April 22, 2024

A Cheapskate’s Guide to Navigating Cornell

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Being on a college campus as big as Cornell’s can be overwhelming – and pricey. Between paying for Ithaca’s insane rent, and groceries alone, without even factoring in the inevitable extra expenses that pop up in student life, the summer and semester’s earnings can evaporate into the Ithaca humidity much faster than you might like.

The Cornell experience is, simply put, a ridiculously expensive one, and it can feel exhausting when there is little financial assistance or leeway on campus — no reasonably priced on-campus dining options, no free laundry or gyms like other universities have, rent prices comparable to major American cities, a PE requirement that somehow costs extra on top of an already staggering tuition sticker price? 

This is my call to all my fellow students who are anxiously waiting for FAFSA to get it together this year. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that I am the Nancy Drew of locating free stuff on campus. I’m here, and I want to share what I’ve learned over the years.

First, let’s talk books. As an Literatures in English major, I am presented with roughly 10 titles minimum per semester that I am expected to have purchased from the Cornell Store. Even with the CAMP Program, I would be paying $450 a year on books that I’m likely only going to read once.

My best friend is the Cornell Library website. I highly recommend looking at the syllabi of your courses as soon as they are posted to Canvas at the start of each semester. Chances are, most of the titles are available to be checked out. If not, though, Cornell subscribes to BorrowDirect, an interlibrary loaning system, where you can request books or scans of materials you need and they will be delivered to you either electronically or for free pickup at a Cornell library. With this tactic, I have not paid for books since my freshman fall first-year writing seminar. 

Especially while living off campus now as a junior, it’s apparent that grocery prices are gouged at all convenient stores in Collegetown. Without a car, it can be a logistical nightmare to get to Tops or P&C Fresh, which I’ve found to be some of the most affordable options near campus. Take it from someone who knows: it’s simply not pretty biking up East Buffalo with all your groceries or getting abandoned in Lansing during a TCAT shortage.

I present to you: Anabel’s Grocery, a beacon of light amidst a hellscape of Big Red Bucks eateries. Anabel’s is located in Anabel Taylor Hall and has fresh produce, bulk snacks and other essential meal items for actual co-op prices. They also accept SNAP benefits.

It’s frustrating to have to go all the way home for food when you’re trying to have a productive on-campus day, but tempting when the food and coffee on Central are incredibly expensive for no good reason. This can be an added stressor in a day full of responsibilities. One hack I’ve developed is ordering an iced coffee at Zeus (one of the cheapest options, and fairly delicious) in a reusable cup, a sustainability initiative incentivized by charging less than for a single-use cardboard cup. If you’re feeling really in a pinch, you can also bring your own tea bags to campus and fill up with hot water using Zeus’ handy tap.

I will also say that if you camp out at Zeus around closing/after hours, you may be able to snag some leftovers from the kitchen staff. And it’s likely there will be some sort of visiting speaker reception in the Klarman Atrium, which will be catered with complimentary refreshments.  

I know as college students our inboxes are all inundated and that it can be vastly time-consuming to scour emails for mention of attractive opportunities. Yet, by subscribing to the listservs of various campus centers and clubs, I find news of many free, catered events on campus. Clubs often have food tastings or speaker receptions, and it’s always enjoyable to attend a talk by an expert while also fueling your body for a night of on-campus study. 

Especially if you identify with a demographic that is represented by the Centers for Student Equity, Empowerment, and Belonging on campus, check out their sites for events and other opportunities for support.

I’ve discovered that signing up for on-campus research studies is another way of supplementing my semester income. Various campus labs are seeking participants, and being part of eligible studies often yields a higher-than-minimum-wage hourly payment, at least in my experience.

If you’re ever in Ithaca at the beginning of O-week, wait in line at the Dump & Run — you can find a lot of clothing in really great condition, as well as useful household items, purely because of how much Cornellians discard at the end of each academic year. Not only is it cost effective, but it’s also a sustainable way to find new clothing.

Also, asking for financial assistance on campus and being your own advocate is so important. The more time I spend at Cornell, the more apparent it is to me that students are just numbers here: with Cornell’s campus size, it is so easy to get swept up in the crowd, and unfortunately, it seems Cornell operates with the mindset that individual student success isn’t something they should invest in because, frankly, they don’t need to: the university knows demand for an Ivy-League education will always allow them to just replace a student who fails out or can’t keep up financially. 

I know that just telling someone to advocate for themself can be privileged advice, and that

socially, this can be a difficult thing to do, especially given power dynamics (both perceived and actual). However, I just want to provide a bit of empowerment and encouragement to those students who may be struggling, as I have also seen time and time again that the university won’t care if we don’t reach out and advocate for ourselves. 

Even though it’s probably in my best interest to keep my frugalities to myself, I always appreciated the advice of older Cornellians who had learned the ropes of campus and were willing to share their advice with me. I’m not going to gate-keep tips that have saved me money over the years and help uphold a system that only helps the University make more money for itself.

Carlin Reyen is a third year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. Carlin can be reached at [email protected].