Every Friday at 5:01 pm, I clocked out, grabbed my purse and rode the metro to the Sculpture Gardens. Jazz was calling. A free outdoor concert was held weekly during the summer on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. My friends and I would meet there after a long week at work and drink sangria while listening to jazz. We all pitched in for a pitcher and snacks to enjoy as the saxophones and drums played. This is what I remember when I think about my summer in Washington, D.C. — being with my friends and being frugal, but not stingy.
I found that I could have fun while on a budget. Luckily, my internship was paid, but in a big city, those paychecks did not go far. I stretched every dollar to make the most of my summer experience by planning meals before I wrote my grocery list, searching the internet for free events and activities at night or on the weekends, and organizing group outings to all the free museums and sights. During the week, my roommate and I made dinner together at home instead of going out to eat, sharing grocery bills and learning how to cook creatively with few ingredients. My friends in D.C. were equally frugal, but choose not to dwell on it by finding fun without spending a lot of money. Our frugality did not keep us from having fun and living large. Sometimes we felt constrained, but most of the time we felt like we were living to the fullest.
Now I am back in Hillsdale. I am a full-time college student and not a full-time employee. I do not get a paycheck every two weeks, but I also do not have the full expenses of living on my own. I am a senior, applying to jobs and preparing for the bills I will assume once I graduate. I will have loans; hopefully, I will also have a job. Whether I move back home or live on my own, whether I have a salary or am paid by the hour, I will still have to think about money, budgeting, and bills. Contrary to common opinion, money problems do not disappear with an increase of income. Unfortunately bills arise, and the bills I have today are only a fraction of the expenses it takes to provide for myself in the future. Transportation, insurance, health care, rent, utilities, loans, phone bill, 401(k), groceries, clothes, etc. are all examples of bills that we forget about while living under our parents’ provision. Living on your own is not cheap (warning: cleaning products and appliances are expensive). While our parents (and the bank) have provided for our living expenses, we still have money problems. We desire things we can’t afford like the iPhone 7, the bluetooth speaker, and the Spring Break trip to Puerto Rico.
My experiences from living on my own have challenged me to view money differently, but some of my friends do not have similar experiences. I have noticed that some view money differently and, unfortunately, it has affected my relationships. My observations have given me perspective on how money affects our lives in more ways than just our finances.
One of my friends at Hillsdale used to go on adventures with me. We would drive to Ann Arbor to study and drink Starbucks. But now she has a budget; she has a job; she has bills. The frustrations and constraints of money drain her. Her money problems loom over her like a cloud. I am saddened when she talks about finances or refuses invitations because she doesn’t have the money. I want to restore our friendship. Our conversations used to be about classes, friendships, ideas, and our similar interests. Now, our conversations revolve around money.
While there might be many factors for our estrangement, I think the perception of money was one of the root causes. Like most students, she is trying to prove her independence to her parents because she wants them to let her make her own choices, she wants them to be proud of her and not worry about her. While having a budget, bills paid for, and finances in order are responsible and necessary parts of life, at times, it seems money has become an end, not a means.
These two personal experiences reveal different views of money. In DC and Hillsdale, the constraints are the same: college students who don’t have a lot of money. In DC, our financial prudence forced us to be creative and find activities that didn’t require an exorbitant amount of money. In Hillsdale, we can apply the same attitude. Yes, we need to pay rent and buy groceries. However, we can also learn that, by itself, money cannot increase happiness, buy love and friendship, or alleviate worries or stress. Whenever we get a paycheck or birthday money from our grandparents, all our troubles will not miraculously disappear. We do not wish for money because it looks nice in our wallets. Money should be desired for what can be gained on account of it. Money is only useful when it is spent. It can be used towards worthy ends, such as conveniences, experiences, celebrations, gifts, and luxuries that increase our experiences and quality of life. Spending money wisely towards good ends can contribute to a better life. Our experiences will increase our happiness. Having these experiences with others builds relationships and is the structure for our lives. These ends are worth pursuing, instead of the possession of money. Instead of talking about how we need more money, we should talk about what we are doing with our money. Money does not stay in our pockets unused, but is spent on things that we value and enjoy.
Changing our perception of money from an end to a means decreases anxiety, saves relationships, and contributes to happiness. We want to live well by having full, happy lives surrounded by the people we love and cherish. Viewing money not as a way to buy a care-free, happy life, but as a means to having experiences with others can increase happiness and lead to less stress and worry. We want to be both financially and socially responsible. We want to spend our money, not hold onto it. We want to spend it well on both necessities and extraneous goods. At Hillsdale, there exist free activities and events available for students. One of my favorite memories here was when my friends and I rented movies from the library and watched them in the dorm lobby while eating excessive amounts of popcorn. I rave about the quality of the concerts and plays and sports games that only require a student ID. These opportunities are experiences wanting to be had in the company of both the broke and the well-off student. Relationships are built by time well-spent regardless of how much money is spent. Use your money, but use it well.
Mackenzie Dickhudt is a senior studying economics.