I am the spawn of super couponers. My family not only brings several months of coupons with them to the grocery store, but they also — after perusing all the sale papers — hit up to four other grocery stores in a single shopping run to get the best deals at all of them. We’re the kind of people who regular shoppers hate because if you get behind us in the checkout line you’re probably going to be stuck there a while. The Deans are also the kind of family who swipe extra ketchup packets and napkins from fast food places. I honestly don’t think we’ve bought napkins in years.
So basically it’s no surprise that I jumped on the free stuff ferris wheel here on the Hill. Free pizza? Hell yeah I’ll go to your seminar on engineering thingamajigs. Are those snickerdoodles? Why yes, I’m potentially interested in joining the marbles club. Would those bottle openers on your table happen to be free? Thanks a ton, because you can never have too many of those. Needless to say, I like to pop in to career fairs. Who even buys pens anymore?
And it gets worse. I have to admit that I have enough underwear to go five weeks without doing laundry, and I wake up every morning to some ridiculous Gannett swine flu posters adorning my walls. My personal record for smuggling food out of a single dining hall is 15 bananas (they were for a chocolate fountain that ended up exploding), and I’m not above sneaking in Tupperware.
By no means am I the weirdest or cheapest cheapskate on campus. I’ve heard stories of people getting banned from Libe Café for bringing their own tea bags but not paying for hot water and honey, going out to buy underwear to avoid doing laundry, and making friends with freshmen with the primary purpose of capitalizing on their guest swipes.
Why do students go to such great lengths to avoid spending a lot of or any money? I’ve come up with three reasons.
The first being that you — like me — are genuinely broke a good portion of the time. Assuming that I get a full 40-hour paycheck, minus my car payment, gas, groceries and utilities, I make around $20 a month. For those of you who don’t have cars, pretend more than half your income goes toward your credit card or phone bill or something and maybe then you’ll understand. Food is another thing that is super expensive. Basically I’ve learned that I can’t eat at Trillium or Ivy Room as often as I’d like because spending $7 on a meal six times a week isn’t cheap and I don’t have BRBs. Hence my willingness to mooch off of various promotional events that feed me while keeping my checking account out of the red, and basically just being cheap in general.
There’s also the possibility that you glean a sort of pride from outsmarting the system. I certainly felt a sense of triumph when, over the summer, my coworker and I managed to go to four different 7-Elevens on Free Slurpee Day.
The third reason might be that thriftiness, in the classical sense, is very sustainable. The idea of classical thriftiness focuses less on “Why should I pay for it when I can get it for free?” and more on “Why should I buy a new expensive thing when I can get an equally functional version for much cheaper?” Buying used goods or borrowing large and otherwise expensive things (i.e. vacuums) from friends combines living frugally with environmental conscientiousness.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to get things for cheap or nothing at all, realize that it’s not always worth it. In my family’s case, we probably spend more on the gas that it takes to drive between grocery stores than we save in coupons. In a free food situation, it depends on whether or not you could’ve spent that time sitting in a seminar on robots and rocketships studying for the GRE or something otherwise more beneficial to your life.
Yes, saving money is economically savvy, but only up to the point where the benefits exceed the costs. I mean really, the $1.55 it will cost you to wash your underwear (you can even hang them up to dry) is not worth the trip to Target to buy a $6 pack of undies. I’m no AEM major, but if you have the math skills of a fourth grader you could probably figure this out for yourself. With that in mind, go wash you tighty-whities and make sure to guard your pens next time you’re tabling on Ho Plaza.
Sam Dean is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Casual WTFery appears alternate Thursdays this semester.