By Ethan Millman
Over the past few years as a college student, like almost any other student, I’ve had to become more frugal.
As a first semester freshman, I didn’t hesitate to go to every dinner, movie or other social event to attempt to solidify the friendships I’d always heard would be the most important of my life. And for the first few months of college, I lived like this with no reservation. But given how unsustainable a lifestyle this was, it’s no shock that changes came relatively quickly.
The more I pulled my debit card out of my wallet, the more hesitant I became to spend. When it got to the point where I’d check my bank account and hope I had enough money to pay for my meal, I knew I had to make a change. By my second semester freshman year, I’d gone to the complete opposite extreme. I never went out for meals and never did anything with friends that required spending more than $20. I saved money at the cost of having any fun.
But things changed considerably when I finally got a job. Working full-time for my school’s newspaper, I finally had somewhat of a disposable income. While it is by no means a livable wage, I’d saved enough money to properly budget.
But two years later, I’ve finally come to accept my spending system. Beyond groceries and the occasional meal, my paychecks have streamlined to only a few outlets: Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and Guitar Center. That last outlet is more of a personal hobby, but it takes enough of my money to include. It is a bit ironic that playing an instrument as a hobby could be so expensive given that most musicians aren’t making a lot of money, but that’s beside the point.
As a journalist first and a musician second, transportation and guitar equipment make up almost all my purchases these days.
Without a car, my main means of transportation comes from the gig economy. Whether it be to see friends or go on an assignment, I use Uber and Lyft very frequently throughout the week. That is a considerable expense. Just using ride hailing services takes most of my income and has forced me to budget much more closely than I ever really anticipated. As of writing this blog, I’m readying an $82 Zipcar rental to drive to southeast Arizona for a story.
While these expenses are prevalent during the school year, this summer gave me my biggest challenge in terms of saving money. Working as a reporting intern for The Denver Post, I spent the entire summer as a reporter without a car. Faced with the decision of buying a clunker or relying on ride-hailing services, I ended up choosing the latter. Overall, I spent nearly $1,000 on transportation.
While it took much more thought each week to ensure I could comfortably live as I rationed out transportation expenses along with all my other costs of living, I managed to save about $2,000. And that doesn’t include insurance, parking and gas costs.
I’m still not perfect when it comes to balancing a budget – I can still buy a ton of frivolous guitar equipment on a whim – but I’m finally self-aware of my spending habits, and that’s a start.