It’s true, what they say: “Money makes the world go round.”
When everything around you is rooted in capitalism and consumerism, the only way to adapt is to maintain a steady flow of income. But sometimes that isn’t possible.
Typically, college students are inherently in debt and financially struggling. Financial anxieties can eat you alive, especially when it’s not the only stressor on your plate.
Finding your next meal
Nina goes to class with a multitude of things on her mind, but one is a constant: What am I going to eat?
Nina lives on campus and has a meal plan, so she has access to food for all three meals. Or at least on paper, right? But then you factor in the limited amount of time she has to grab food, and that cuts the options in half.
Nina is also lactose intolerant and doesn’t eat much meat. That limits the options even further.
With the standard meal plan that SRU provides, students have 14 meal swipes a week and start the semester with $350 in flex money. Nina, for one, doesn’t think the flex dollars are enough for the entire semester.
The university also offers the meal equivalency option with on-campus dining, in which a student can spend about $6 and still use a meal swipe. However, when one food item alone can amount to $6 or more, this isn’t exactly affordable.
When she gets a meal from the library cafe, for example, she typically spends upwards of $12 on a coffee, a breakfast sandwich and a bag of pretzels. That is two meal swipes to eat one meal. To take a step back for a second, outside of a university setting, those prices would be outrageous.
Dividing that out for an entire week of meals, she would run out of meal swipes by mid-week, if she’s lucky.
Then that leaves flex dollars. But the same problem carries over. When individual items are so expensive, how do you make meal swipes and flex dollars last?
It’s so bad that Nina often finds herself having to pick between spending her last $20 on her medications or on dinner.
There’s immense guilt associated with spending any amount of money, even if it’s spent on necessities.
Spending $2 on a pack of gum or buying a bottle of shampoo can cause Katie to sink into anxiety.
After every purchase, Katie has to justify the reason for spending money to come to terms with the numbers dropping her bank account. Internally she thinks things like, “I didn’t buy that shirt I saw at the store last week, so it is okay if I spend half of that money on this drink at Starbucks,” or “I am getting a paycheck at the end of the week, so it is okay if I fill up my car with gas today.”
At the end of the day, when she is laying in bed, she thinks, “Did I really NEED that?”
Guilt is a consequence of doing something we feel is wrong, but what is wrong about buying things we need?
When you are so financially insecure, it is drilled into your head to only purchase necessities. But even when you need it, it is hard to calm the stress that comes with it.
Where does this fear come from?
A lot of financial anxieties can stem from the childhood experience of watching our parents struggle and seeing the stress financial insecurity induces.
The overwhelming worry about the lack of money and abundance of needs pops into Katie’s head every time she swipes her card. She fears feeling and knowing financial struggle in the long run.
This fear makes her feel like she will never have enough money.
Katie doesn’t aspire to be filthy rich, but even if she was, the fear would not go away. What if she gets robbed right after she spends money on a vacation? What would she do if she got sick and had to pay a ton of medical bills right after she bought a house? At what point will she be able to feel content and secure?
Trying my hardest isn’t enough
When the anxiety eats at us, we want to find a solution, but what if what we are already doing is all we can do?
Katie has student loans, has three work study jobs, worked two jobs over the summer and plans to work one of those jobs over winter break. Somehow all of this combined still does not feel like enough. She is paying her bills, tuition, and other necessities, but getting by is not living.
Being a full-time student involved in multiple executive board positions and other organizations on campus, she does not really have the time to add a fourth job. Katie’s only free time is on weekends, but who can live a sane life that is only school and work?
When reaching out to SRU’s Financial Aid Office, typically the only options to get more assistance are to have your parents apply for another loan or apply for scholarships.
You don’t get chosen for the scholarship? Better luck next time.
Your parents aren’t willing to apply or co-sign for a loan? That’s too bad.
This is yet another problem where the solution is that there is none. College students continue to struggle as universities get richer.