It’s a good thing ramen noodles come in more than a few flavors, because for many college students the hard noodle cubes that cost mere pennies are often what’s on the menu for dinner.
Fitting classes, extracurriculars, time for oneself, sanity and a healthy social life into a 24-hour day is a feat even the most organized of students struggle with, let alone balancing a part- or full-time job on top of it all. The limited span of time to fit all these activities in is the culprit behind the ‘broke college student’.
However, there are people, such as Alexa Fox, assistant professor of marketing, who believe struggling during the college experience might be beneficial in the long run.
“I definitely think there’s positives … that experience of kind of starting out where you really don’t have a whole lot — I actually think being in that position of being maybe on a tight budget puts you in a better position to work those things out,” Fox said.
An employee at the Goodwill in Athens, Chayse Smielewski, echoed Fox’s hypothesis. Stretching a dollar as far as it will go while pursuing higher education can serve as a reminder later on.
“Once you’re poor, you don’t want to be poor again!” Smielewski said.
The idea of students making trivial decisions regarding their budget is not a phenomenon exclusive to millennials, Fox said. While perhaps there have been changes over the years regarding priorities, choosing between that $2.50 slice of pizza for lunch or going out with friends for a couple of drinks later are decisions that students have been making for generations.
“It is an investment. It’s not meant to be something where you should kind of see it as an opportunity to be free reign … I think for years it’s kind of been like that,” Fox said.
Having only a specific amount of money available at a given time has even brought the thrifty-ness out of some people who didn’t know they had a thrifty bone in their body. Local thrift stores in Athens say they get a large portion of their business from college students.
“I think because of the economy, (business) has increased, and a lot more students are becoming thrifty and realizing they can’t blow their whole budget on things that are new,” said Beckie Carsey, volunteer at Re-Use Industries thrift store.
Emily Peterson, a senior studying communication sciences and disorders and an employee at the Athens Goodwill, said she gets thrifty with her cash by snatching up anything from paintings to chairs that catch her eye at thrift stores.
“Also, I know Goodwills now are actually getting better stuff (like brand names), so it’s looking more as a retail store compared to a thrift store,” Peterson said.
While having little money to spare while at college has taught her to be frugal, Peterson said she also sees a possible negative to “struggling” in college. Upon finally receiving a reliable paycheck after graduation, Peterson said she could see some people getting too excited — becoming irresponsible and frivolous with their newly found income.
Fox, on the other hand, has hope for eager graduates relieved to be freed from the “struggle.”
“I also think taking the approach that once you do get a paycheck, knowing that it doesn't have to go out the door immediately … creating a plan for yourself so that you have long-term goals in mind is really important,” Fox said.
Aside from the financial gains, Fox said she now appreciates her career more because of those experiences she once had as a student. The typical rites of passage — coming to college without knowing a soul, sharing bathrooms and getting by on a measly paycheck, are all things she now can look back upon fondly because of her experience.
“I think having this experience where you’re on a tight budget is one of the only times that you’re in this position, hopefully … I think kind of enjoying and appreciating what it means,” Fox said.