By Alphine Bangura
Balancing my academic life with work isn’t new for me. I started working at 15 and have worked part-time ever since, so I have years of experience making difficult choices about working as a student. But was not prepared for the historically high inflation that we are experiencing now.
Thanks to those rising prices, I need to put in 22 hours a week at work just to make ends meet. This combined with the 16 credit hours I am taking this semester means that time is extremely scarce. For some students, the opportunity cost of being in school is not working. That is not an option for me because I support myself for most expenses and must work. Fortunately, I qualify for academic scholarships and grants, such as the Pell grant, so tuition is not a major burden for me. I try my best to manage my scarce time and income through savings, budgeting, and credit cards.
Currently, the commute to my off-campus job affects my finances the most. My job is in Ashland, a town about 13 miles away from my apartment in Columbia, Mo. This means I am spending a considerable amount of my monthly income on gas. Though I earn $15/hr., $3.85 more than Missouri’s minimum wage, paying for gas every week forces me to reconsider my spending choices more than any other factor. At the start of this academic school year. paid about $25 per week for a full tank of gas. According to CNBC, the national average price of gas reached $4 this month. With inflated prices, I am spending an average of $50 per week to fill up my tank. This high weekly price was not something I accounted for when making my budget for the academic year. I get paid bi-weekly, but I still must buy gas on the weeks that I don’t get a paycheck.
Of course, gas is not the only monthly expense I spend my income on. I am partially responsible for my rent, while my parents pay the other half. I do split the cost of utilities such as water, internet, and electricity with three other roommates. Living with roommates is the most cost-effective way for me to afford housing, though it does come with the opportunity cost of not being able to live by myself. Being employed also helps me afford the current pricey grocery store trips. I try to stick to a strict budget because I know from experience how easy it is to spend more than you need to on food. This is even more necessary now during high inflation, which has affected my consumer surplus for certain goods. For example, avocados are a good that I have always been willing to spend extra money on. Recently, high demand and low supply caused the price of the avocados I usually buy each week to double. According to the Washington Post, the cost of avocados has increased 100 percent since last year. Due to this higher price, I decided that I won’t be buying avocados until the price goes back down.
Working in college also gives me the opportunity to improve my credit score through the careful use of credit cards. Since I work on a consistent basis and earn a decent wage, I made the choice to apply for the Discover Student Cash credit card. I use this card on groceries and gas, though I limit it to only one gas payment. One reason why this is a good credit card for college students is that the APR, or annual percentage rate, is 0% for the first 6 months of use. In addition to improving my credit score, I can earn up to 5% cash back.
Being able to use my credit card here and there, especially during non-pay weeks, is one of the greatest advantages of having a job right now.
Though working while attending college can be difficult at times, it is definitely
manageable and can be rewarding. Working allows me to participate in the economy and make informed decisions about how and where I chose to spend my income.
Bangura is a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.