WINGING IT: I Make $400 a Month, & Think A Lot About Not Having $$$ For College

For a long time, women have been afraid to talk about money. It’s been seen as taboo, tacky, and straight up awk. But not anymore. As a part of our 10th anniversary, we’re launching Winging It, an anonymous series where we ask college women how they spend their money, make their money, and think about money. Sometimes, we’re planning our finances well in advance; other times, we’re straight up winging it. Either way, we’re getting real.

The Basics

Who I am: 18-year-old white woman from the Midwest going to college in California

School: Loyola Marymount, Class of 2022

Avg. college tuition: $42,795 per year

The $$$ I earn each month: $400

The $$$ I’m given each month: $0

The $$$ I get from scholarships, etc: $7,000 per year

Current Job: Work study job in my school's library

Dream Job: Fashion marketing

Where I live: On-campus dorm

Debit card? Yes

Credit card? No

My budget: Exists, and I feel good about it.

The Breakdown

My relationship with $$$:

I think a lot about not having enough money to pay for college. I wouldn’t consider myself poor by any means, but in comparison to how wealthy some of my classmates seem to be, it can hard to be the “not rich” student. While I know that I am privileged to be a white woman who has a family that can help pay for college, I often feel like I’m just middle class in a college full of upper-class students, which, in comparison, makes me feel like I'm broke. At the end of the day, despite my middle-class upbringing, money gives me extreme anxiety. 

Other students at my college & money:

I feel like my college consists mostly of very wealthy students, which isn’t really a bad thing, just something I didn’t expect to experience when I moved on campus.

Obviously, there are people with student loans like me, but most of their other expenses are covered by their families. Other students can buy whatever they want and have their parents Venmo them so that, really, these students aren't actually paying for much at all. Is it a bad thing? No. It’s just a luxury that I don’t have.

Last semester I didn’t really find people that I connected with, but originally I chalked it up to it being my first semester and convinced myself that most people just don’t find their close friends so early on in their college experiences. Now that it's halfway through my second semester and I’ve gotten a little closer with some people, but still have no very close friends, I do blame my loneliness on the fact that I don’t come from a lot of money in comparison to my classmates. The “cliques” are all people who go out to eat every day and wear lots of designer items that I just can’t afford, which leaves me low on friends at school.

Landing my dream job and $$$:

I want to go into fashion marketing, but I feel like my background of being more frugal with my money and not being able to buy designer items has made my dream of fashion marketing both doable and difficult. But not being able to constantly buy new outfits has given me an eye for other people’s fashion choices. I don’t think someone needs to have lots of money to understand and appreciate fashion.

It would also be harder to find an internship because most are unpaid, and I need to have a job that pays. I could do an unpaid internship, but it would have to work around a lot of restrictions and it would make my life kind of complicated. I still think my dream job is obtainable, I just might have to work extra hard to make it happen.

College moments and $$$: 

Money definitely does have an effect on big college moments. I am an out of state student, so I was unable to go home for break. The flights would be too expensive, and I did not have the same break times as my family, so it did not seem worth it. Most of my friends live in state and or live close to the state, so they could go home. Even people from the other side of the country could fly back or go to a tropical place. I was not as fortunate. I had a pretty boring break because of that, but it was also relaxing so not the worst week of my life.

Whenever my school has events, there’s usually food trucks which are pretty expensive. Sometimes I don’t really want to pay $15 for a waffle but if everyone else is, I usually do it anyway. The food is good at least and I can take some cute pictures with friends.

Dorm decor & the pressure to be Instagrammable:

My roommate this year has a very “Pinterest” style room and I did feel pressured to make my side of the room look a little nicer. I preferred a more minimalist look with some bright colors and few knick knacks from home. After seeing her wall covered in pictures, posters and fairy lights, my side felt very empty. Her side was packed with stuff while mine was emptier so the whole room just looked off. I wasn’t going to ask her to tone down her side, so I did get a cute tapestry on sale, got a free poster from a friend, and bought posters of my favorite band (they’re even signed).

I will admit I am a bit jealous of the girls who have super fancy dorms, but I also know my money could be used in a better way than pricey room décor. Most of the dorms I see at my college are more on the “Instagram” side and are very cute. They also probably cost a fortune.

My week in terms of $$$:

My out of pocket spending for a week is usually less than $30. I’m a freshman living on campus, so I have a meal plan from my college that my parents paid for. I have budgeted it to $15 dollars a day which typically covers lunch and dinner.

This budget should last me the rest of the semester, but if I run out then I’d need to buy food with my own money. This means I usually skip breakfast and have earlier lunch and dinners. Sometimes I will splurge and get a coffee or a light snack like almonds. This is most likely on Tuesdays or Thursdays because my class schedule is more packed. If I do have breakfast, it will be something I bought with my own money like cereal which is about $2-3, and I’d purchase once a month.

I almost always find something to buy on Amazon throughout the week like face wash or snack items. This is around $3-10. On either Friday or Saturday, I usually go out to eat with friends and will spend around $15-20 on my meal which is very overpriced but a good experience. I also might go out shopping with them.

Some of my friends have cars but other times I would need to split an UBER or LYFT, this is usually $4 after the money is divided. I get paid every other Friday and always put 20% into savings but rarely spend the majority of unsaved money. My school also has a gym included in tuition which is nice, and I do not have to pay extra money for classes.

Here is an example of my spending from a week earlier this month:

Monday: $15 out of meal plan

Tuesday: $15 out of meal plan

Wednesday: $15 out of meal plan. $9 to amazon for a face wash

Thursday: $17 out of meal plan (I got an extra coffee and had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch that did not come out of my meal plan because I previously bought bread and peanut butter)

Friday:  $11 out of meal plan. $18 for dinner with friends. Also got my payday and put $40 into savings (this happens biweekly)

Saturday: $15 out of meal plan

Sunday: $15 out of meal plan

Talking about $$$:

It’s important for women to talk about money in college. I hate that it's seen as such a taboo topic that people try to avoid talking about it. Money is such a powerful thing and heavily influences everyone’s lives in one or another, and the fact that it is not discussed makes it very isolating for people. I know I would feel more comfortable with my financial standing if people were more willing to share their experiences.

Are you winging it? Share your story with us.