Students walking on Norlin Quadrangle
Students walking on Norlin Quadrangle on CU Campus. Photo by Ann Duncan.

The Guide to Boulder for Students on a Budget


The “broke college student” cliche is based in truth.

A whopping 46 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have $0 in savings, according to a 2017 GoBankingRates survey. And another 21 percent have less than $1,000.

Add to that student loans; the average student graduates college with more than $37,000 in student loans.

But then, you probably are well aware of (and living) this. In an increasingly expensive city like Boulder, this financial crunch can squeeze a little too hard.

If you’re on a tight budget in Boulder (whose cost of living is well above the national average and even the elevated Colorado average), you might not be able to go out to a fancy dinner at Frasca every Friday, but you can still enjoy yourself — with a little savvy.

Here’s how to get the most out of Boulder if you’re a student on a budget.

Hikers on Marshall Mesa Trail in front of the Flatirons. Photo by Ann Duncan

Cheap Things To Do in Boulder

  • Hiking in the city and county is free, as are the many public parks.
  • Walk along Boulder Creek until you get to the Boulder Public Library; rent a movie, CD or book here for free. Check out the other free things to do at the library.
  • Build things in the library’s community makerspace, Bldg 61. This room is stocked with all kinds of equipment, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, pottery wheels, a firing kiln, sewing machines, spinning wheels, looms, screen printing, a table saw, band saw, CNC machine, drill press, chop saw, welder, glass fusing kiln, vinyl cutter, computer design software and more. This space is open to the public, staffed by the library foundation and even some materials are paid for by a grant.
  • Watch a free movie in the park, like the Creekside Movie, which is showing “The Goonies” in September.
  • The seemingly endless community festivals in town are free and open to the public, like the Tulip Fairy and Elf Festival, Bands on the Bricks, Fourth of July on Pearl and more.
  • Do a free tour of the Celestial Seasonings facility or a brewery (and get free beer, too).
  • Check out a museum with a donation-based entry, like the CU Museum of Natural History, CU Heritage Center and the CU Art Museum.
  • See free art at local galleries. The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art’s entry is just a buck. The Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., asks for a $5 donation per person when you visit its multiple art galleries.
  • Catch free, live music at breweries and coffee shops throughout town. The library also holds free concerts in its Canyon Theater, including a popular 11 a.m. lunchtime show.
Jefe’s tacos. Courtesy photo

Inexpensive Places to Eat in Boulder (Under $5)

  • Jefe’s Tacos and Tequila, 246 Main St., Longmont: $1 taco Tuesdays, even specialty tacos. Get a plate of five amazing tacos for five bucks.
  • Lazy Dog Sports Bar, 1346 Pearl St.: Get 50-cent wings between 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday. Get 10 wings for $5. Wash them down with $3 wells and drafts.
  • Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar, 928 Pearl St.: Jax’s happy hour is ridiculous. Get $1.50 oysters all night on Mondays. Bonus: Drink specials include $2.25 oyster shooters (with vodka and Bloody Mary mix) if you want to slurp your oyster even more.

    Wild Standard
    Oysters at Wild Standard. Courtesy photo
  • Wild Standard, 1043 Pearl St.: More oyster specials. Every day from 3-5 p.m., get $1 chef’s choice oysters and $3 crispy shrimp tacos. Get five oysters for $5.
  • License No. 1, 2115 13th St. (in the basement of the Hotel Boulderado): Another killer happy hour deal: 5-7 p.m. daily. It’s the $3 smoked prime rib sliders and $3 truffle fries that make this ideal for foodie happy hours. Chase dinner with a $3 Boulder Beer.
  • Village Coffee Shop, 1605 Folsom St.: Get a $3.75 grilled cheese sandwich with chips and pickles, or a bowl of homemade chili for under $4.
  • West End Tavern, 926 Pearl St.: Order a house salad for just $4.
  • Freddie’s Hot Dog Stand, on the Pearl Street Mall: Delicious hot dogs (even fancy types, like elk bratwurst) for amazing prices: just a couple bucks, depending on what kind of dog you get.
  • Mustard’s Last Stand, 1719 Broadway: A bun-less dog is $2.69. Add cheese for 85 cents and fries for $1.14.
  • The Attic Bar and Bistro, 949 Walnut St.: Get a cup of soup for $3.75 here for lunch, or a house/caesar salad for $3.75.
  • Brasserie Ten Ten, 1011 Walnut St.: A French restaurant isn’t probably your go-to for cheap eats, but Brasserie serves $3.95 French dip sliders or burger sliders for $3.95, or a garden salad for under $5.
Tomatoes at the Boulder Farmers Market
Tomatoes at the Boulder Farmers Market. Photo by Tyler Percy

Other Ways to Save Money on Food in Boulder

  • Volunteer at a farm for free food. Learn about farming, get some exercise, enjoy the outdoors and leave with free food and/or produce for your time. For example, Star Acre Farms in Arvada has volunteer days 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays through October. Plant, weed, harvest and package veggies, and you’ll leave with free lunch.
  • Sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) at a specific farm. For example, a half-share at 63rd Farm in Boulder feeds twRamble on Pearl,

    o to three people organic food for less than $20 a week. That’s as low as $6.60 per person per week, a price no grocery store can rival.

  • Try free samples of food at the Boulder Farmers Market every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon throughout the warmer season.
Illegal Pete's
Illegal Pete’s serves late-night food in two locations in Boulder. Courtesy photo

Best Drink Deals in Boulder

  • Illegal Pete’s, 1124 13th St. (also on the Pearl Street Mall): Daily 3-8 p.m. and 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursday-Saturday, margs are just $4 and drafts are $2.50. Free chips and salsa included with your drink. That qualifies as dinner, right?
  • Sherpa’s Adventurers Restaurant & Bar, 825 Walnut St.: Want a cheap beer? Head here daily between 5-7 p.m. for $2 select draft beers.
  • After all those other happy hours, head to The Buff (2600 Canyon Blvd.) for its famous 99-cent Bloody Mary, mimosa and tequila sunrise.
Ramble on Pearl
Ramble on Pearl. Courtesy photo

Inexpensive Places to Shop in Boulder

  • Ramble on Pearl, 1638 Pearl St.: While these brand names aren’t cheap, they’re massively discounted. Ramble sells new designer clothes that were overstocked or unwanted for up to 60 percent off.
  • Rags Warehouse, 2890 Bluff St.: We all know consignment stores are cheap, but this is cheaper than that. This warehouse is filled with thousands of items from Rags Consignments that did not sell. Here, you can get those already marked-down designer clothes for an additional 20 percent off.

Other Ways to Save Money

  • Instead of visiting Colorado’s famous ski resorts during ski season, plan a daycation during the off-season: in the fall before the slopes open, or in the springtime after the snow melts but before everything reopens for summer. You’ll find deep discounts on lodging and food during this time. It’s the indulgent perfect spring break on a budget.
  • Drive to Littleton for a cheap movie date. The Meadows Stadium 12, 9355 Park Meadows Drive in Littleton, shows movies for $7.04 every Tuesday. Even new releases, which is pretty rare.
  • For a cheap daycation to Denver, grab a $32.50 Mile High Culture Pass, which gets you into tons of cool Denver activities, like the Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanic Gardens, Molly Brown House Museum, Clyfford Still Museum and more. It also gets you discounts on other things, like community bike rentals. The pass is good for three days, so you can comb through all of Denver’s best attractions over a weekend and be back for school on Monday.

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