Is “Live Like a College Student” Good Advice?

college student livingOne oft-repeated piece of advice for young adults who need to get their feet under them financially is to continue to live like a college student for several years after graduation.  Maybe this advice applied a couple decades ago, but now that colleges compete for students by enhancing the perks and amenities they offer, I’m not so sure.  I think that in many ways I had to decrease my standard of living post-college to live within my means.


Based on my experiences in college and as a graduate student, I’ve grouped the lifestyle components I’ve experienced into whether they affirm or deny the suggestion to continue to live like a college student in your 20s.


“Live like a college student” is good advice because in college/grad school I:

  • always had roommates (and by roommates I mean actual roommates or apartment-style suitemates)
  • virtually never spent money on shopping or entertainment
  • ate whatever food came across my path
  • took inexpensive trips with groups of friends to share the costs


“Live like a college student” is bad advice because in college/grad school I:

  • went to the dining hall for most meals, which is virtually the same as eating out all the time
  • never had to clean my living space (facilities and maintenance cleaned the bathrooms, vacuumed, etc.)
  • had furniture included with my living space
  • had access to an enormous gym with many amenities including group fitness classes
  • saw therapists, nutritionists, and career counselors
  • attended sporting, theater, and musical events often
  • had access to pool, air hockey, and ping pong tables at any hour


“Live like a college student” is useless advice because in college/grad school I:

  • didn’t much concern myself with money since my parents were largely supporting me (no insurance, no savings)
  • didn’t have any need for transportation, either to go to class or to hang out with friends
  • was so preoccupied by classes, homework, and research that I didn’t have time for a life!


Needless to say, to completely replicate the lifestyle I enjoyed in college when no longer a student would cost hundreds or thousands of dollars each month!  But I do think the advice is good in terms of continuing to have roommates and entertaining yourself inexpensively.


Do you think that it’s useful to suggest that college students maintain their lifestyles to help them live within their means when they are gainfully employed?  In what ways did you have to decrease or get to increase your standard of living post-college?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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47 Responses to "Is “Live Like a College Student” Good Advice?"

  1. Lucas says:

    I actually hadn’t thought too much about that, but you are right that living like a college student is actually somewhat of an inflated lifestyle (at least in certain areas). I think people generally mean “don’t increase your lifestyle” for a couple years. However that is probably not specific enough advice.

    1. Emily says:

      That’s definitely not the literal interpretation! And it doesn’t help people who immediately go out and finance a new car and get into an expensive lease and furnish their whole place right after starting that first job.

  2. The kids at our school have pretty lush digs and no sharing a single room! Many kids would be better off taking a cut in lifestyle after graduating.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Facts, opinions, empirical questions

    1. Emily says:

      They don’t have roommates?? I can’t say I would want to go back to sharing a bedroom with a friend but it wasn’t bad at all at the time.

      1. They have roommates, but by that they mean people who have their own bedroom and share an apartment with multiple bedrooms. Dorms and apartments at our uni are very cushy, and they’re building a bunch more. State of the art.

        Faculty haven’t gotten cost of living increases in about 5 years. The state legislature also won’t let us raise tuition. But the students don’t have to share a bedroom, and they have a wonderful new student union.
        nicoleandmaggie recently posted..An emotional update on the relatives: Also, a love note to having money

        1. Emily says:

          Not even cost-of-living raises?? That stinks!

  3. Since I still lived with my parents when I was in university, I definitely had to decrease my style of living and live more like a poor student when I moved out on my own haha
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    1. Emily says:

      Ha, yeah, learning that you likely can’t have your parents’ lifestyle right out of college is a big wake-up call all young people should have!

  4. You forgot the biggest issue. When you’re living like a college student because you’re in college, so is everyone else in your peer group. It’s acceptable to be cheap because you have to be. People understand and they judge you less harshly if they judge you at all.

    When you’re a college educated professional with a good job still living in a studio with roommates and eating ramen to save a buck, no one else is. And others will tend to think that you’re strange. And probably start avoiding you – because that’s how people are.

    As much as personal finance writers love to complain about lifestyle inflation, some degree of lifestyle inflation is expected as you move through the various stages of life from college student to executive VP. In my opinion, the trick is to be below average on lifestyle inflation, but not so far below that people think you have a mental disorder.
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    1. Emily says:

      That is an important consideration, and one I overlooked because I haven’t experienced it much yet! My peers are still largely grad students so I don’t feel much lifestyle pressure from them (occasionally some from non-student church friends).

