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From Frugal to Frivolous: Here’s Why I Abandoned My Budget During Senior Year

Four years ago, I sat on the couch in my older brother’s apartment waiting for him and his friends to return home from the bar. Though his apartment was almost always a mess and the carpets reeked of spilled beer, I was thankful to have a place to escape to from my tiny freshman dorm room on campus.

After his friend group stumbled back in, I remember my brother reading aloud a text from our dad: “Collin, you might want to check your bank account.” With a concerned look on his face, I watched him open the banking app on his phone and start shaking his head. His balance must’ve been dangerously low, and before drunkenly ordering a pizza for his friends, he needed to transfer money from his other savings account. 

At the time, I didn’t understand. What could he possibly be spending so much money on? From across the room, I stood there thinking that he must just be really irresponsible when it comes to his finances.

But now — four years later — I think back to this particular instance and wish I hadn’t passed so much judgement. As I begin to pack up my own apartment and prepare to move out of my college town forever, I view my bank account after this last semester of my senior year and wince. 

Let me clarify something quick: I didn’t follow much of a strict budget throughout college. Sure, I looked for good deals on produce and sought out coupons here and there, but generally just tried to be smart and realistic with all that I purchased. My roommate and I briefly tried to keep track of our expenses, but, I frankly grew tired and threw in the towel pretty early on in the challenge. 

Yet, that intrinsic voice of reason I once had was suppressed during the majority of my senior year. Without much thought, I’d swipe my card to be a part of any social opportunity that presented itself, and it didn’t take very long for my bank account to feel the effects of my actions.

Am I ashamed to have spent more money in this past semester alone than any previous year of college? Well, it’s definitely not a sense of pride that I’m feeling if I look at the numbers closely. But do I regret any of the experiences that this money was spent on? Not at all. 

Taking advantage of social opportunities

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Speaking as someone who is relatively young for their grade, I wasn’t able to experience the bars in my college town until senior year. In the past, I was always the person who watched my older friends turn 21 and dart out of the pre-COVID bar scene at midnight. 

This being said, I was much more inclined to make up for lost time in these types of social situations once I was of legal age. Somewhere in the midst of the school year, it hit me that these were the last few months to go out as a student to the places that my friends and I loved. With an especially light course load for my last semester, it was easier to say “yes” to going out on a random weekday or hanging out with friends even when I probably should be getting ahead on work instead.

Making the most out of pandemic restrictions

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It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed students of all ages from many experiences that would be enjoyed in a usual year. At a large university like Penn State, it was heartbreaking that my peers and I couldn’t attend home football games in the stadium, classes that would typically be held in-person on campus, and bars or restaurants in a normal capacity. 

I gave myself a lot of extra grace for having to face these circumstances in my final year of undergrad. While the restrictions in place varied from state to state, I was happy to comply with Pennsylvania’s protocols for social gatherings and public facilities if it meant that I still got to carry on with even the smallest semblance of normalcy with my friends.

To me, this meant putting up with the extra COVID-19 fee that some of the bars downtown charged. For months, it meant ordering an appetizer or meal with my drinks because of state mandates regarding the purchase and on-site consumption of alcohol. It meant paying exorbitantly high cover charges to guarantee a table even at dive bars on a Friday night. With no other choice, I just had to grit my teeth and open my wallet a little bit wider. 

It certainly wasn’t ideal, nor what I pictured for my senior year, but all of the extra dollars I had to spend on pizza slices or side of fries just to have a night out seem entirely worth all of the memories I’ve now made. 

Enjoying final moments with college friends

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The reason for mentioning the anecdote about my brother is that I failed to realize one very important fact as a freshman: college doesn’t last forever. 

By the time my older brother was a senior, I watched enviously as his friend group did everything together: attending sporting events, going on bar crawls, or even just hanging out outside on campus on a nice day. Back then, I couldn’t fathom having such a tight-knit circle of people surrounding me. 

Like it always does, time marched on and the friendships I had grew deeper with each year that passed. It’s bittersweet to recognize that it took me the entire four years to find people that now make it unbearable to leave my college life behind. Just as I questioned if I really wanted to blow my money on a trip to the winery or on a Sunday night sushi dinner, I’d feel the knot in my stomach — that had persisted the whole last semester — that reminded me that my days with these friends were numbered. 

It only took me imagining my final goodbyes to friends that lived across the country or simply further than just 10 minutes across campus to convince me otherwise. I never once regretted sipping on even my least favorite of wines or trying the most absurd-sounding sushi rolls, so long as I was in good company while doing so.

At the end of the day, I recognize how much of a privilege it is to have spent the last four years obtaining a college education in the first place. I’m grateful for the smart decisions that my past self has made when it came to financing groceries, personal items, school expenses, etc., especially because it allowed me to live so presently in the moments where it mattered most to me to do so. 

Perhaps if I had been so frivolous with my money in years past, I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of as many social opportunities and experiences that have shaped my last semester as a senior. As this chapter officially comes to a close, all I can do now is relish the good times that I’ve had this year and cross my finger in hopes of landing a job that makes up for all that I’ve spent toward creating these memories. 

Payton Breidinger is a recent Penn State grad (class of '21!) who majored in Public Relations and minored in Communication Arts & Sciences. On campus, she was a member of the student-run advertising and PR agency, Happy Valley Communications, and volunteered with the university's year-long fundraising efforts benefitting THON: Penn State's annual dance marathon for childhood cancer. When not writing for Her Campus, she enjoys updating and creating content for her personal blog, The P Word. Some of her other passions include all things food, music, and fitness!
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