(Originally printed on March 31st, 2015, in the Independent Florida Alligator’s Opinions Section)
Last week, I found myself counting out exactly $2.43 in an embarrassingly obvious way for a small cup of coffee from a local coffee shop. Why? First, because I really wanted that coffee. I’ve come to temporarily accept the fact that I’m addicted to coffee, or at least the crazed sugar-caffeine high that coffee graciously gives me. More importantly, however, I counted out the cents of my bill because I was down to about only $10 to my name, and I didn’t want to waste a single penny.
This seems like a quintessential thing about college: You’re going to be broke sometimes.
The idea has become so commonplace because of entertainment tropes we all can remember watching in ‘90s era films and sitcoms — a starving-artist type of university student, struggling to make his or her way in the world, scrimping for cash in such a cool, ultra-bohemian way that he or she also gets to somehow look completely fabulous doing it. As a bonus point for his wallet, at the end of an episode the lovable-but-broke student suddenly finds himself either landing a sudden windfall or magically downing a beer or two with friends at a bar before the ending credits roll, with no mention at all of previous money problems.
In current TV shows, one could argue there is an even larger amount of glorification in struggling to make ends meet in your early university and post-college years, such as HBO’s “Girls” or CBS’s aptly named sitcom, “2 Broke Girls.” These shows depict faintly theatrical money problems and unrealistic, sloppily formed solutions.
This is understandable, as no one really wants to watch a TV show where financial woes are a real struggle for characters. But it’s strange to think how regular the trope of a starving artist, a dedicated student scraping together his or her college funds or a friend couch-surfing because they can’t pay their lease has become in society.
In fact, the notion is often quite ridiculously romanticized. Having no funding for pursuits and passions is depicted on our televisions and in our avant-garde poetry books as though it’s a freeing expression of individuality. Essentially, many people seem to have the attitude, as unappetizing as this is, that it is hip to not have money. Perhaps you are “finding yourself.”
“This is what every college student has to go through at some point,” I say to myself. “It’s a rite of passage…”