry pastes, etc.”

“What about those Starbucks lattes, macchiatos, and mochas? You can make those at home…All you need is a French press ($20), milk foamer ($10) and some great coffee ($6). Add some cocoa or caramel syrup to your espresso before adding the foamed milk and voila! Fun under $40 (that’s about 10 Starbucks mochas) you’ve invested in your coffee drinking for the duration of your time at MIIS…”

Bills (Ya know, the one’s you have to pay!)

“… to those who have just arrived in this country but have no cell phone to make local calls. You should download Skype. Then you can make free phone calls in the US with this software. It helped me a lot when I first arrived here.”

“Share a wireless internet signal (and monthly cost) with immediate neighbors.”

“Everyone at MIIS has a unique ability or talent that someone in the area could benefit from: tutoring, offering language practice or lessons.”

“[Use alternative rates on utilities] PG&E’s California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) Program offers a 20% discount on your energy bill.”

“Study at the library rather than at home. Not only will the distractions be less but your lights are off and your laptop is plugged in somewhere else.”

Wine and Dine Your Valentine

Being a student and living on a student budget does not mean that you should hide from Cupid and lock yourself in your room this Valentine’s Day.

Instead Valentine’s Day this year can be about creativity, adventure, and romance. We have suggestions for some inexpensive ways to express yourself without emtying your piggy bank. And trust us, your date will have fun!


Take a blanket and head to Carmel State beach to watch the sunset. Pack a picnic basket with some cheese, a baguette, and a bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s. Check the time the sun sets and get there at least half an hour early so you don’t miss it!
Bring a blanket, firewood, and matches for a bonfire. Oh yeah, and whatever you do, don’t forget the makings for smores!

Be an artist for the day at Big Sur. There are a variety of trails from Highway 1 down to the beach. Draw or photograph the view with your date. Get some great shots of each other among the redwoods, waterfalls, and the beach. Print the photos and make a memory album.

Visit the animals at the SPCA. Even if you are not in the mental or financial place to adopt, you can still go to pet the animals and give them some love.


Attend a play or musical production at Monterey Peninsula College. View their calendar of events.

Check out the art galleries in Carmel together. There are probably a dozen or so on Ocean Avenue and surrounding streets. Then stop by The Cheese Shop in the Carmel Plaza. Pick your favorite cheese and buy enough for the two of you to enjoy. OR Spend the afternoon at The Monterey Museum of Modern Art on Pacific Street. Admission is only $2.50 for students and $5.00 for non-students.

Go to Borders in Seaside for a poetry reading or a lecture by an author. While you’re at it grab a coffee, your favorite magazine, and cozy up for an hour in their cushy chairs.

Skip the high price of the movie theater and rent a video. Theaters charge $9.00 per ticket, Blockbuster charges $3.99 per video. That’s a savings of $13 on two tickets. And that’s not even including the savings in popcorn, soda, and candy costs. Need a few movie ideas…try a romantic comedy such as America’s Sweetheart, Bridget Jones Diary, Love Actually, or French Kiss.


Setup the fondue set. Fondue can be quite romantic. Gather pillows around a coffee table. Pop a disc of Sinatra into your stereo, light those candles.

Catch Happy Hour at El Torrito on Cannery Row. Grab a window booth and watch the waves crash as you sip raspberry margaritas. Appetizers are 50% off until 8pm on Monday-Fridays and margaritas are under $3.00.

Check out Taste of Monterey on Cannery Row for wine tasting. For only $5 you can taste 10 different local wines. Plus the view is absolutely breathtaking!

Meet for brunch at your favorite public bench. On the way, stop by the bagel bakery for a couple of bagels and two coffees. Pick up a coast weekly at the paper stand in the bakery, they’re free! Browse the paper for the weekly horoscopes and see if you and your date’s signs align.

Feeling more like dessert? Instead of going out to a restaurant for dinner, go only for a nice dessert and coffee. Tarpy’s and Rosine’s are two excellent places to go for dessert.

Make a romantic pasta dinner. To help set the mood, play some Italian opera (if you don’t have Italian opera CDs around, try checking the local library), and light some candles. After dinner, relax with a romantic Italian film or the classic “Lady and the Tramp.”

‘Tis the Season for Giving

Financial Aid to the Rescue! The holidays should be about surrounding yourself with friends, family, and good times. Make this year memorable not because of the expensive gifts you gave, but because of the special times you shared with your loved ones! Here are a few shopping tips and gift ideas that won’t break your bank.

Minimize your gift list: If you have a large family, suggest drawing names so you only need to buy one gift, instead of purchasing gifts for everyone.

Gift obligations: Feel obliged to give a gift to a friend? Suggest getting together for a night out instead of exchanging gifts.

Consider a seasonal job at your favorite store: Not only will you make extra money, but many shops offer employee discounts!

Shop after Christmas: Maybe you’re visiting family/friends after Christmas? The biggest sales of the year occur the day after Christmas. The crowds might be oppressive, but it’s a good time to snag gifts at great prices.

