Money Matters Lesson 4: Worst Impulsive “Deals” That Do You In

[College kids are notorious for being poor. And why shouldn’t we be? We take out student loans to pay for private universities, can barely balance a part-time job with our full-time courseload, and the only “balance” we’re familiar with refers to the number of points left on our dining hall cards. Oh, did I mention many of us tend to splurge every extra penny on PBR’s at the campus bar?

If you disagree with everything I just said, you probably don’t need this column. But if you’re nodding along because you’re officially an adult and still don’t know how to manage your money, then you might want to pay attention every week, because I’m going to (try to) get you through this, and make you a successful saver and a wise spender.]

I’ve been writing a lot about how to manage your money in bank accounts and with credit and debit cards. That’s the tricky stuff. As poor students, we are good at finding bargains and at least trying to make our money go a long way. That said, it’s easy to fall into certain traps when what we think is a good “deal” comes our way…and we end up paying dearly. Here are some scams to avoid in order to really save some dough.

1. Gym Memberships.

Beware of whatever type of deal a gym is trying to pitch to finagle you into joining. Why? Because they are probably lying. Okay, I’m bitter about this one. I needed to join a new gym at home for a couple of months, so I signed up for free guest passes at all the gyms in my area so I could work out for free and not buy anything. Next thing I knew, a Bally’s rep was selling me a special offer: $25 a month for a membership that I could transfer anywhere. He told me that if I got back to school and didn’t want to make the trek to the nearest Bally’s, I could freeze my membership for $4 a month, and when i started using their clubs again, I could continue to pay the dirt cheap fee.

The reality? Only the first transfer would be free, so I’d be paying in the future for every new Bally’s I tried to switch to; the “freeze” thing didn’t exist, and I was forced to pay the monthly fee even though I wasn’t working out; I’m stuck in a year contract, and now I have an express hatred for Bally Total Fitness Clubs. Needless to say: gyms are definitely places to read the fine print.

2. Anything That’s “Buy More and Save.”

Ultimately, you’re going to spend more money on things you don’t need. Shopping for a tank top and got suckered in by a “Buy nine and get one free” deal? Sure, you got a free top out of it, but you had to pay for NINE to get there. Even BOGO can sucker punch you, because if you think about it, you’re still spending 25% more than you initially hoped to spend. If you wanted a $20 pair of heels from Payless, and buy a second $20 pair just for the bargain, you’re still only saving $10, but spending $10 more than you wanted to. It’s a “is the glass half-full or half-empty” type of scenario.

3. Those Crazy “8 CDs for a Penny Each” Companies

This one might be outdated, now that we have iTunes and millions of way to pirate music off the internet. But with Christmas just around the corner, you might think you can do all of your holiday shopping for 8 cents. Of course, once you’ve collected your next-to-free discs, you’re going to have to pay full price plus shipping and handling for like eight more CD’s over the next year. When you forget about it because you’re busy sharing music with your roommate, you’ll get slapped with a bill for the cost of those CDs… you know, the ones you never actually bought but still have to pay for.

4. Top Shelf Booze.

If you’re a real liquor connoisseur, then you probably don’t need to read these articles, because you can afford $10 and up for a shot of Cabo Wabo or Grey Goose. But if you’re like the rest of the Keystone-chugging collegiate world, you know that you’ll sacrifice quality for quantity. Of course, your food and beverage servers want your tab to be higher so that you’ll tip them more. If they ask if you want top shelf, say no. In a few drinks you’ll be so drunk you don’t even know what you’re tasting. If they don’t ask, specify house. If house wine is $5 a glass and you just order a Chardonnay, the waitress can always bring you the $9 glass and say “Oh, it’s our featured wine, I thought you’d like it.” To put things in perspective: If you buy 3 glasses of $9 wine, it’s $27, and you should be tipping about $5. If you buy 3 glasses of $5 house wine, however, it’s only $15, you tip 3, and you save over $10- which could buy you a bottle at the liquor store.

5. Gas at Gas Stations Right Off the Highway.

Everyone knows the prices are jacked up. It’s because if you’re roadtripping and on empty, you’ll pull over, no matter what the cost. An easy solution? Fill up your tank whenever you pass a station with a good deal. The way gas prices fluctuate these days, you’ll save a fortune. And you’ll never go below half a tank, so you’ll get better mileage per gallon, and avoid having to get ripped off in times of need. Besides, you’ll be spending gas money in smaller intervals, rather than $50 or more in one stop to fill your whole tank.

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