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The snacker generation

Photo Illustration by Terra Molengraff
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By Lucy Perkins, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 12, 2012

A floor-to-ceiling American flag constructed entirely of red, white and blue beer cans in the window of an apartment on South Forest Avenue gives passersby a visual representation of how much money its occupants have spent on alcohol.

How much money do you generally spend a week?


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At Urban Outfitters, the cash register rings up the multicolored purchases of a thin, long-haired beauty: $249.41.

A less eye-catching college expense sits on a shelf in the pantry of a house: marijuana. While most housemates tend to split the monthly bill when it comes to heat, electricity and Internet, these six housemates incorporate weed into their monthly bill, buying anywhere between $40 and $80 worth of marijuana every month for the house’s enjoyment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, a survey that provides information on consumers' spending habits, people in their 20s spend a disproportionate amount of their income on food and alcohol. College-aged students spend just over 7 percent of their income on eating out and 1.5 percent of their income on alcohol. In comparison, people aged 45 to 54 spend 3.8 percent of their income on eating out and .6 percent of their income on alcohol, according to the survey.

College acts as a time to put aside adult concerns. For those of us who grew up in the middle class, our parents will give us money if we need help, whether that be in the form of rent, utilities, cell phone bills, transportation or groceries. And because we're still dependent on our parents financially, our bank accounts are rarely empty.

According to Rackham student Jia Tolentino, a writer for the finance website The Billfold, in these four years of our undergraduate studies, we’re able to almost exclusively devote our time to doing well in school and having fun.

“But though that should be treasured, it is a pre-adult bubble without real-world responsibilities,” Tolentino said.

At some point, that bubble will pop. We’ll no longer be insulated by scholarships and constant parental support.

The question is: How will that influence our spending habits? How do we limit ourselves, and where do we splurge? After college is over and reality strikes, financial independence kicks in. Even if we make less money than our parents do, will we shift our responsibilities in the way we spend?

We need to eat, right?

On a Tuesday night at Chipotle, Engineering freshman Lindsay Podsiadlik focused on a steaming burrito at a table, calculating her next bite with precision.

“The only reason I’m eating out today is because it’s convenient,” she said.

Podsiadlik doesn’t usually eat out during the week, but that night, meetings and classes made her too busy to stand in line at the North Quad Dining Hall. She also eats at Buffalo Wild Wings with friends every Thursday as a fun weekly ritual.

Podsiadlik said the money she uses when she goes out to eat comes from her summer job, and she’s careful about how she spends it.

Last month, I asked four students to tell me how they spent their money every day for a week. As they reported their daily damage, the same trends occurred: most of the money was spent on food. The two seniors ate out four times a week because of convenience, not having the luxury of a meal plan. And though the two freshmen didn’t eat out as often because they lived in the residence halls, on the weekends they would spend between $15 and $20 on food. Less often, but more money per meal.

Engineering freshman Gregorio Lopez depends almost entirely on scholarships, so most of his tuition and room and board is paid for. LSA junior Zach Weber said most of his money came from a trust fund his parents set up when he was born, so his tuition is also taken care of. The only expense that these students were responsible for was what they ate from day to day.

My situation is similar, in that the bank account I use to pay for rent, tuition and food is partially supported by my parents. Though I’ve had a job since I was 14 and I saved most of my income for college, my parents cover what my savings and current income don't.

Like the four students I interviewed, I also spend the majority of my money on edibles: groceries, a lot of coffee, alcohol and going out to eat with friends. On average, I spend about $70 a week: $40 on groceries, $20 on coffee and $10 when I go out to eat with friends.

For me, food is easy to justify as a necessary cost because when I’m busy and don’t have time to cook, I still need to eat.

But the problem with monitoring my own spending comes from the fact that my debit cards draw from a pool of money that isn’t entirely my own. If I am tight on money, my parents will help me out.

For instance, I bought coffee four out of five weekdays the first week of November, which equaled the amount I spent on food when I ate out.