The Ramen Effect: Developing Frugality as a Freshman in College

By Ellie Cornell - Columbia University

The girl next to me in the cafeteria is getting reprimanded by the kitchen staff for filling her oversized Tupperware with Froot Loops. I shake my head. We’re a month into college and she hasn’t figured it out yet. You get a hefty plate of food, bring it back to your table, pull the off brand tupperware out of your backpack, slide the food in, and get out. You use the stolen food as snack food, to avoid spending money beyond your meal plan, and repeat as necessary. I am one month into my freshman year and I know this. Easy as pie.

Before coming to Columbia I had heard about the frugality of college students. From endless amounts of ramen to hunting down the cheapest used textbook possible, these kids are not messing around. It doesn’t matter if you’re on financial aid or the library is named after your grandparents, college students spend a great deal of their creativity circumventing expenses.

Though an outsider would assume that being a student is a full time job, a recent study by YouGov found that 4 out of 5 college students work part time jobs while at school. The financial health of a college student today is dire and it doesn’t stop at financial aid. With 80% of college students being self reliant as it comes to spending money, day to day expenses are a big concern: food, clothing, transportation, books, phone bills, you name it. So while you might have heard extremes like buying a textbook, spending 24 hours on a photocopier, and returning it, here are my freshman observations on how to balance frugality and well being:

Use Your Dining Plan

Especially as a freshman, you’re paying thousands of dollars a year to have an on demand kitchen. Snacks around campus add up. Spend a few extra bucks on Tupperware and go nuts. Just be subtle. You’ve been warned.

Buy a Coffee Maker

On the subject of food, buy a coffeemaker for your room. It’s around $150 plus a reusable K-Cup (eco plug) and coffee grounds. If the environment isn’t enough incentive, know that you’ll only have to buy 50 starbucks (if you get the cheapest option) before you make your money back. If you are a unicorn and only drink one coffee a day, that’s about a month and a half into school.

Exercise Can Be Free

*You have three options: pay monthly for a gym membership, pay per class at spin and yoga studios, or pay nothing to go to your school gym. Personally, I find Dodge reminiscent of White Goodman’s Globo Gym so I spent $15 on a yoga mat and do youtube workouts, like Blogilates and PopSugar, every day on the floor of my dorm room. It may not be glamorous but working out keeps you sane and healthy by saving you money on stress eating and self medicating.  *

Buy Used Books

Get the ISBN numbers of your textbooks and dive into the depths of the internet. Or just Half.com, a subsidiary of Ebay. Take good care of your books, like taking notes on post-its instead of writing in them, so you can resell them at the end of the semester. Chegg.com is a great resource for cheaper books too.

Use the Free Resources Around You

Libraries, health services, employment opportunities. Apparently $60,000 a year gets you some perks. Use ‘em.

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