Long days and longer nights
College students sacrifice free time, luxuries for extra cash
At 3:30 a.m. on a Saturday, some students are just making it in after a big night out. Grand Valley State University junior Nick Demaagd is just waking up to go work his nine and a half hour shift at the
Target in Grandville.
“I have to pay for tuition and housing,” Demaagd said. “I make a little more than minimum wage and
I’m still going to have to work about 30 hours a week just to pay rent.”
Demaagd isn’t the only one working to make his way through college. Olivia Jenison, a junior at GVSU,
works 13 hours a week as a dispatcher and office staff at the Grand Valley Police Department.
“You can’t survive on minimum wage,” Jenison said. “You just can’t. It is impossible. If you’re working
12 or 13 hours a week and think you can you can survive on $7.40, you’re brainwashed. You’re going
to need help somewhere, whether it’s from one’s parents or working another job.”
Alexandrea Cook, an assistant with GVSU Student Employment, said that many students have to
balance school and work to cover costs.
“On Grand Valley’s campus alone there are 3,500 student workers,” Cook said. “Then there are those
who work off campus, too. I probably work with 20 to 30 students every day who are looking for jobs.
It can be hard to balance work and school, but many students have to in order to pay bills.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15 to 19.9 percent of college undergraduates in Michigan
worked full time year-round in 2011.
“I actually like to work,” Jenison said. “I don’t like having to rely on my parents for everything. They do
help me, but there is a degree to which I want to be self-sufficient. It’s rewarding and in the future it’s
a good reference. It’d be hard to work more than 15 hours a week, though.”
Jenison has several tactics for saving money. She uses two bank accounts, each at a different bank:
one for her savings and one for spending. Every month she puts $100 from her paycheck into
spending and deposits the rest into savings to cover rent and utilities and to pay off her credit card.
“My boyfriend always asks why I don’t put them into two separate accounts, but at one bank,” Jenison
said. “It’s because it’s too easy to transfer money and to access. I need to know my savings is hard;
that it’s there.”
Second, Jenison only drives her car when it’s absolutely necessary.
“I utilize the bus,” Jenison said. “I have to go downtown every day for class. I couldn’t afford to drive. I
already use about a tank of gas every week. Every time I fill my tank it’s $40 to $50, which is half of
my spending money right there if you think about it.”
Jenison also sets a weekly budget and only allows herself to spend $20 on extra items like coffee.
“I’ve been trying this: I use my debit card to pay for groceries and then I give myself a set amount of
cash to spend on extras,” Jenison said. “You have to be conscious about what you’re spending. With a
credit card, it’s like money doesn’t have any value. With cash it obviously runs out so you aren’t
tossing money everywhere.”
Demaagd has a different tactic.
“I just don’t spend money,” he said. “I save it all. I have to make sure I have enough to cover things
that are absolutely necessary like rent or gas. Very rarely do I go out.”
Other students are turning to their iPhones for help. Kane Marciniak, a shift manager at Menna’s Joint,
uses Mint, an app that allows him to keep track of his finances.
“I use it to set a budget for gas and food, and it sends me an email when I get near my limit,”
Marciniak said. “It shows my balances and all my transactions. I use it constantly.”
Today, many undergraduates are forced to juggle family, school and work. Having a job isn’t an
option; it’s a necessity.
“To support the lifestyle I want to live, I need a job,” Marciniak said. “You just have to tell yourself to
sacrifice a little to do what you want.”