It’s been a while since I wrote a fun little list article. This one is inspired by the fact that I am a university student, and I am, shockingly, broke. Obviously, I have enough money to survive. I have food in my fridge and a roof over my head, but the food is home brand, and the roof is rented. It’s become one of my many inconvenient quirks instead of festering into a massive source of anxiety. This is not an expected or uncommon predicament for a tertiary student who moved away from home. I could work more, but it’d mean studying less. My options are that I can be poor now or flunk out on my degree and be poor later on.
However, in my time of limited funds, I have learned a thing or two about how, when and where to spend money. Here is a near-exhaustive list of things that broke university students, such as me (and, assumedly, you), should not resort to, buying or doing, no matter how tight your pockets might be.
1. Bad Food
I don’t mean unhealthy food – I mean gross food. I had a roommate who used to eat two-minute noodles with tinned tuna mixed in. That’s not okay. Have some self-respect. Other items on your don’t-buy list include international roast instant coffee, home brand sliced bread, powdered milk and powdered mash potato. You’re already poor. Don’t deprive yourself of life’s simple joys because hell in a jar is 50 cents cheaper. Also, don’t buy cheap shampoo and conditioner – just use less of it, so the expensive stuff lasts longer. Be stingy, not cheap.
2. Boring or dangerous venues
Going out when you’re broke can be a bit of an anxiety inducing task – even if you’re not one to drop a bunch of money you don’t have on drinks. You want to avoid places with pricey entry fees, find a free way home, and not spend too much in the middle. Unfortunately, the clubs with the cheapest drinks often have the least adequately trained security. You’re better off going somewhere relatively safe and enjoyable, even if it means buying pricey drinks. Obviously, pre-drink strategically and if you can avoid buying your own drinks by being endlessly charming and witty, do that. Also, don’t take free drugs from people you don’t know. What you’ll save in cash, you’ll lose in medical bills if they end up being damaging.
3. Free Spotify
I don’t care how poor you are – you’re better off not having Spotify at all than you are having a free Spotify account. Those ads and skip limits will affect your mental health. That said, Spotify is not that expensive – especially if you finesse the system. You can get student plans for most streaming platforms. It’s even cheaper to get 4-5 friends together to go in on a family plan. Also, there’s no excuse for you to be paying for your own Netflix. Convince someone who loves you to share theirs. You’re going to need it for your sanity.
4. Being bored
You don’t really need money to have fun. As I mentioned before, sure, hitting the town can be pricey, but your alternative shouldn’t be just to stay home and do nothing. There are plenty of things you can do for free. Going outside doesn’t cost money unless you break covid isolation. Go to the botanic gardens. Go to a library, a science hub or a museum if you’re particularly nerdy. Art galleries are usually free. Go to the night markets just to take pictures and eat samples if you like. Sign up to work at music festivals for a free ticket. Sign up for Instagram giveaways, win some vouchers at trivia or whatever. Just don’t be bored just because you’re broke.
5. Doing free work
This one’s mainly aimed at students in creative sectors, but I’m sure it’s relevant for many people. Don’t let people make you think that you have to do work for free just to get the job you want. The job you want is a paid one. At the end of the day, employers will look at your skill and character first and foremost – you don’t need to do hours upon hours of unpaid internships to develop those things.
6. Paying for parking
I know that parking at the university is not that expensive on a day-to-day basis. But it adds up really fast if you’re there every week day. If you can, take a free bus. Or drive to a bus stop, leave your car there, and get the bus the rest of the way. Public transport can be fun anyway. Alternatively, organise a carpool, it’s not that hard.
7. Joining the Communist Collective
I don’t know if the Communist Club is as horrendously annoying at every other university or if it’s just Wollongong. But no matter how bad things get, no matter how poor you are, do not join the dark side. You’ll get spam texts and emails for the rest of your life for no gain. Have some solidarity with the rest of your peers and empathise with the times we’ve all been ambushed by communists outside of the library. Please don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having interests or beliefs, but there is something wrong with harassing people when they’re just trying to get to their $6 parking spot at the end of the day.
8. Getting the night train
This might be a personal preference, but I hate the late train from Sydney to Wollongong. I would rather camp on the cold Sydney streets than get on that midnight train by myself. It’s full of sketchy characters, and the trip always drags on a miserable amount. You’re too traumatised to leave the house ever again by the time you get home. Even if you’re too broke to pay for a fancy hotel – just organise somewhere to stay. You can find very cheap accommodation that will be more pleasant than that midnight train.
9. Worrying about being broke
You’re supposed to be broke in your early twenties – it’s a learning experience and a rite of passage. Don’t be embarrassed to say when you can’t afford dinner with your friends. Don’t worry about having any money for a new outfit. Fast fashion is lame anyway – who doesn’t love picking up a t-shirt that’s older than you are for 5 dollars at Vinnies? If they’re cool, your friends won’t judge you for your financial situation. Wasting time being embarrassed will only get in the way of having your free fun.
10. Being a bad friend
On the flip side, don’t be so bitter about being broke that you forget to be understanding and kind to your loved ones however you can. If you can’t pay them back for dinner, offer to help them with something that week. There’s a right and wrong way to be the cheap friend. Be on the right side of casual poverty.
“There’s so much free food,”