Plan ahead for next Christmas: Spread your shopping over the next year. Buy things when they are on sale and save them. Stock up on gifts when you have a summer job.

The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach: Consider inviting some friends over for a day of baking. Friends can share the expense AND the work, and everyone leaves with something.

Local Gifts

Take Photos of the Coast:You have access to the Pacific’s beautiful coastlines, the lone Cypress tree along 17 mile drive, historic buildings, and the fertile Salinas Valley! Put your photos in great frames from Ross and Marshalls, which have huge supplies of discounted frames.

Wine Under $15:Need help picking out a bottle? You can find recommendations on food and wine pairings, the best gift wines, and even a section of wine under $20!

Garlic Braids:You live 30 minutes from the Garlic Capital of the world! Consider a book of garlic recipes, and package it with a garlic braid!

The Artichoke Queen:Did you know that Marilyn Monroe was crowned the very first Castroville Artichoke Queen in 1947? The world’s largest artichoke is also in Castroville! Buy some giant artichokes and give them with a book of recipes!

Fresh Fruits and Veggies:Get creative, you live where fresh fruits and vegetables abound! The combinations are endless!

Easy and Low Stress

A mug and/or gift certificate to your recipient’s favorite coffee shop
A deck of cards
A box of theater candy with a movie theater gift certificate
Board games
Notecards and/or a book of stamps
Microwave popcorn and a gift certificate for video rentals
House Plants MGO is Marina always has a supply of plants usually priced at $5.99 or less!


Put your talents to work for you!
Give a massage
A free night of babysitting
Wash the car
Do household chores like vacuuming or cleaning windows
Cook a favorite meal
Most importantly, enjoy the season!

Turkey Dinners

If you’re unable to convince your family to give up their tradition of cooking Thanksgiving dinner at their home each year, invite some of your friends over. Not all of your classmates are going out of town for the holidays. Find out who’s in town and host Thanksgiving dinner ‘potluck’ style. This will reduce your costs dramatically, plus you’ll be celebrating with friends and not just your television.>/p>

Use foods that are “in season” in as many recipes as possible. This includes squash, pumpkin, yams, cranberries, apples, oh, and of course, Turkey! It’s best if you avoid the foods that are out of season because more than likely they are overpriced.

A good price for a turkey is $0.29 per pound and at that rate you might as well buy a large bird. You can always freeze the leftovers from what you don’t eat, for convenience, try freezing your leftovers in small zip lock bags and only pull out one portion at a time. Frozen turkey will keep for months and is very versatile. Try being a little experimental and look up fun turkey recipes on the web. You can add turkey to just about any casserole, soup, or salad. Just remember, turkey has the Amino Acid Tryptophan which calms you down and makes you sleepy so don’t eat it if you have a busy schedule ahead of you!

Another way to save this holiday season is to bake your own bread. You should be able to find all of the ingredients on sale during the weeks prior to Thanksgiving. And, as you probably all know, homemade bread is 100% better than store bought rolls. It may cost you more dough (no pun intended!) up front to pay for all of the ingredients, but over time it will pay off because of all the loaves you’ll make. However, if you are not willing to invest the time playing Betty Crocker, there are always Pillsbury rolls that run for about $2-3 dollars a container.

Holiday Travel


If at all possible, try to avoid peak traveling days. Not only are airports a crowded disaster on these days, but these peak travel days can cost a bundle. Typically, the two best days to travel by air during the Thanksgiving holiday are on Thanksgiving and the Friday following. If you choose to travel during the Christmas season, it is generally best to avoid flying between December 17th and January 3rd to avoid paying premium prices. However, if you do fly during these two weeks, try to be flexible to cut back about the price as much as possible. As a student trying to survive on financial aid, the best option would probably be to choose a red eye flight and leave during the work week.

Really want to pinch those dollars? Consider this: check into airports not only in Monterey, but within a 100 mile radius. Two hours of driving can save you huge amounts of money. Take advantage of the Institute’s blogging network and post on the Ride Share forum for carpooling opportunities. For example, if another student is traveling up to San Francisco for the holidays, try to get a ride with them and pay them half of the cost of gas. Both of you will benefit, and YOU will forgo the high price to park long-term at the Airport!


If you really want to bypass the North American airport bustle, why not take the train? You’ll save a lot of money, have enjoyable scenery, and you may even have extra time to catch up on some leisurely reading that went to the back burner during the semester. Salinas has an Amtrak station located at 11 Station Place. Amtrak offers student discounts on ticket prices, food, entertainment, and books.


Carpool with other classmates! You can post advertisements on the Ride Share forum to see if anyone is travelling somewhere in the near vicinity that you are. Even if one of you has to go out of their way by an hour, the cost that both of you could save may be worth your time.

Obey posted speed limits! Not only will this prevent you from getting pulled over, but fuel economy decreases substantially at speeds above 55 miles per hour. Also, during the holidays such as New Years many police departments step up highway patrols. Speeding tickets usually start at $100, and the amounts double in construction zones. Add in the extra money it will cost on auto insurance, and you have a formula for wrecking your financial aid budget.

