My brother recently turned 18, and having left school in year 12 to start a builders apprenticeship, he seems to be doing pretty well for himself. He’s got a car, a PC (just for gaming) and buys large tubs of popcorn when we go to see movies. In my case, limping through the third year of my arts degree, my bank account has only reduced in size. The average university schedule takes up 40 hours of the week, which means every week there are 40 hours you can’t be compensated for. To combat this, I’ve picked up extra part-time jobs through Student Job Search. I also use my high school ID to pay child prices on Auckland Transport, and hit up Savemart to supply my endless need for 21st outfits. Thanks to this, I sometimes get to see movies on $5 Wednesdays at Academy Cinemas. If I want popcorn, I just lick it off the floor.
It’s pretty easy to fall into a self-pitying hole at uni. Gone are the high school days of blowing paychecks at the mall. Scrolling through Instagram, everyone seems to be in Bali or Queenstown, drinking and partying with no care in the world. Chugging Scrumpies, before hitting up Cassette for RNB night, seems a little bit lame in comparison. It’s never fun to pay an Uber fare and check up on your bank balance the next morning, while braggy Snapchats flow in from a Love Island-esque villa. Even your parents start to go away, hitting up Oz, able to escape Auckland since you aren’t entirely draining their bank accounts anymore. As you continue to grab snacks from Munchy, eat lunch from food trucks and engage in nights out in town, the need for a budget become more and more apparent. The treat-yo-self days are no longer an option for every day.
Budgeting, when you barely ever have an income, is upsetting. You have to look honestly at your spending and determine if you are making smart decisions. Seeing that your phone bill, HOP card, groceries, internet and other living expenses take up most of your weekly paycheck is confronting. When only $10 or $20 bucks is left over for savings, the hope of a holiday is really far off. Heading online for tips is equally painful. Every guide tells you to stop buying takeaway coffees and cook dinner at home more. As if that’s something you haven’t been doing? Still, allocating time to make up a budget can be helpful. You can see if you’re sitting at a deficit each month, and evaluate areas you could reduce spending. However, making and checking up on a budget takes time away from your already busy week. I’d just LOVE to take a break from essays and admin to stare at a spreadsheet for a couple hours. At this point in semester, I’d prefer to live in pure ignorance.
Remember when you were a kid, and this stuff was easier? Kashin the ASB elephant taught you everything you needed to know. Your bank account sat two metres from your bed, in a piggy bank, which you could empty on a single trip to the dairy. Perhaps in mourning of those simpler times, uni students constantly joke about money, and their lack of it. The #relatable jokes circulated amongst our peers can occasionally be reassuring. Starter pack memes, featuring ramen noodles and the Maccas app, are essentially confessions from digital support groups. Joking about being broke, while struggling to save any money, is cathartic. Knowing other students are in the same boat, checking for student prices in every café, restaurant and clothing shop, makes you feel normal.
However, our loud-spoken honesty is also completely naturalising the idea of our situation to those outside of the conversation. It’s completely normalised the cultural expectation that uni students should be struggling. It seems that living off minimum wage, and stressing about your ability to live without Studylink, is an integral part of student life. In reality, we know student finances and the consequences of student debt offer crippling stress to young people. Viral broke jokes and memes are a method of communicating sympathy within student communities, and they’re not supposed to reassure people that we understand the place of students in this economy.
While this dialogue continues, however, maybe make a budget? At least put money aside for some veggies. I’m not a health student, but I’m pretty confident having ramen for breakfast is not the healthiest of options.