As so many of us know, the struggle in college of handling finances can get real. Especially when you first get there, and you have all these new responsibilities and you find yourself on your own with all these worries that you didn’t have to think about before. You have 10 times more papers to do, exams to study for, clubs to join, friends to make and then on top of all that you have money to worry about now, too? You could always fall back on the adults in your life if things got too crazy. I knew this feeling all too well.
During my freshman year, my grandma wanted to give me the gift of an all-expenses-paid trip to the grocery store
I’ll never squander that gift again. My mom and grandma got me to my university and all moved into my dorm. Before leaving, they wanted to take me grocery shopping quickly. I agreed, and in the store, we decided to split up so they could get things like bedding and silverware while I got food. As they walked away they told me to make sure I only picked things that I needed and would actually eat. We all vastly overestimated my intelligence that day. Looking back, I didn’t even know how to grocery shop for myself.
When I thought I had everything I went back to find them. The list of things I “needed” included: A family size box of hot pockets, some Lucky Charms, a couple bags of Doritos, some PB&J and a nifty little laser pointer I saw near the cash register. My grandma had picked up a huge pack of what seemed like 30 pork chops and a bunch of little packs of instant rice.
I remember being a little annoyed. I liked pork chops, but I knew I’d never feel like cooking those. They’d probably just go bad. My grandma paid me no mind and set them on the conveyor belt. When we got back to my dorm room, she took the time to split up the gigantic pack, seal them up in little zip locks two by two and place them into the freezer, repeatedly telling me that they could last for more than 6 months while frozen.
Once all the “food” was put away, my mom and grandma left. We didn’t shed any tears or anything like that. I only felt nervous excitement at the idea of living on my own and I couldn’t wait to meet my roommate (though she never came and I ended up having the place to myself).
Over the next few weeks I mostly ate out. I’d secured a scholarship that paid for the bulk of my university expenses, and a week into the semester I had the pleasant surprise of a decently sized refund check. Back home, I’d never even had so much as an allowance. I literally ate it up. I happened to live in a dorm situated on a busy street that housed about twenty different restaurants, so the majority of my money went into restaurants and partying in clubs near campus.
I only started to pay attention to the money in my account when tragedy struck—the screen of my laptop cracked. My college career and my life consisted of my laptop. I had to get it fixed. So while it costed an arm and a leg and a drop of the blood of Jesus Christ to get it repaired, I didn’t have much choice. I couldn’t get by without a laptop. I handed over the money.
There began the dark days of my first semester at the university. I’d made it to October without grocery shopping even once, and I somehow thought of this as an accomplishment. I imagined I could ride it out to Christmas, returning home triumphant with money to spare. In my sporadic phone calls with my mom, she repeatedly urged me to start looking for a job and trying to save money. We’d always struggled with money and she still had my little brother to handle, so basically if something happened, she couldn’t really bail me out.
So why hadn’t I taken better care of myself and tried to save? I knew saving would only benefit me. I’d had a job before, too. I chock it up to pure idiocy, with a huge heaping dose of carelessness. And a little temporary insanity. The next two months felt like the universe punching me in the face with comeuppance.
For the rest of the semester I stretched my meager funds as far as they could go. I prolonged the inevitable for as long as I could, but eventually ran out of everything. When the ramen had dried up, I ran out of bread for PB&J sandwiches and my laser pointer’s battery died so that I couldn’t even distract myself from the growling in my stomach, for some reason, I decided looked in the freezer. I didn’t actually think I’d find anything. You know how you just mindlessly open the refrigerator and stare into it sometimes? After I stood there for a minute or two I decided to move the empty hot pocket box out of the way… and found a stack of porkchops neatly sealed and stacked in the corner of the freezer.
After I found the pork, I remembered all the instant rice in the cabinet and proceeded to live off pork chops and rice for the last week and a half of class during finals. I called my grandma, bless her soul, to thank her a million times for buying it and apologize for scoffing at her genius in the first place.