How to Survive in School When You’re Broke Af

This moment students probably know all too well. At the start of practically every new school week, you check in between the cushions in your sofa, under your bed, in your tong tong, at the bottom of your washing machine… all to find an extra dollar or two, because your wallet is COMPLETELY EMPTY.

Hasn’t happened to you? Congratulations, you either have top notch money management skills or you’re a complete hermit who stays home all day and eats mama’s cooking – which I actually would love to do sometimes, but can’t because sorry ma, you can’t cook, and unfortunately neither can I.

If you’re always broke and aren’t especially keen on finding external part-time work (because while it pays the bills, we all know how physically demanding working as a waitress / roadshow promoter / flyer distributor / etc can be), then have I the article for you.

Here are some ridiculous tips (which you probably knew already) you can take to no longer be broke af in school!


1. Work part time on campus

At the start of each semester, various offices in NUS often post announcements that they’re hiring students to embark on part time work. Positions (which I remember anyway) most commonly requested for include writing tutors and research assistants, though occasionally, certain faculty members also hire surveyors and teaching assistants as well. While some roles are faculty and year specific (in that they prefer if year 3 or 4 students apply), others are relatively general and either way, there’s no harm in submitting an application. Plus, you will receive invaluable job experience and something to add to your resume.

2. Volunteer for (cough: paid) surveys

Did you know that IVLE (which is NUS’ Learning Management system) has a section called “Research Recruitment“? I actually had no idea this even existed till my final year in University, when my friend logged onto my IVLE (I think she forgot her account’s password or something like that) and checked if there were any paid studies she could take part in. Apparently, the Psychology and Business department, according to this friend of mine anyway, often recruits participants for studies, and some pay relatively well, for minimal effort required. More often than not, a study session lasts around 30 minutes to an hour, and reimbursement for your time can range from $5 to $20. Sometimes, the study topics are pretty interesting too, and I’ve actually stayed back after taking part in some of these experiments just to talk to the researchers and find out more about their cool projects. (Thesis topic idea generation?)

3. Sign up for ad hoc (cough again: paid) events

As one may expect, a university as large as NUS has a whole slew of student events held all year round. While the majority of these are run by student volunteers and CCA leaders, larger institution-level events actually hire student helpers as well. Take NUS Open Day for instance (I can only use this example because it’s the only one I’m aware of as of right now). To cope with the sheer size of the one-day event, large numbers of students were recruited by NUS as ushers, surveyors, mascots and tour guides, etc. It’s a great opportunity to work with friends while getting a feel of the NUS school spirit.

4. Hunt for cheap food options

While I fully agree with this one friend of mine who always chimes: “Life is too short to not eat good food”, you can’t deny that your efforts at saving an extra buck will all be in vain if you’re the kind of student who eats out at Aston’s or Hwang’s everyday. NUS has lots of cheap food options, and hunting them down actually does go a long way in helping you save money (and sometimes cut back on unnecessary fats too). At the Deck for instance, you can get Lontong at the Malay stall for just $2, Bee Hoon for $2.20 and Yong Tau Foo for $2.60 – just spam your bowl with fresh veggies!

5. Carry around a water bottle and a lunchbox full of snacks

If you (like me) are the kind of student who NEEDS snacks to stay awake in class, then do consider carrying around a water bottle (or thermos flask, which is much better for hot coffee) and a lunchbox full of snacks. It always amazes me at the end of the week how much I can save just by refraining from buying canned drinks and Hello Panda.

And there you have it! Here’s some of my not-very-secret tips that I’ve been using to survive. Hopefully these tips help your pockets stay full enough to last the semester!

Elizabeth Kamaldin
A mass communications student turned human geographer, Elizabeth loves travelling and immersing herself in new places and spaces... and writing about them later! When not busy finding pet rocks, considering adding them to her ever growing collection (every geographer must surely have one!) she also dabbles in art and craft, and likes to think of herself as an amateur watercolour/ink artist (check out her ig @littlecorals)!