College & Career

By Allison Prang
University of Missouri

It’s that time of the year again.

School has started, parents rejoice that their children will not be home during the day, some students go off to college, and Sam’s Club and Costco are in short supply of ramen noodles.

But most importantly, this is that time of the year when I go broke. And not that dramatic, “Hey, Mom and Dad. I’m so broke. Please send me money to buy something I don’t need,” kind of broke. I mean broke. Zip. Zero. Nada.

My bank lovingly reminds me of this depressing fact by emailing me frequently, explaining my funds have dropped below their recommended limit and they are planning to charge me for overdraft fees.

You’re probably wondering, “What in the world is this girl doing?”

Well, I can explain.

I bought hundreds of dollars worth of books and computer software for my classes, purchased different necessities for my dorm room, paid off the insurance for the car I borrowed to work over the summer and paid for gallons and gallons of gas. Unfortunately, I also had to buy some food for myself at different points in time.

Somewhere in there, I also purchased a student sports ticket pass to treat myself to Big 12 football and basketball games.
To someone looking at going to college—where the majority of expenses will ride on your own back—this probably sounds discouraging and you might be thinking the degree isn’t worth it, but it is. And what’s even more worth it is the pride you feel from supporting yourself most of the time.

In fact, being broke is—in a way—very entertaining.

There’s always the drama of whether your caffeine supply will run out before your next paycheck, the sweaty anxiety that comes with opening your pay stub envelope, anticipating its joy inside, and the best part—if you need a laugh—log into your account online. Trust me, it works every time.

But there are also some ways to limit how often you’re broke. For example, you can buy most textbooks online for 20 percent off of the full price.

If you need materials for class, ask your professors when you’ll use them for that semester.  There’s a good chance you won’t need to buy them all simultaneously—that way, you can space out your funding for them.

Instead of going out to lunch, bring a pack of ramen or a cereal bar and a juice box with you. No, it’s not gourmet, but a full tummy is a full tummy.

A small tip for those coffee-lovers like myself: Switch to tea. It’s about half the price of a coffee at Starbucks and it still has some caffeine and sugar to keep you moving.

Lastly, find a job on campus. As long as your schedule is still manageable with a full class load, that extra paycheck is more than worth it.

These tips can help you manage your money most of the time, but there are times when you’ll sit on an empty wallet. And that’s just half the fun of being a college student.

>> Allison Prang is a 2010 graduate of Bartlett.

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The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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