WINGING IT: I Make $700 A Month, & I Feel Alienated at NYU as a First-Gen College Student

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: 20 year old Asian-American from New York City. She, Her.

School: New York University - Tisch School of the Arts, Class of 2021

Avg. college tuition: $50k excluding room & board

The $$$ I earn each month: $700

The $$$ I’m given each month: $100

The $$$ I get from scholarships, etc: $40,000 in academic scholarships

Current job: Paid internship with a tech company - technical writing, not really what I want to do, and it's not in my career path, but I need the money.

Dream job: To become a TV writer/ comic book writer

Where I live: On campus in an apartment

The Breakdown

How I try to save money:

I feel good that I've set a budget, but sometimes it's difficult to keep myself in that mindset where I know that I need to save money, especially because I live in New York City where material things equal status.

I limit the amount of spending that I do on entertainment or clothing, and focus on the essentials like groceries and health care products. I make sure to make self-care a part of my health care. When I want to buy clothing or material things that are more expensive than I can justify, I make sure to figure out if I really actually value the product I want to buy, or if I'm just buying something expensive because I feel like I have to, to make myself feel better or to just fit in.

How my friends talk about money:

I talk about money with my best friend, and my sisters, but I've found that talking about the positive things involving money (like getting a new job or a raise) is much easier to do than talking about the negative aspects (like losing a job or needing money). I feel like if I talk about issues I have involving money it'll make it seem like I'm not self-sufficient or like I'm asking for money, which isn't true at all.

How NYU does money:

I go to NYU, and the majority of my friends do not rely on scholarships to attend college. I come from a lower-middle class background and rely on academic scholarships and student loans to attend school, and have always felt a little intimidated or alienated when I'm around kids who got to go to pre-college programs or expensive private high schools that gave them more experience or advantages than what I received at a public school. When I'm around friends from school I feel like I need to hide money problems that I'm having, and we don't normally ever talk about money unless it's flaunting it.

$$$ + anxiety:

I think that money does give me anxiety. Having come from a background where my parents immigrated to the United States, I've been taught that having money is equated to having a higher status and a higher quality of life. Seeing my parents struggle with money issues (and money responsibility issues) has made me more conscious of the ways that money inevitably dictates your mental and physical stability. Now that I'm in college and am more financially independent I'm always anxious that I'm not going to find a job that will give me enough income to live happily. I'm also worried that I don't know enough about what it takes to be financially stable, which makes me extra conscious about saving money, because in my career field I don't receive a ton of money to begin with. Also, my parents have helped co-sign student loans that I am taking out to supplement my financial aid, but as a queer student who is not out to my parents, there is an added anxiety that if I come out and my parents do not accept me, then I'll lose their financial backing, and then I'll lose my ability to go to college. This has kept me from being able to live my life authentically.

Too, there is a distinct lack of diversity in terms of gender-identity, race, and ethnicity in my semi-professional program here at NYU, and it's very clear to see the socioeconomic systems put in place that have limited students of color or students of a marginalized status from attending schools like NYU. Being a queer, female, Asian American student who is relying on scholarships to attend a college program that has a lack of diversity, there's a lot of added pressure, but also a feeling of alienation that keeps me from talking about personal issues in my life, especially financial issues.

$$$ + my dream job: 

Most internships in the creative/entertainment fields are unpaid, but since my friends don't rely on paid jobs, they can take unpaid internships without worrying about that lack of income.

Right now I have an internship that doesn't align with my career goals, but it's paid, so I've had to maintain my internship, and classes, while also trying to produce creative projects on the side that will go on my creative resume, in place of creative internships that I can't afford to do.

What I spend on:

I spend my money on things that I feel are essential for me being happy and healthy, like groceries, etc, but I also sometimes spend my money on things for other people as clothing or other accessories when I see pieces that I want to add to my wardrobe. I buy clothing and accessories because I think of fashion as a way to express yourself and your creativity and originality.

I think in my freshman year of college having just moved to NYC, definitely felt the pressure to wear certain brands and pieces of clothing that would make me fit in more. That caused me to barely have any money after freshman year, and now that I'm in my sophomore year I've realized that if people are judging me for the way that I look, and the clothes that I'm wearing (or the brands that I'm not wearing), then they're not worth my time or energy. It takes a lot of effort to keep up with that mindset though. 

My week in terms of $$$:

I have an internship that pays me biweekly, and three-fourths of my paycheck will go into savings, and the rest will go into my checking account. I mostly use my credit card for purchases to build up credit and get rewards cash back that goes into my savings. I pay off my credit card with my checking account. I pay for Spotify and Hulu, as well as Scrimm, a news app, and that is all done with automatic payments from my checking account each month.

Monday: Grocery shopping bi-weekly

Tuesday: Avoid spending. I walk everywhere to save $$$.

Wednesday: Avoid spending

Thursday: Avoid spending

Friday: Go out to eat with friends

Saturday/Sunday: Self care, like fancy face masks or comic books 

When my parents can they'll send me money, which is mostly put into savings or used to buy groceries or bus tickets home to New Hampshire (my home state).

Are you winging it? Share your story with us.