Evaluating a “broke college student”

By Grace Grube, Guest Writer

A stereotype that every 17 to 22-year-old has felt in one way or another is the convention of the “broke college student,” which is something no one wants to talk about. 

College is a distinctly experimental time in every young adult’s life, and the role money plays cannot be ignored. Jokes about eating ramen every day and sending the same $20 back and forth on Venmo are harmless enough, but where is the line between a few extra charges and seriously harmful financial behavior? 

Bring up the topic of money to any college student and you will be met with awkward laughs and whispered confessions. But how and why has risky financial behavior become such a normalized occurrence among the most financially insecure demographic?

I can count on one hand the number of peers with which I’ve had an open, honest conversation about my financial situation. As I go through my college career, each year becomes a little more stressful in this arena. First-year me, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,  knew I had set myself up for a fantastic year. I was living in a dorm on campus with a full meal plan. The bare necessities of life were taken care of, and all I had to worry about was where to spend my X-cash and who I had to bribe to drive me to Target. 

Every weekend was a new opportunity for adventure, and the biggest financial burdens I faced were learning how expensive nightlife and Ubers can be while planning my spring break trip to Florida. 

As the oldest child from a remarkably ordinary upper-middle class family, I had the privilege to push off any financial troubles to my parents and never give a second thought to the luxuries and freedoms I was afforded. I worked summer jobs for spending money and always had confidence that my finances would work themselves out. 

But there are no safety nets in the real world, and at some point, a slow, rude awakening dawned on me. I was not in Kansas anymore.

Flash forward to junior year living off-campus in a house where rent, utilities, WiFi and groceries wait for no one. Gone are the days of eating whatever the Caf serves me; replaced by flushing my money into groceries and takeout. 

Have I said yes to plans that I knew I couldn’t really afford? Yes, more times than I’d like to admit. Have I contemplated stealing a roll of toilet paper or two from campus so I don’t have to pay for it? Also yes.

You would think that after two and a half years of doing this college thing, I would have a better strategy for managing my finances, but I don’t. 

I will admit that the selfish part of me doesn’t want to say no –– to miss out on what could be the best party of the year, to keep up appearances and never let on that every swipe of my debit card was a metaphorical punch to the gut I’d have to deal with later. 

No, I can’t afford a Starbucks run right now, and yes, I keep buying bananas even though they go bad before I can eat them. 

While college is advertised as the most amazing four years of your life, the unpleasant underbelly of what makes the experience so amazing are the inevitable day-to-day costs of being a college student. It can often feel like just leaving the house will result in another deduction from my account balance. 

Everyone is walking around with a different number in their bank account, and many of you reading this may still have the benefit of your parents’ support. I choose to ignore my banking app for longer than I should, but every time my account balance goes below $100, I get an all too familiar automated email the next morning –– an invisible scarlet letter that bears down on me until I can somehow transfer more money in. 

I implore you to be honest with yourself and others about the reality of financial limitations. Do not ignore the important intricacies of money before it’s too late. 

Being smart about the decisions you make is imperative to keeping your head above the water in an environment where it is all too easy to drown. The “broke college student” stereotype is all fun and games until it isn’t, so don’t let the notoriously amplified “college experience” rob you of reality.