We’re not all Jersey princesses and kings of New England here at GW. Some students are genuinely poor- always worried about money, always a dollar short. But even if you can’t afford to live your roommate’s cushy lifestyle, you can still give yourself a leg up if you’re willing to work for it. There are ways to save money or simply not spend any at all. But pride and poverty don’t mix. Being less than wealthy means you have to be willing to take risks, compromise your dignity and work harder than people who have an unlimited budget. But if you’re serious about it (or just without options) here’s how to get ahead.
Everyone is able to help out their friends now and then, and the more friends one has, the more frequent now and then becomes. The best favors to ask for are the ones that don’t cost the other person a dime, they’re more likely to be granted and leave the other person feeling magnanimous anyhow.
“(Saving money is) about being open and building community (with neighbors in dormitories),” junior Jack Zahora said. “We have this great system where I have a little bit extra of this and maybe you have a little bit extra of that. I need scissors, so I borrow some instead of laying down like $3 for a pair.”
People who work in restaurants can sometimes smuggle free food out. For example, try eating at restaurants where you know the waiters and waitresses.
“I had a friend who worked at (a restaurant) who would give us free drinks,” sophomore Jesse Baltes explained. “We’d leave a big tip instead of paying and everybody wins big, except the owners.”
People who work in retail can give their friends tip-offs on when the big sale is coming and hide the best deals from other customers. Freshmen have meal points galore. Tutors and computer whizzes can volunteer their talents. Kids who habitually get drunk and order more pizza for themselves than any person can eat in one night are veritable goldmines. It’s a bad idea to be friends with someone just for their usefulness, but everyone is useful somehow, and it’s a shame to let that go to waste.
Does KaZaA seem less safe now that the Recording Industry Association of America is openly suing college kids? Instead of swapping files online, make friends with similar music tastes and burn each other’s CD collections, either to a disk or to the hard drive. Buy used CDs together and alternate who keeps the burned copy and who keeps the original. That takes the cost of an album down to about $5. Have CD burning parties where everyone brings a stack of albums and a laptop, and let the trading commence.
Don’t buy used books from the bookstore. The bookstore buys textbooks at about 25 percent of the purchase price of a new book and sells it for 75 percent, a much larger markup than the store can make on new copies. Instead, find friends who have the books you need and pay them half the cost of a new book. They make more money back and you spend less to begin with: everybody wins.
“Don’t buy every single book,” senior Maria Rodriguez advised. “You won’t need them, your professor won’t use them. If you really need a book, it’s probably at the library.”
Be sure to get the right edition, though, if you check your books out of the library.
Do it yourself
Don’t buy things through GW. Ever. It’s always cheaper to go to somewhere else. Take food, for example – a J Street Caesar salad costs $6. The same amount at Safeway will buy a salad kit big enough for two, a bottle of dressing and some soup to go with it. Cooking for oneself is always cheaper, usually healthier and often tastes better. Invest in a cookbook suited towards starving student needs. “The Food Stamp Gourmet” is a classic, but anything with the words “student” or “budget” in the title will do nicely.
“Eat breakfast at home at least,” Nathan Casagrande said. “‘Cause a little cereal, a little milk – that’ll do it and you don’t have to blow like $5 at J Street.”
Casagrande also suggested getting a Safeway card and saving money by buying Safeway brand products. If you have access to a car, venture out to Virginia and do your grocery shopping at Shoppers Club, which is known to have consistently lower prices.
Living off campus is cheaper too. Yes, a studio apartment near campus will run about $1,000 a month – but so do many GW residence hall rooms. Living away from campus with even just one other roommate can save thousands over the course of an academic year. Students willing to live off campus with a larger group can further divide the rent and nearly cut living costs in half.
“I live closer to campus now than I did the last two years, and it’s cheaper, so why not?” junior Jeff Weber said. “(My apartment) is about $100 cheaper a month (than on-campus housing).”
Students on financial aid should know that that moving off campus only affects the calculating or distribution of aid packages if the student is moving in with his or her family. The difference between the aid package and the tuition bill will be refunded to the student within the first few weeks of class to pay for rent.
Apply for scholarships, anything the slightest bit that sounds like it could apply to you – after all, someone has to be awarded the money. Not only does winning a scholarship pad financial packages, especially for families that don’t get a lot of aid, but it can also look good on a resume.
“I really took advantage of scholarship opportunities,” Zahora said. “I never bought (being unable to find scholarships) as an excuse. Check online – just type in ‘scholarships’ and whatever you’re into – even GW lists scholarships online.”
Theft (when times get desperate)
We’re not talking about shoplifting, per se. Getting caught is too easy and the consequences aren’t worth it – in D.C. it’s $300 and/or up to 90 days in jail – and anyhow it’s not Tower Records’ fault that you’re poor. But GW’s on the other hand, that’s up to you. Most students can be heard saying, “I pay 40 grand for this?” at some point during their four years; some say it daily. But the students that complain rarely take the time to ensure they get their dollar’s worth.
The soda machines in J Street are self-serve; all anyone needs is a cup. The University charges $1.49 for a 20 oz. cup – highway robbery – except that cups are refillable. Buy a cup and keep it. Wash it out and put it in a book bag when not in use, and cold soda becomes free. For the daring, skip the $1.49 initiation fee and bring a cup from home. The J Street employees have better things to do than keep an eye on the cups being used, so don’t worry. But just to be safe, the machine next to Starbucks is particularly easy to use.
Anything that can be taken from dining services- condiments, salt and pepper, plastic tableware, plates and more, should be taken. Whenever free soda, cookies and other snacks are left out in the open after the meeting or reception they were intended for, the food is there for the taking.
“GW is just a system and you have to know how it works…everyone’s taken CI food,” senior AJ Herrman said.
The poverty-stricken student should always have a half-empty book bag ready and waiting whenever food is left in the open.
Last year, the Gelman Library and all other on-campus computer labs began charging for printing, excluding those in residence halls. Make friends with someone who lives in a dormitory with a decent computer lab (City Hall’s is especially nice) and get to work. Don’t just print there either; take the leftover paper home for personal use.
Take toilet paper from Gelman or other academic buildings. The big roles fit easily into most backpacks. Go into freshman residence halls and wait for the housekeeping staff to leave carts unattended or the supply closet open, and go to town. Dormitory residents can also try making friends with the cleaning staff and asking for help. It never pays to be greedy or pushy with staff, so don’t force it, but many of them don’t like GW much either and are happy to help students out.
Make friends with someone who works in a department with a lost and found – the library, Marvin Center and the gym are good bets for this – and have them feed you descriptions of lost valuables that look like they’ll never be claimed by their rightful owners. Don’t leap on an mp3 player that just turned up today, but a lot of wonderful things go missing at GW, and often their owners would rather just buy a new one than spend time looking for the lost item.
Pens and paper can get expensive. That’s where office theft comes in. America’s white-collar pastime is a great way to get all those back to school supplies on the sly. The trick here is to take small amounts over long periods and hoard it all up. Taking a box of pens at once is easy to spot, doing it over the course of week or two is nearly invisible.
Internships are a great resource for free office supplies.
“If you’re an intern for the government or someplace and you need staples or pens or whatever, well the government has plenty,” said Antigone Hodgins, a graduate student studying human resources development.
At the end of the semester go through residence halls, freshman halls especially, and search for junked but usable furniture and clothes. Check the communal kitchens for food that would just go to waste otherwise.
Sometimes a little cunning and a little common sense are all that stands between the impoverished student and another weekend without food. Keeping track of expenses, comparison shopping, and careful prioritizing can do more for a bank account that all the friends and hard work and (petty) thievery in the world.