This afternoon, something very simple happened: I gave a man a dollar, and in return, he gave me some perspective.
“It’s all the cash I have,” I said. “Sorry it’s not more.”
He looked at me like I had shot him.
My hand was still extended, but he stared on. “It’s just a dollar,” I thought. “Just take it.”
While he struggled to find the words he wanted to say, he finally smiled and said, “No, it’s perfect. Thank you.” After a few seconds of silence, we exchanged “Happy New Year’s” and I walked the three miles home from the store.
A dollar. Who cares that much about a dollar? I gave this some critical thought on my walk home and came to a very interesting conclusion: I do. I care very much.
At this point in my life, every dollar counts. Still without a car, my husband bikes to and from work and I bum rides from friends. We walk three miles back and forth to the store. We live paycheck to paycheck (since all our savings went into “fixing” our Impala). We can’t travel outside a 5 miles radius. We share one phone. We have bills to pay…
We are the infamous “poor college students”.
At university, we like to throw the word “poor” around: “I can’t go out tonight, I’m too poor” or “Ugh, shopping at WalMart makes me feel poor”. Those are just two examples! Truth be told, I’ve even used the “poor college student” excuse, too (most likely while trying to get out of doing something or while complaining about all the things I don’t have). Now, I am sick and tired of hearing about the trials and tribulations of the so called “poor college student”.
For four years, I’ve listened to fellow students complain about how their parents won’t get off their backs about getting a job, or how being independent at college makes them feel “poor” (to which I would add: “because Mommy and Daddy aren’t there to cater to their every financial want and need”). In my case, though my husband and I don’t have a lot of extra money to save, we do have money. For that reason, college students or otherwise, I think we need a serious reality check before we start using the word “poor” regarding ourselves.
Here’s something to think about: Most American adults will live below the poverty line (less than $25,000 per year) for at least one year of their lives. Most American adults! Not only that, but most of the students at my university who I’ve heard the most complaining from are the same students whose parents pay for them to go to college.
Given that I come across more than one panhandler on my way to and from the store each week, it seems delusional that anyone complains that the opportunity privilege of going to college somehow makes them “poor”. However, I would speculate that a decent percentage of the upperclassmen at our university do work and live in shared housing nearby, but that they all can afford to a) attend and stay at college, b) maintain transportation (cars, bikes, etc.), and c) make rent each month (and maybe have a surplus at the end!). Everyone complains about being poor, but then go out to dinner each week. (Note: There is a difference between being “poor” and being unable to afford something.)
It’s not that all college students have it easy. They just don’t understand how much easier they have it than some, and I am just as guilty.
I have a loving, hardworking husband. I have incredibly generous friends and family members. I have a beautiful home. Thanks to my dad’s tuition exchange, I have half the school debts I thought I would. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and that’s what matters. A dollar would not change a thing.
Fellow students, I’m not trying to harp on anyone’s life choices. I know that dipping below a standard of living you’ve always enjoyed will feel pretty crappy. My point is that, comparatively speaking, it’s not all that crappy. The fact that you are going to college is a privilege that not many people have. You will graduate with a degree that, alone, will give you 50% more opportunities than those without. When you get a free moment, take a look at the invisible people around you who make your life easier–your gas attendant, the person making your lunch, your cleaners–and imagine how they make ends meet (without parents who pay for their debts). It’s a choice that you make to feel disadvantaged.
So take my advice: Stop calling yourself “poor”. You are young, you have endless opportunities ahead of you, and chances are you are also very, very blessed.