It's a time for self-discovery and growth. For higher learning and new freedom. It's also a time to experience the glorious grit of being truly broke.
By the end of (hopefully) four years, you'll know exactly how many minutes it takes to microwave a mean feast of ramen (31/2). You'll have local drink specials memorized. You'll push the boundaries for haircuts, new shoes and gas fill-ups. You'll be ready to embrace the real world and all the real paychecks that come with it.
A few years ago, I was enrolled in Frugality 101 as a student at the University of Florida. I was lucky enough to have my tuition covered by the Bright Futures Scholarship Program and my rent covered by my loving parents. But for most of the other stuff, I was on my own. I learned some valuable lessons.
At the start of the school year, you'll likely have two things in common with most of your classmates: You're broke, and you want to make friends. Here's a way to solve both problems. Introduce yourself to some people in class, and recruit a few to split the cost of one course textbook and share it. Senior year, when the figure in my bank account was in the double-digits, I did this with three friends in a media law class. We swapped the book each class meeting and read ahead to stay on track. When it came time for exams, we had a nice little study group ready to go. A note of caution: I wouldn't try this with more than three or four people. You'll also want to make sure you have access to a photocopier in case your turn is up before you have finished with a reading assignment.
For high school graduation, my dad got me a new laptop. That is, it was new to me. I wouldn't have known if he hadn't told me, but my shiny Dell had been refurbished from used parts. For a fraction of the price of a new one, the computer had everything I needed for my first couple years of school. Meanwhile, friends of mine bought new ones that soon seemed old and clunky compared with new models that seem to be released every few minutes.
I heard interesting lectures, watched documentary screenings and attended dorm meet-and-greets all for the same reason: free pizza! Scour bulletin boards and briefs in the campus newspaper for events that carry the tasty bribe of a free meal. You'll get a nice dinner out of the deal, plus, you'll most likely enjoy an event that you wouldn't otherwise check out.
One man's trash
It was a beautiful wooden coffee table. Carved detail around the edges, a sturdy drawer in the middle, kitschy clawed feet. And it was just sitting there by the trash bin. I felt almost guilty shoving it in the trunk of the car at the end of junior year. But that's move-out week for you. All around campus, students are ready to get out and move on, and if some furniture is sacrificed in the process, so be it. All the better for those of you scavengers left behind. Check the academic calendar and show up around the last few days of exam week for the best merchandise. Bring gloves and multipurpose cleaner.
Volunteer yourself as a science experiment. No, really. Graduate students are always looking for subjects to participate in research projects, and a lot of times they'll compensate you a few bucks for your time. Once I taste-tested different types of orange juice for a marketing study. Another time I took a personality quiz for someone's psychology project. You can often find fliers for the studies tacked up around campus, or you can check with your college's research department for volunteer opportunities. Think of it as an adventure. At least it'll be something interesting to write home about.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.