How to Save Money in College Using the Step-Down Principle

person walking up stairs
August 11, 2020

The step-down principle can help you save more money in college and in life in general. Research different prices and options for an item and choose the most cost-effective one through the step-down principle.

It’s so difficult to save money in college, especially with so much money going to tuition, books, and room and board. College can seem like a bottomless money pit during our time as college students.

Luckily though, there’s a time-proven strategy to help us save money on items we already buy. It's called the Step-Down Principle. I’m going to talk about how I've used this to save more money on food as a college student.

What is the Step-Down Principle?

The step-down principle means considering all the different prices and options for the same generic item or service.

The idea is simple. Imagine a set of stairs. On the very top step is a gourmet hamburger for $20 from a nearby restaurant. On the step beneath that is a $5 burger from a local fast food joint. Go one step lower and you’ll see a homemade hamburger that only cost you $2 to make.

This is a visual representation of the step-down principle (and how much I like hamburgers). These are different “steps” of the same item which you can buy for different prices. In my example, you can choose to get a burger for $20, $5, or $2.

The actual cost of the hamburger is up to you and your willingness to spend time to make the hamburger. On the other hand, you can save time and just buy it from a fast place or restaurant.

You can see the value in saving time to buy it from a restaurant or spending time to make it at home. For college students, there is a trade-off between time and money that we have to decide on.

Regardless of your choice, always ask if you can save money by going a step-down with whatever it is you plan on buying.

Other examples you can use this on are what apartment to live in, cars, books, phones, or basically anything you own or are thinking to possibly buy.

My Real Life Example of the Step-Down Principle

I decided to use the Step-Down Principle on food but you can use it on nearly any expense you have. I’ve used it in order to save both money and time.

In order to save money, I went to a meal preparation seminar in which I helped prepare 40 meals for the cost of $200. I then froze all of the meals and have started eating them this past week.

Each meal comes out to a cost of $5 but I typically can make each entree last 2 meals which leads to $2.50 per meal. I compliment the meals with rice or bread, both of which are relatively cheap. Not only are these meals a step-down from what I usually eat, but they are way healthier than I'm used to.

There are meals like fajita chicken or beef and broccoli which I ate this past week. I cooked plenty of rice to go with the beef and broccoli and was able to make that one last 4 meals. The meals have saved me time as well because each meal only takes a few minutes to throw in the InstaPot and then they are ready 30 minutes later.

I would say this saves me at least 15 minutes of preparation time each day which saves almost 2 hours a week for me! On top of that, I’m able to do more productive things like spending more time on homework or spending time with my family.

I enjoy using the Step-Down Principle. I believe many college students eat out too much even though we are already on a tight budget. We either spend money which should be put elsewhere or just put it on a credit card.

I disagree with going into consumer debt and believe that even college students should do their best to stay on a moderate budget.

Benefits of Step-Down Principle

There have been several improvements in my life from using the Step-Down principle. For one, I’ve been able to eat healthier. Using this principle has allowed me to eat out less which saves quite a bit of money. I’ve also been able to spend more time doing homework or more time with my family in general.

Since I have more time in my life, there has been a little bit less stress to get everything done that I’ve needed to. While it does take an adjustment to use the Step-Down Principle, I believe the benefits are well worth the change.

I will continue to use this principle in my life, particularly in the area of food. Since it both decreases my expenses and increases my free time, it would benefit me to continue doing this in the future. My wife likes this principle as well since it means we get to spend more time together – and time is a hot commodity all college students are in need of.

I challenge you to try using the Step-Down Principle in just one area in your life and see what benefits you get from it :)