Everyone knows the phrase “all college students are broke.” We’ve been lectured by relatives for years about how difficult it will be to have practically no money. We hear about the inevitable Ramen diet and students having two jobs to pay for tuition. Except it’s not really accurate to say that no one in college has any money. Some people really have to cut their spending once they get to college and live like typical broke college kids. Others are living it up in fancy apartments and driving nice cars to the mall every weekend, and lots of people are somewhere in the middle. If you’ve actually been to college, you know that not everyone is completely broke, and it’s okay.
When I started my first year in college, I knew that my parents would take care of everything I needed. I got all new bedding, towels and anything else I would need for my dorm room. We went grocery shopping and my parents paid for all of it. I wasn’t exactly on a Ramen budget when it came to what food I could buy, but I wasn’t really dining on lobster every night either. It felt nice that my parents could help me out as much as they did, but I kind of felt like I was missing out on some part of the college experience if I wasn’t worrying about being totally crushed by student loans.
Lots of people I knew before coming to college weren’t exactly worried about paying for it. Many had college funds set up by either their parents or grandparents, and others had plenty of scholarships. I received enough financial aid and scholarship funds to cover most of my costs, and I also had some money saved up. I wasn’t too stressed about paying for my tuition or anything else that I might have needed.
As the semester went on, my financial situation basically stayed the same. I had enough money for groceries, typical living expenses and I even had some money for spending on things that I wanted. I could buy some new clothes here and there, and I never had to really worry about not having enough money to buy anything I needed. My family was considered middle class before I started school, and that status basically stayed the same even after I was in college.
Lots of people were like me and considered themselves part of middle-class families who could afford most of the costs of being in college. But seeing some of my friends struggle with their situations made me feel bad about some of my spending. I was never completely careless with my money; I just didn’t have to pinch pennies. Sometimes I could sense my friends silently judging me for buying two gallons of my favorite ice cream or making impulsive trips to Target to buy the latest blockbuster on DVD.
Sometimes I felt bad about spending money on something I didn’t necessarily need, but changing habits overnight is challenging. Many of my friends were working one or even two jobs while taking classes to pay the bills, but my parents never told me that getting a job was necessary. I had tons of respect for people who juggled multiple jobs along with their classes and I admired their work ethic. Several of my friends had an unpaid internship and two other jobs to help make ends meet. They were very careful with their cash and never felt the need to splurge on pizza at 2 a.m. with the rest of us.
A few of my friends were on the opposite end of the spectrum. They drove Porsches and didn’t have to really budget or worry about saving money. They could go on weekend shopping trips and spend hundreds of dollars without batting an eye. I also knew lots of people who were just like me; they had someone else taking care of the majority of their expenses. I began to feel like I could relate to them more than my other friends. I always had enough to cash to go out with friends and have a good time, but I was never that friend who offered to buy everyone another round of shots at the bar.
For a while I struggled with seeing so many different people in such different financial situations, and I was even angry with myself. If I wanted new clothes or something else I didn’t need, I got angry for not being more responsible with my money. But seeing everyone handle their money in their own way and living their lives the best way they knew how helped me adjust. Regardless of how much money someone had, they still had to deal with all kinds of problems. Realizing that not all college students are broke really opened my eyes. It helped me understand that it doesn’t really matter how much money people have in college. After all, we’ll all share the same stress of having to get up for an 8 a.m. at some point.