Living on the Cheap
by Andrew Frisicano
Living on the margins of an income is a skill. And why go to college if not to learn skills? Within the first few weeks of arriving on campus, the initial euphoria of being away from home will wear off when you spend your last $10 on a late-night pizza. A large percentage of college time is spent acquiring and consuming food, often as a method of avoiding things like homework, so knowing where to look is of the utmost significance.
The glaring answer is the college dining hall. Most schools require at least first-year students to enroll in one of their prohibitively expensive meal plans. These cover your standard two or three meals-a-day needs, but tend to neglect those in-between hunger pangs. You'll need something to munch during all-night cram sessions, if only to mange the stress. On a tight budget an Oreo box from the supermarket will break the bank.
Take what's rightfully yours. Plastic zip-lock bags are an economical way to subvert the oppression of the college dining hall system and get some snacks in the process. Alternatively, Tupperware works well for wet and/or amorphous foods like quiche or pudding. As for concealment, the ol' backpack will do the trick. With some sly maneuvers you can save a fortune on treats, and if you feel guilty, remember that most colleges charge $6 to $7 per all-you-can-eat meal, way more than you'd shell out at the Ponderosa.
If you've got transportation you can probably scrounge a meal from free samples at local stores, much as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. Wegmans likes to set up sample stands. Get a toothpick full on the way in and then loop around the store for course two on the way out. BJ's, Sam's, and similar wholesale establishments tend to have a good selection of free samples, but be warned: the stores require a membership for purchases, so rampant free samplers may be carded. Also, famed national donut chain Krispy Kreme has a habit of lighting its neon free-sample sign to lure in the hungry and impressionable.
If you're looking for clothes the mall is the most alluring choice. It has an air-conditioned, sterile environment; varied and fashionable selections; and epic convenience. Then the pocketbook comes into the picture. Ultimately, it's better to wait for grandma to visit before picking up that new skiing jacket. In the meantime, thrift stores can offer a quick fix to the tired wardrobe blues. Area outlets include multiple Salvation Army, Goodwill, the Volunteers of America, and Vietnam Veterans' locations. Garage sales offer good bargains on often interesting fashions; check the local classifieds for time and place.
For some, thrift shopping may double as entertainment. But for more standard fare there are bargain options a-plenty. Movies 10, a staple of Rochester bargainhunters, shows second-run films for a maximum of $2. Local coffee shops are an affordable place to cross the all important off-campus date threshold. Java's, Spot, Spin, Boulder and Starry Nites all come to mind as downtown options open until at least midnight. One cup at any of these places can last for hours with some good conversation.
But all of these options are worthless without a set of wheels to get you there. You could walk, but in most cases it's just not feasible in Rochester. Bicycles are a good option if you're not going far. The University of Rochester's bicycle library, City Cycles, lets students rent bicycles for free, while providing maps and helpful links on its website (http://sa.rochester.edu/citycycles/). Other schools provide bike racks, and some even allow storage within dormitories. Rochester's Critical Mass, a monthly bike ride through city streets, starts on the U of R campus and is a good way to meet up with like-minded cyclists.
Busing is a low-investment way to get around town. Rochester Genesee Regional Transport Authority runs several lines from U of R, RIT, MCC, SUNY Geneseo, and SUNY Brockport to Marketplace Mall, downtown, and elsewhere (www.rgta.org). Geneseo students can also catch the Livingston Area Transportation bus to Wegmans and Wal-Mart during the week, and into Rochester during the weekend, for free.
The most effective way to get around is making friends with someone who owns a car. Tagging along is a time-honored way of getting around and meeting people.
Textbookscan put a major dent in the new student's wallet. Professors love to demand new editions with throw-away CD add-ons and marginally updated facts. Unless you spot some good deals, avoid the bookstore and buy used books online. They'll be cheaper but you might have to overlook some doodles. Most college bookstores take returns within a few weeks, so either buy the books and return them when your online order comes, or do without until then. Bigwords.com and similar sites that compare various prices can help you choose between the many online vendors.
If all else fails, discard frugality for hard manual labor. Campus employment options tend to be limited for first-year students, but student employment offices will connect eager students with jobs. Though many pay only minimum wage, jobs part of the federal work study program are tax exempt, so Uncle Sam keeps his paws off your dough. If you have a car, off-campus employment is always an option, but they might be less accommodating to hectic college schedules.