College life already seems like a lifetime ago. Johnny and I were young newlyweds with no non-school-related cares in the world. And we were poor. Upon getting married, we were on our own financially. We did receive some help in the form of a car Johnny’s grandpa lent us. And our cell phones were paid for by Johnny’s family. But that left us fending for ourselves with all other costs: food, shelter, schooling, etc. So we got loans (well, I already had loans). But we got more loans. But our loans didn’t come close to covering everything. And so we got creative. How do you make ends meet when your full-time job is school? Well, let me tell ya.
Always Held a Job
While we were full-time students, Johnny and I worked at minimum 20 hours a week. For three years I was a server in an on-campus restaurant. And then my senior year I was a secretary in the chemistry department, which was a pretty easy gig. Johnny was a teacher for the IT department, where he taught fellow students and teachers how to use computer programs. His students were usually a good 30 years his senior. Tough crowd (not really, once they figured out the mouse).
During the summer when we weren’t in school, we worked full time. One summer we were servers together. Another summer we both worked separate on-campus jobs with unfortunate dress codes. Johnny was a teacher and had to wear a tie. I was a personal assistant and required to wear nylons. And then my boss tasked me with watering everyone’s desk plants, and I over-watered and killed them all (the plants, that is). And I knew it was time to say goodbye to that job. The point is, we worked, always. We didn’t make a lot… our combined earnings one year was $10,000. But work we did.
Bought Used Textbooks
It pained me to buy used textbooks. I wanted the crisp, never-written-in, new-book-smell textbooks for my own. But buying used saved us $1000’s. Our school offered highly discounted used texts, and sometimes we just bought and sold directly with other students. We also sold our books once we were finished with them. The only ones I kept were my Spanish books. Because I’m gonna be fluent in Spanish some day. And because our university wouldn’t buy them back. Ridiculoso.
One perk of working in a restaurant on campus is that I got a discount at the school cafeteria. Every day I got one meal 50% off. Johnny and I used this discount very strategically and usually only spent $2 or $3 for a meal for both of us. Unfortunately, this also meant we ate a lot of Taco Bell, Subway, and Scoreboard Grill, the cafeteria’s cleverly-named burger joint. We never claimed to be the healthiest, only the cheapest.
Our college selves (plus Johnny’s creepy mustache grown for a Halloween costume)
Laundered for Free
For two years straight, we took our laundry to Johnny’s parents’ house every Sunday. They lived about 25 minutes away, and Johnny’s mom also fed us Sunday dinner. AND we played nerdy board games with Johnny’s younger siblings (which got very competitive at times *cough*Johnny*cough*). It was the perfect weekly getaway from college life. For a few hours we were surrounded by family, good food, and free laundry. College students with family nearby, do this! I command you.
Here are some words that meant a lot to us back then: IKEA, Taco Tuesday, Blockbuster, Little Caesar’s, Goodwill, Wendy’s dollar menu. And now an explanation:
- IKEA: We bought the cheapest bed, couch, coffee table, kitchen chairs, and office desk that IKEA had to offer. Our apartment was plain, but it served us well.
- Taco Tuesday: Every Tuesday night Johnny would longboard to Del Taco (pretty much the off-brand version of Taco Bell), and he’d buy us half-off tacos. I think we’d spend about $3.50 on dinner for the two of us.
- Blockbuster: Yes, when this company was still alive and well, we used its subscription service and had endless entertainment in the form of Jack Bauer and LOST. It was cheaper than a movie theater, that’s for sure. And then Netflix came along, and those series ended (but apparently 24 is coming back, did ya hear?).
- Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready. Enough said. Remember, I never said we were the healthiest college students.
- Goodwill: We thrifted at least once a week. You already know it’s a favorite past-time of Johnny’s, but hobbies aside, it really did cut down on our clothing costs a lot as newlyweds… it meant only one of us needed to buy new clothes (guess who!) ;).
- Wendy’s Dollar Menu: Many of our meals were consumed after 11:00 p.m.. And in those moments Wendy’s dollar-menu was always there for us. To this day, when Johnny needs something tangible to compare an amount of money to, he’ll use $1 Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers as his standard. “Well, if you think that dress is worth 45 Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers…”
So that’s how we did it. And we still ended up with $20,000 in school loans. And that was with Pell Grants and living cheaply AND trying to only take out loans when absolutely necessary. But we survived college expenses. Why isn’t anyone making shirts that say “I survived my college costs [year of graduation].” Did I just have a brilliant idea? Oh, just a rip-off of the other “I survived” shirts out there? Dangit. Stupid, stupid Joanna.
Crazily enough, many of our college habits have still survived even four years post-college, such as our love of Wendy’s dollar menu. And IKEA. And Little Caesar’s… this is shameful. I’ve over-shared. Now it’s your turn… how did you survive your college costs?