      I can see what you’re saying that the advice to continue like you were living in college is unreasonable if your lifestyle in college was stereotypical “broke college student” because when you continue living that way far after when you could stop you will be seen as a weirdo. I get that. But my point here is that my college experience was not at all “broke college student,” and in fact it was necessary to decrease my lifestyle in many ways post-college to live within my means. I honestly can’t think of anyone I know IRL who had a true “broke college student” experience. Did you eat only ramen and live with several other people in a studio during/after college? Or was your lifestyle more similar to mine?

      We’re not against lifestyle increases here in the EPF household, though mindless lifestyle inflation is something we’d like to avoid. I look forward to buying higher quality food when our income increases. 🙂

  5. I like your third section the best: the advice is often not very useful in many respects, because college is too unique an experience. Many students aren’t fully supporting themselves, paying down debt is not yet a routine (and often it’s a debt-accumulation stage), there isn’t much income to practice allocating towards expenses and investments, etc. etc. Rather than using that phrase as a handy tool to advise post-grads, they might better be served with specific advice on how to deal with the myriad new financial topics they’ll be forced to deal with, many for the first time.
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    1. Emily says:

      Very good point and I agree. “Don’t accumulate credit card debt,” “think very carefully before you buy a car,” and “start saving with your first paycheck” would be more useful than “live like a college student.”

  6. Interesting point! I think this is good advice in general. However, it really depends on what type of lifestyle each individual lived in college. Because this can vary a good amount person to person.
    Blair@LifeDollarsandSense recently posted..Road Trip and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll

    1. Emily says:

      I wonder what percentage of people have that true stereotypical “broke college student” experience, though? At least among people I know I think we were all living fairly well on our parents’ money or student loans. My parents were certainly broke college students way back when but not many students today pay for all of their expenses themselves with cash.

  7. SarahN says:

    I love the way you look at common phrases in the PF spheres and throw them back with some critical thought!

    Interestingly, my father gave me $8000 before my first year started and said ‘that’s enough to cover a year’s accommodation with food provided’ (this was an of campus facility, I didn’t do to a traditional campus university but a ‘city’ university). He knew I had a $10k scholarship for the first year, so also asked me not to work that first year. I only listened for the first semester, then I saw that I’d need to sort myself out…

    From second year, I lived in school housing, so it was subsidized, but there was no food provided and no facilities like you list. The first year eased me into the new routine, and from year 2, I was on my own! I’m glad I didn’t want (or my parents didn’t offer) to pay beyond that first grant. It made me feel ‘grown’ up. It also helps that in Australia, education costs are a government loan that can be held (without interest) til you earn over a threshold. It’s a good system, making it possible to study, and use what you earn on ‘surviving’ but even still, I paid a lot of my tuition up front.
    SarahN recently posted..Zero Waste & dental floss

    1. Emily says:

      Thank you!

      What’s a city university?

      It’s interesting that you didn’t experience these perks… A lot of them are simply for being a student at my college or my current university, not associated with where I lived (obviously I live off-campus now).

      That does sound like a reasonable way to pay back loans, but like you said up front or after, you will pay for the education!

      1. SarahN says:

        Sorry I didn’t explain that well – a ‘city university’ means it’s all office block style, rather than laid out with grounds, ovals, pools, theatres etc. That being said, we had free counselors and doctors (but the doctors can be free anywhere, not just at uni) There was no nutritionist, but I can see how that’d be a good idea for students! So if I’m honest, I did get some perks, but it’s a bit ‘grass is greener’ at proper campus based schools.
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  8. Great post! It reminded me of an oft repeated phrase around here which is “live like a resident.” When we talk about paying off the medical school loans, we say we’re going to “live like a resident” for a few years, meaning on around 50k a year, so that we can pay back the med school debt.

    1. Emily says:

      Great point, Cat! I actually was just talking about debt and PF with a friend who is a resident last weekend. I think that “live like a resident” makes a lot more sense than “live like a college student” because you are living independently and all of that. Are there any perks of residency that disappear after moving on to the “real job”? For example, I know residents often enjoy (?) free food at the hospital.

      I think that $50k is actually a very generous amount to live on (for one person). Maybe us PF nerds would cut our lifestyle even further, but for normal people who are making a lot more than $50k perhaps it is a good guideline to pay off the debt faster but not crazy fast. You should have some enjoyments after your years of training, I think!

