If you’re a student like me, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the monthly GI Bill housing allowance doesn’t necessarily pay the bills in Houston. You must be a full-time student (12 credits) to get the full monthly amount of $1671 (Veterans Affairs), but being a full-time student doesn’t always give you time to land a part-time job. days. If you’re a busy student and don’t have time for a side job, you’re bound to make that $1,671 last until next month. This is especially true if you are pursuing a degree in fast-paced STEM fields. That being said, let’s get to the money saving tips.
First, let’s talk about housing, because that’s going to gobble up most of your precious coin. According to the list of apartments Rent report, the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Space City is $1,012. Your best bet for saving money on housing is to live with roommates. Living with one or two roommates will usually cut your housing cost in half or even a third if you’re lucky. The reason for this is that the increase in price from a one-bedroom apartment, to a two-bedroom apartment, to a three-bedroom apartment is not always radically different. The two-bedroom averages $1,204 in Houston. (List of apartments) If you pay the average price for a bedroom, your base rent would be $1,012 paid by you alone. If you are sharing a two-bedroom apartment with an average cost roommate, your base rent would be $602 since you are cost sharing with your roommate. Do you see what I’m saying? We can go even further to save even more money. Thanks to the Internet, finding cheap accommodation is easier than ever. You can use platforms like Facebook Marketplace, PadSplit, and Craigslist to find even cheaper options. On these sites, you can find people offering low rates to rent vacant rooms in their accommodation. These deals almost always include utilities in the cost. I’ve seen people offer rooms for as little as $400 to $500, all with utilities included! It’s a godsend if you’re willing to go that route!
Your next biggest bill is probably a car payment. In my opinion, I’m saying get rid of that funding as soon as possible. According to LendingTree, the average cost of a car note in 2022 for new vehicles is $644, $531 for leased vehicles and $488 for used vehicles. This is completely crazy ! It’s unfortunate that Houston is a car-dependent city, but there are ways around it. One option is to try living in the 610 loop so you can use public transportation to some extent. While not as efficient as cities like Boston, Seattle, and New York, you can get around well if you plan properly and live more centrally, away from suburban sprawl. Another option is to buy a used car paid for entirely in cash. It can be a risky move if you’re not knowledgeable about cars, so having a knowledgeable friend or relative is helpful in avoiding scams. You can usually find a decent car for around $3,000 to $6,000 on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or just word of mouth. Remember, you may not be on the sexiest ride, but the goal is to get you from point A to point B efficiently and safely.
The next expense that can be adjusted for a tight budget is food. I’ll probably walk on a few toes, but if you’re a single person with no other mouths to feed, there’s no reason you should spend $200 or more on groceries. I would go so far as to say that even $150 pushes it. If you’re wondering how this is possible, I have two words for you. Meal. Preperation. It’s an absolute lifesaver for your wallet and your waistline. I’ll tell you my secrets to spending less than $100 a month on groceries. First, stop buying name brands. This can easily cut your grocery costs in half. Great Value by Walmart tastes like the big brands for a much cheaper cost, so stick with something like this. The next thing to do is to consider your nutritional needs. Everyone needs proteins, carbohydrates, fats and natural sugars. Not to be confused with added sugars which are terrible for you. Natural sugars are commonly found in fruits. What I do is make power bowls. I use pinto beans or kidney beans for my protein, enriched white rice for my carbohydrate source and vegetables for my vitamin and fiber source. I will also add shredded cheese for my dairy and fat source. As you can see, a simple power bowl like this can easily meet your nutritional needs for the day if you eat a few of these meals. It’s also a low-calorie meal, which will save your waistline while you’re at it. If you’re wondering how much it costs, it’s very cheap. I usually spend about $3 for 5 cans of beans for the week, $4 for a can of instant rice that lasts almost two weeks, and about $2 for a 2 pound bag of vegetables for the week. This amount will yield 10 meals when prepared correctly. Depending on your appetite, you can eat two or three of these meals a day before having to prepare your meals again. Add a bag of fruit for a few dollars and you now have a snack to eat between meals. Of course, you can also have some flexibility with this diet. You can always change the type of cheese, vegetables, fruits, sauces and type of beans so you don’t get bored quickly.
Health care can also be a huge expense. Since you are a veteran, you are eligible for VA Health Care. Keep in mind that you do not need a service-related disability to qualify. This is available for all Veterans. VA Health Care separates veterans into “Priority groupsbased on income and any service-related disabilities. This means that if you have a high income without a disability, you will be in a lower priority group with higher copayments. If you are on a low income or have a disability, you will be in a higher priority group and will pay only a very small copayment or none at all. Even if you earn a lot of money and you have to pay a copayment, they are significantly lower than private health insurance. Another thing to keep in mind is that for VA Health Care there are no monthly premiums. It’s an absolute lifesaver that you should take advantage of. For example, since I’m a broke student and veteran, I paid $0 for x-rays at the VA hospital a few months ago with no monthly premium on top. Do not sleep on this advantage.
With those larger expenses out of the way, the rest is up to you. You can shop around for different auto insurance rates, and since you’re a veteran, USAA will usually give you cheaper rates than the other big names. (Shinn) Another expense to consider is your phone bill. I would say to avoid financing a $1000 phone, but if you want the best of the best, at least jump on a military plan offered by many carriers. I am currently paying $55 for unlimited calls, texts and LTE on T-Mobile Magenta Military Blueprint. You’ll also need Wi-Fi, unless you want to live like a caveman. If you live with roommates, this cost will be shared between all of you. You can find plans with good speeds for around $40-$60. Gas is another expense you’ll likely have, but there’s not much room to save on that unless you’re home most of the time. All gas prices are pretty similar, so there aren’t really any real money-saving hacks or alternatives. Especially with the Ukraine-Russia conflict which is inflating gas prices. All this pretty much covers the necessities. If there’s one thing I can leave you, always try to live below your means. American consumer culture can destroy you if you let it, so it’s up to you to avoid it at all costs. If you follow these tips, you can easily have hundreds of dollars left over after all your needs have been paid for.
List of apartments. “100 Best Apartments in Houston, TX (with Photos)! Apartment List, www.apartmentlist.com/tx/houston#rent-report. Accessed March 10, 2022.
Martinez-White, Xiomara. “Average car payment | 2022 Loan Statistics.” LendingTree, www.lendingtree.com/auto/debt-statistics. Accessed March 10, 2022.
Shinn, Lora. USAA Auto Insurance vs. Geico Auto Insurance: Which is Better in 2022? US News, March 2, 2022, www.usnews.com/insurance/auto/usaa-vs-geico.
Veterans Affairs. “GI Bill Comparison Tool.” Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov/education/gi-bill-comparison-tool/?search=name&name=HOUSTON%20COMMUNITY%20COLLEGE&excludedSchoolTypes%5B%5D=PUBLIC&excludedSchoolTypes%5B%5D=FOR%20PROFIT&excludedSchoolTypes%5B%5D=PRIVATE&excludedSchoolTypes% 5B%5D=ABROAD&excludedSchoolTypes%5B%5D=FLIGHT&excludedSchoolTypes%5B%5D=MATCH. Accessed March 10, 2022.