Inexpensive Things to do in College Towns

by David Sung

School is already underway for college students across America. We admit we’re a little envious of college students because we miss the anticipation that signals the start of another school year, hanging out with friends, and campus activities such as college football. But we don’t exactly miss all the tests, research papers, and tuition costs, which only seem to be soaring. College is already stressful as it is, and trying to live on a budget while college costs are rising can make college life feel even more difficult.

Living on a budget doesn't mean you have to be holed up in your dorm room or mainly participate in on-campus activities because you’re concerned about costs. You can still explore your college town without breaking the bank. We've compiled a list that covers how to save money on various items in certain college towns. As you consider these various items, it may be helpful for you to start thinking about how they fall into your budget. If you can start keeping a budget now, it’ll go a long way in helping you set your financial priorities and track expenses for the rest of your life.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

The scenery, the Sandia mountains, great food, and the culture all make Albuquerque a fun and interesting college town, which is home to the University of New Mexico and other schools.  Albuquerque ranked second on Kiplinger’s list of Best Cities in 2009.

Arts and Entertainment:  The Albuquerque Museum is a renowned center that showcases arts, history and culture. Admission is free from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 pm. on the first Wednesday of each month and from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. The city’s arts and entertainment district is along Central and Gold venues where you can find dining and nightlife spots. The district also is home to the historic KiMo Theatre, which presents films as well as theatrical and musical performances. The theater will occasionally present free films.

Dining:  The Cube, a restaurant that serves burgers and hot dogs, gives 10 percent student discounts to University of New Mexico students who have their college IDs.  

Transportation: The ABQ bus ride system charges $1 for its standard fare. A one-day pass is $2.

Recreation: The city of Albuquerque has several outdoor pools such as the Montgomery Pool and Eisenhower Pool where you can swim for as little as $2.25 a day. You can walk, run, cycle and even do inline skating on the Paseo del Bosque Trail, which spans 16-miles. Hot air balloon rides are a popular activity in Albuquerque because of the great weather. Grab some friends and take a hot air balloon ride with the company, World Balloon, which offers a 10 percent discount off the standard rate for groups of 3 or more.

Boise, Idaho

Boise was featured in Livability.com’s “Top 10 Downtowns 2012.”  You will love the small college town charm that this urban area offers. The Boise River runs through the heart of the city, providing recreational opportunities ranging from kayaking to paddling.

Arts and Entertainment:  The nationally-recognized Boise Art Museum charges $3 admission for college students. Opera Idaho offer discounts for certain performances, including this season’s performance of The King and I. Student tickets are $30 for Tier 1 seating, and $15 for Tier 2 seating.

Dining: Sakana Sushi Bar and Grill gives a 10 percent discount to Boise State University students. Every Tuesday night is Student Night at Tucano’s Brazilian Grill, where students get dinner for the lunch price (a savings of $7).  

Recreation: The Boise River Greenbelt is a popular park that provides access to other parks that line the Boise River, which cuts through the city. You can ride your bike, walk or run on the Greenbelt trail. If you enjoy ice skating, Idaho Ice World charges $7 to skate on their rink.  Floating the Boise River is a relaxing activity. Barber Park is the starting point for most floaters, who usually embark on a five-mile trip that ends at Ann Morrison Park. For tube and raft rentals, check out Epley’s River Rafting Adventures.

Transportation: The ValleyRide bus system offers cheap fares for adults. A single ride fare is $1. A one-day fare is $2.

Houston, Texas

The city of Houston is ranked among the top 50 Great Affordable College Towns in the United States by Great Value Colleges. Houston offers affordable cultural and social activities for college students at area universities and colleges such as University of Houston, Rice University and member schools of the Houston Community College System.

Arts & Entertainment: The Museum of Fine Arts offers a discounted admission of $7.50 for students ages 19 and up. The Main Street Theater has discounted student tickets for $10 each.

Dining: University of Houston students get 10 percent off their purchase at Amy’s Ice Cream.  Rice University students can receive $1.25 off their purchases at Jersey Mike’s off Kirby Drive.

Recreation: If you want to take a break from your studies and get some fresh air, check out downtown’s Hermann Park, which has jogging trails, a Japanese Garden and a lake. You can get on a peddle boat on McGovern Lake. The cost is $10 per boat for 30 minutes. Or if you seek tranquility, visit the Japanese Garden, which is free.