Set your cruise control! This will allow you to maintain a constant speed which can also improve fuel economy. If your car has overdrive, use it. It reduces fuel consumption during highway driving and may prevent your lead foot from getting you into trouble.

Know where you are going! Carry a map of the area. Getting lost is not good for fuel economy. And hey, if you are a little map illiterate, ask a knowledgeable source to advise you on the best routes to take.

Eating Well

farmers-market Food can take quite a bite out of your budget. Improve your budget by making smarter choices and having a plan:

  • Don’t throw away leftovers – add them to a new meal the next day or freeze it for later.
  • Eat before you go to the grocery store and use a list – you will spend much less!
  • Fast food seems cheap and convenient, but spending $6 a day can add up quickly. Instead, bring your lunch/make spaghetti. For the same $6, you can have several meals from one big pot of homemade spaghetti.
  • You pay more to buy “prepared” foods, such as marinated chicken breasts or pre-washed & torn lettuce. Would you pay someone $3 to wash and chop your salads for you? Because that’s what you’ll pay if you buy a bagged salad mix instead of a head of lettuce.
  • Try to go Vegetarian 3 times a week. Meat can be a big ticket item. Think of some alternative ways to get protein (i.e. make a baked potato with vegetables and cottage cheese, or make a stir fry with tofu or soybeans—Costco sells a huge bag of stir fry vegetables for about $7 and it has soybeans already in it!!) You can make a can of soup really hearty by adding veggies and rice. A 3lb bag of rice is about $4, which comes out to $0.08 an ounce!

Keeping It Clean!

keeping-clean Dryers are devices of convenience, a quick solution for drying your clothes. They are also superb at setting stains and decreasing the longevity of your clothes. Using a dyer costs money because you’ll need to replace worn out clothing.

Compare the cost of using a dryer with the cost of using a clothesline or an indoor clothes rack. The cost of purchasing a clothes rack is usually between $5 and $20, and this cost is recovered in savings after the first month in most cases. Not only do clotheslines offer additional savings, but air-dried laundry lasts longer. The sun helps remove stains from light clothing, and ultraviolet rays kill bacteria.

To save time and space while air-drying shirts, hang them on hangers. They become less wrinkled, take up less space, and can be moved to the closet as soon as they have dried.

Saving Energy



Heat and air conditioning are the largest home-energy hogs. The U.S. Department of Energy says that for each 24-hour period, you’ll save about 3% on your energy bill for every 1 degree that you lower the thermostat setting.


Switch to “U.S. Energy Star-approved” light bulbs and save up to $60 a year. Most people spend about $110 per year on lighting using incandescent bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs cost more, between $4-$8, but pay off quickly. They also burn less fossil fuels. If every American home replaced one bulb with a fluorescent one, that would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.

And More…

  • Turn off the TV when nobody’s watching it. Having a 32-inch TV on for background noise for 12 hours/day for 7 days/week costs approximately $108/year. Watching it 4 hours/day costs $36/year.
  • Washing clothes in cold water saves another $60/year.
  • Powering down your computer at night saves $70/year.
  • Don’t let your ice box be an Icebreaker! A full freezer will help it run more efficiently. If you have empty areas, place plastic bottles filled with water. The bottles work double-duty. You’ll be more prepared for electrical outages because the ice will keep things frozen longer and you’ll have a safe emergency water supply.

Out on the Town

champagne We know that the Monterey Peninsula is an expensive place to live. We live here too. So how are you supposed to pay for champagne when your budget only allows for a six pack of beer? It’s not easy, but trust us, you can do it. Don’t let your finances give you a Nervous Breakdown.

If one of your friends suggests dinner at the new (and expensive!) eatery in Carmel or drinks at the local watering hole, don’t be afraid to politely decline. Recommend a cheaper alternative. Make dinner. Have a potluck. Make drinks at home, instead of sitting at a bar! Order a pizza. Better yet, stop by the grocery store and buy a frozen pizza. Then, rent a movie, play board games, or form a study group.

How easy was that? You could’ve spent $50 on dinner and drinks, but now you’re only out $15! ($5 for the frozen pizza, $5 for the movie, and $5 chipped in for beverages.)

Tips to Save

Here are a few tips for managing your budget:


Invest in a coffee-maker!

Buy in Bulk: There is a Costco card available at Student Services for a $10 deposit. Coordinate with friends and share the low costs of groceries. You can’t beat some of these prices.

Shop at Discount Stores: The Grocery Outlet, located in Marina (10 Miles North), offers discounts on foods and general household goods.

Take Advantage of Special Offers: Utility companies grant reduced prices for lower income households. Contact PG&E or Pacific Bell to see if you qualify.

Purchase the Sunday Paper for $1.50. It is full of grocery ads and coupons that can save you more than the price of the paper. Check for buy one get one free deals at Safeway and Albertson’s for items that you regularly purchase.