      But one other question I have about “live like a resident” is whether said resident is paying down the debt during the residency. My understanding is that the loans can go into deferral. Living like a resident who is making an effort to pay down debt is quite different from living like a resident who is spending his full salary.

  9. I guess it is telling that I would later start a food blog, because in college I still cooked. Kind of funny because I always had leftover money on my meal plan at the end of the year (one year, I bought 30 bottles of iced tea from the campus convenience store to clear my meal plan out!) But my roommates and I had a weekly pasta dinner that I cooked on an under-powered hot plate.

    As far as your question goes, yes it does have limits. Aside from there being more bills, I wouldn’t want to eat like I did in college.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..6 Frugal Ways to Ensure a Quality Education for Your Child

    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like you should have been off the meal plan! I know it was rare for a student at my college to go off the meal plan while living on campus, though, because of the rules about housing.

      1. At my school, you couldn’t live on campus without a meal plan and living on campus with a meal plan was cheaper than living off-campus without one.
        Edward Antrobus recently posted..6 Frugal Ways to Ensure a Quality Education for Your Child

      2. Our school(s) had pretty good food! I went back and ate at [the dining hall furthest South] about 3 years ago and it was still pretty good, even though that’s probably the worst dining hall on campus. When I visited my DH at his uni, I was shocked at how terrible the food was. People complained at our school, but they really didn’t have a reason to. I seriously miss having a salad bar option with every meal.
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        1. Emily says:

          Yeah, our dining hall was pretty good, too! Lots of options, and a decent salad bar. And when we wanted to change things up we just went to a dining hall on another campus in our consortium. When we went back for our reunion we really knew how good we had it and we made sure to go in for Sunday brunch!

        2. I remember my freshman year, everyone complained about the food so the school switched food service providers. However, over the summer, the old food service provider bought out the company who had just gotten the contract, so nothing actually changed!
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  10. I love your breakdown – “living like a college student” sounds great in theory but I completely agree with you. Sometimes I wish I could get all the perks that I had in college! Now, it seems impossible to live that way.
    Kyle @ YPFinances recently posted..The Next Oppportunity

    1. Emily says:

      Nice to hear from you, Kyle!

      Sounds like we had a similar college experience. It was great while it lasted! I’m sure I will be missing it even further after I finish grad school.

  11. haha, I like it! You’re right that living like a college student is pretty cushy in many ways (ooh I loved the dining hall!).

    Now that we’re about 7 years out of school (oh jeez I feel old!), I think living like a college student is good advice for us. This is how I tend to look at how we still live like college students:
    – using hand-me-downs (furniture from family, yes please!)
    – only upgrading when things break or wear out completely (we’re still using the dishes we bought in undergrad!)
    – being able to entertain ourselves on the cheap (wandering around aimlessly people watching or visiting free museums – entertainment done!)
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Why I Don’t Like The Word Saving

    1. Emily says:

      You are totally describing how we’re living now, in graduate school! College too, except for the furniture part. 🙂 I miss the dining hall dearly!

  12. i feel like that was a different phase of my life and i certainly wouldnt want to go back. in my mind, you go to college to increase your earning power, so that you can live the life that you want to live. you certainly still have to be responsible (as i learned the hard way), but you don’t need to eat ramen noodles anymore.
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    1. Emily says:

      College definitely is a unique phase – highly transitional. You can’t replicate it later even if you wanted to, which you obviously don’t!

    2. I feel the same way. Almost everything was difficult at the time: away from home, buying stuff I needed, adjusting to the new environment, dealing with different types of people. Although, I know my experiences back then had made me become a stronger person I’d still not choose to go back.
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      1. Emily says:

        I guess I feel like my life has gotten better with every stage (though not every year necessarily) so I wouldn’t go back for that reason. There were a lot of difficult “learning experiences” thrown in!

  13. That is an interesting series of ruminations!

    I suspect the advice-givers who inflict this old chestnut on young people are probably buzzards from my generation — “amenity” was not the term one would apply to any of the aspects of living on campus back in the Dark Ages. Today…well, it really does sound silly, doesn’t it!
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    1. Emily says:

      I lived in a dorm built in the 50s are it was definitely not plush, but the other perks that grew up for student life generally were very nice. And then I moved to a new dorm that was amazing. 🙂 I’m sure my parents could much more closely identify with my post-college living situation than my college living situation.

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  16. I think the only part of my college life that I miss the most is my being frugal. I was so scared to spend that much on things I really didn’t need.
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    1. Emily says:

      What changed after college?

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