Transportation: Houston has a light rail system known as the METRORail, which has discounted fares for college students as low as 60 cents per ride. View the fares chart to see the rest of the rates.

Lansing, Michigan

The Lansing metropolitan area is a hub of higher education, brimming with college students . The area has several educational institutions include two medical schools, two law schools, nursing schools, two major universities and a community college system.

Arts and Entertainment:  The Peppermint Creek Theatre Company will present its production, “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” later this month. Student tickets are $10 each. The Old Town BluesFest is a free, two-day festival that will be held Sept. 19-20. The event attracts 7,000 people who enjoy the sounds of national, regional and local musicians.

Dining: Sansu, a sushi restaurant, gives a 20 percent student discount on Tuesday nights.

Recreation:  To escape from your studies, you can walk, run, or ride your bike at the Lansing River Trail, a scenic, 13-mile long pathway that parallels the Grand and Red Cedar rivers. The trail has been recognized by Women’s Health Magazine as one of the top 10 Nature Runs in America.

Transportation: The Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) has discounted bus service for college students.  A one-way fare is 60 cents as long as you have a valid college ID or CATA student ID card.

Madison, Wisconsin

Madison is a college student’s dream town with its thriving food scene, entertainment options and outdoor adventures. Travel & Leisure magazine even named Madison, Wisconsin as one of America’s Coolest College Towns in 2009. With so many things to do, it’s important to stretch your dollars

Arts & Entertainment: The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art has free admission for museum exhibits. And most education programs are free to museum visitors.

Dining:  Flat Top Grill, an Asian Fusion restaurant, offers discounts on food for students.

Recreation:   Madison is known as the City of Four Lakes. Students can go hang out and relax at some of the parks that have beaches such as BB Clarke Park and Olbrich Park, which both sit on Lake Monona. There are also canoe and kayak launch sites at both of these parks. During the winter, you can beat cabin fever and go to the outdoor ice skating rinks located at city parks such as Elver Park. The ice skating rental cost is $6 per hour for adults at Elver Park.

Transportation: Madison Metro Transit has a one-day pass for $4.50.

Rockford, Illinois

When you need to take a study break, there is no shortage of activities in Rockford.  The city has more than 10,000 acres of parks and forest areas, an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. You can camp, hike and explore. Rockford is  also home to several museums and theaters,

Arts & Entertainment: The Rockford Art Museum has $3 tickets for students. Students only have to pay $6 per ticket to enjoy a variety of musical performances at the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center.

Recreation:   You can access the Rock River Recreation Trail where you can walk, run or bike and catch some scenic views of the Rock River. If you want to go canoeing or kayaking,  Rocktown Adventures offers onsite rentals if you use their launch area on the Rock River. It costs around $20 to rent paddlesport equipment for up to two hours.

Transportation: Rockford has a mass transit system that offers a discounted fare rate of 75 cents for college students who must show their school ID and be 20 years old or younger.

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City ranked seventh on the list of 75 Best Cities for College Students in 2010, which was compiled by the American Institute for Economic Research.

Arts and Entertainment:  If you need comic relief, head over to the Wiseguys Comedy Club, which features national touring acts, clean comedy nights and open mic nights. The club offers a two for one admission on its website. Oktoberfest at Snowbird is underway. You can enjoy great German food and music. Admission is free to the event, which is held from noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 12. Throughout the year, the Utah Film Center shows free movies at Salt Lake City venues such as the City Library and Brewviews. Check out their schedule of free movies this month.

Dining:  Tres Hombres Mexican Grill offers 50 percent off meals for Westminster College students.

Recreation:  University of Utah students get free admission to the Red Butte Garden, where they can relax and enjoy the botanical gardens and walking paths that cover more than 100 acres. Salt Lake City is near national parks and canyons where you can hike and bike. City Creek Canyon has a creek and a trail where you can run. There is no admission for City Creek Canyon. Ensign Peak in Salt Lake City has great views of the city. There is also a nature park and a trail leading up to the Ensign Peak Monument. It’s free admission.

Transportation:  The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has a student pass program that gives discounted rates to students who attend University of Utah, Utah Valley University, and Weber State University. The program pass rates vary by school. Without the pass, a one-way fare is $2.50. A day pass fare is $6.25.

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