College students minimize costs by sacrificing health, future investments

Joe Helmer at MU's Plaza 900 Dinning Hall Thursday, July 15, 2015. Helmer has worked at the dining hall since just before winter break. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Joe Helmer at MU’s Plaza 900 Dinning Hall Thursday, July 15, 2015. Helmer has worked at the dining hall since just before winter break. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Story written by Nick Kelly.

COLUMBIA — Cici Jones did everything she could to reduce her apartment’s $150 monthly electrical bill.

She slept with two to three comforters so she didn’t need to turn on the heat until the winter became unbearably cold. Jones also used lamps instead of ceiling lights for lighting.

Through her efforts, Jones reduced her monthly electrical bill to $70, which was the only way she could afford to live in her apartment.

“It came to the point where I realized that I would need to make extreme sacrifice to pay the bills,” Jones said.

Jones’ situation is common among college students who become frugal not because they want to — but because they have to.

Jones, a senior communications major at MU, works two jobs year-round and sometimes three jobs: at Plaza 900 Dining Hall, a call center and a work-study job.

Because of her busy schedule that keeps her away from home from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., her eating schedule suffers.

“I can’t eat healthy often,” she said. “I might eat one time a day and not till 10 or 11 (a.m.).”

She said she eats twice a day, if she is lucky.

Eating healthy also wasn’t much of an option for Mackenzie Rook, an MU senior history major. Her meals often consisted of food she found at fraternity parties, such as fruit rollups. Rook also frequently ate macaroni and cheese because of its convenience and how long she could make it last.

“It’s good the first time you reheat it,” Rook said. “It’s not good the second time. Then you start looking at your life and thinking, ‘Is this really worth it?’”

Her eating habits, which also included eating rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, were among the reasons she moved back in with her parents.

She didn’t like her living situation.

During her first year of college, Rook wanted to live in the dorm. Then, she moved to an apartment, thinking the move would solve everything.

She returned to her parents’ home by Thanksgiving of her sophomore year and has lived there since.

The reason for the frequent moving?

Rook didn’t like being poor and realized she lacked money for basic items such as toilet paper and detergent. She never bought items such as those before because her parents always provided them for her and her brother, Spenser, a sophomore physics major at MU.

Add on rent and sorority dues, and Rook quickly found out sometimes she wouldn’t have enough money for the basics.

“I would have zero dollars and still need toilet paper,” Rook said.

Rook’s desperation ultimately forced her to become a bit of a thief.

“I’d come home and steal toilet paper out of my house,” Rook said. “I would bring my backpack home and pretend to do homework in a quiet spot, but I’d actually steal toilet paper.”

When Rook didn’t rob the family toilet paper stash, she found a new appreciation for the food in her house.

“She stood at (our) pantry and said, ‘There’s so much food,’” said Mary Rook, her mother.

From Goldfish crackers to pretzels and ice cream, MacKenzie Rook couldn’t help but look at her parents’ kitchen in awe.

“(Seeing) all the food I didn’t pay for was so beautiful,” she said.

Through her first three years of college, MacKenzie Rook found a new appreciation for everyday necessities. She’s not the only one to experience a shift in monetary mindset.

If given several thousand dollars a year ago, Joe Helmer would have bought a new car. An MU sophomore mathematics major, Helmer would prefer to invest that money because of his new fears.

“I’m afraid of running out of money,” Helmer said. “(I’m also afraid of) not being able to buy food and not being able to afford the rest of my education.”

Establishing Missouri residency is one way some MU students can afford their education. Through the program, out-of-state students pay about $25,500 per year, according to MU.

It comes with more sacrifice for out-of-state students.

They are required to stay in Missouri for all but 14 days from the end of the spring semester to the beginning of the fall semester, according to MU residency requirements. Out-of-state costs are about $40,000 per year.

Forced to stay in Missouri to get in-state tuition, Minnesota native Micah Schiff questions whether it is worth it.

“It’s really hard to stay away,” Schiff said. “Staying here for the summer, I didn’t get to see my friends back home.”

Sacrifice is a common theme among college students, but it is also prevalent for their parents.

Mary Rook and her husband, Terry, moved to a smaller house when their two children went off to college. The Rooks have four cars, each more than 10 years old and with more than 100,000 miles.

Traveling is also less frequent for the Rooks, who typically take at most one family trip a year.

Despite the changes that come with having two children in college, Mary Rook appreciates what she has.

“We do have four cars, we do run the air conditioner and we do have heat,” she said.

Although Mackenzie Rook moved in to her parents’ home during college, Cici Jones will move in with her parents once she graduates next year because it eliminates her need to worry about bills.

Before she went to college, Jones never thought she would move back home, but she realizes it is her best option.

“I definitely never wanted to go back to live with my parents, but I know it would be the most cost efficient,” she said.

Similar to the experience of reducing her electrical bill, Jones realizes that she will need a new approach when handling her money — she won’t get to do what she wants; she will do what she has to.

“The cost of college in general has changed everything,” Jones said.


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