Dear Class of 2026,
Being a carefree college student is expensive. In a world that asks students to read romantic poetry and forget materialism, budgeting seems banal, and if you come from a small town, slipping into cafes and noodle bars feels thrillingly urbane. Unless you’re actually the heir to an earldom, however, cosplaying aristocracy can be dangerous. I learned this lesson last week when I attempted to buy a guide to Chinese architecture from Grey Matter Books and the cash register rejected my debit card — funds that were supposed to last me an entire year had disappeared one month early. Here are some of the habits that led to my bankruptcy and ways you can avoid the same fate.
- Coffee Breaks
At Yale, frequenting a select group of overpriced cafes is an unquestioned ritual. First dates, group study sessions and adviser meetings all converge at “Koffee with a K.” Students adopt coffee houses as personality traits and ask, “are you an Atticus or a Book Trader person?” It’s easy to see Blue State as an extension of campus and, last fall, I dropped 20 dollars there every week. This was foolish; while they might be the best spot for people watching, there’s no reason to visit an off-campus cafe for your daily caffeine fix.
If you care more about an energy boost than vanilla undertones, the dining hall “Sumatra Blend,” will just about suffice. During the hours Yale Dining is closed, the lobby of the Graduate Hotel has similar cafeteria coffee and is open to the public 24/7. When you want to actually taste your caffeine fix, Steep, the Silliman Acorn, the Underground and Benjamin Franklin’s “Beanjamin” all offer decent drip coffee for less than two dollars. If you’re further up Science Hill and remember to bring a mug, you can fill it up at Kroon Hall’s “BYO Cafe” for a single buck. And, if you really are a joe aficionado looking for notes of smoke and raspberry, pack an AeroPress for your dorm. Blue State was never known for its flavor.
As a first-year in Directed Studies, I spent over 500 dollars on fraying paperbacks from abebooks.com. This sum could have bought me an iPad or, in other words, two economics textbooks. Although it’s rumored that some STEM courses pass precious folders of PDFs down the generations, the material required for most humanities courses can’t be found for free online. Even if they’re dog-eared and rented, the price of eight semester’s worth of books is extravagant. Instead of making the Yale Bookstore your first stop after move-in, remember to check the library.
My courses assigned roughly a dozen books this semester but I only purchased one of them. I can find most of what I need on the shelves of Bass or Sterling and, when I don’t want to rummage through the stacks, I ask for books to be delivered to the main floor. If the university doesn’t have a physical copy of a book, they almost always have a virtual one through Overdrive, Orbis or Internet Archive. Some popular books can’t be taken out of the library so I read them while sitting in the library and look on with a friend during class. When a biography I needed didn’t appear in Yale’s catalog earlier this year, I despaired for a moment; then, I realized I could request an interlibrary loan. The library is neither a hidden gem nor a panacea; everyone knows about its resources and there’s always the risk that someone else has checked out the title you need. But many students hesitate to borrow school books for a more sentimental reason: “I’ll look back on them when I’m older.” I’m no longer so naive. If you fall in love with a novel, you can buy it afterward. A book can only be reread, however, if it’s been read a first time.
You’re probably excited to rebrand before school starts, but too much sartorial planning can backfire. After emerging from Zoom school, I assumed it would be uncouth to wear jeans and hiking boots to class. I bought an army of new sweaters and chinos, and I put a pair of boatshoes into my suitcase. Without any arch support or water resistance, however, my Sperrys were ill equipped for walks up Hillhouse in the rain. The pants I thought would blend in at parties ended up as tequila-stained casualties, and I had nothing casual to wear for late night lounging in my suite. For most of the fall semester, I was wet and overdressed.
Posts about “dressing for college on a budget” belong in a different corner of the internet, but a few things are common sense. Don’t be that first-year who buys a collection of “Y” sweatshirts; everyone knows where we go to school. In order to avoid blowing your budget early, buy clothes gradually so you can adapt to the corners of Yale you settle into. Maybe you’ll join a club that requires you to wear a suit every week or maybe you develop an itch for shawl collar cardigans after seeing one on a friend. When you do decide to add something to your closet, Amazon is almost always the best place to find what you’re looking for. But don’t be afraid to Uber to the North Haven Target; where else can you simultaneously restock your Tide PODS and bond with your friends? And finally, forget everything your mother told you about separating darks from whites and delicates from indelicates. In college, there is a simpler rule: fill the laundry machines as much as you can without breaking them.
When I first came to Yale, my only sources of sustenance were Yale Hospitality and a stash of Kashi bars I brought from home. Restaurants with more than two dollar signs on Yelp were for “special occasions,” and sandwiches from GHeav were emergencies reserved for all-nighters. But making friends means that every weekend people invite you to House of Naan for their birthday dinner or ask to catch up over ice cream. Writing papers on Thursday nights becomes a habit, and, so too, does a 3 a.m. panini break. You don’t have to be part of the Harvest supper club to spend a concerning amount of money eating out.
The first step to curbing Junzi-dependency is taking advantage of the dining halls. Instead of automatically heading to dinner when I get out of class at five-fifteen, I’ll wait so that I don’t eat too early and get hungry before bed. And, now that Yale has relaxed restrictions on to-go boxes, I prepare for late nights by taking a burger or slice of pizza from the Branford dining hall after dinner. It would be sad to skip a friend’s birthday meal, sure, but there’s no shame in eating ahead of time and only ordering an appetizer.
Outside of dining hours, the easiest path to a free meal is through your email. Clubs offering Mamouns in desperation is a meme, but most students don’t realize just how many events feature food on a daily basis. Companies like Bain host events at the Omni with canapes. The cultural centers and colloquia place appetizers outside their entrance. Graduate affiliates and heads of colleges host dinners and study breaks. It doesn’t matter if you’re actually interested in someone’s event; smile at them, and enjoy free food and new friends.