Feeling the pinch


As student finances become increasingly strained, Natalie Voorheis digs out her lunch box and leaves her wallet at home, spending a day in college without spending any money

I woke up late on Wednesday morning.

LunchboxI live in Ranelagh and usually take the number 11 bus into college, but this costs money and I was not about to fail at my challenge so early in the day so I arrived into my first tutorial of the day late. Fantastic(!).

I reflected that I was actually lucky that a half-hour’s walk got me into college, when so many students are forced to spend hours on crowded motor ways and commuting by train. Spending large amounts of money on petrol or train tickets everyday is a cost which, sadly, is simply unavoidable especially as rent prices in the area are so extortionate.

In preparation for my experiment I had made myself a packed lunch, rooting out my old lunchbox from years and years ago. The words ‘pink’ and ‘ponies’ only go so far in describing the tweenage vibes of this lunch box, which really has to be seen to be believed. Convincing myself that I might even be able to make the lunch box seem vaguely ironic and trendy, I made my own lunch for the first time in about a decade.

Most students simply don’t have the time to make their own lunch every morning –  and doing so often seems worthless as lunch time in college is, without doubt, a social time; one invariably ends up in a café with some friends. Nobody wants to look a cheapskate with a homemade bland ham sandwich when you could have sundried tomatoes with goat’s cheese wrapped fennel, rocket flavour pancetta dipped in gold dust and served on orphans’ hand kneaded foccacia for €16.95 from one of UCD’s fine eateries. Or you know, a baguette with too much butter, wet lettuce, rubbery chicken and mouldy cheese.

By one o’clock on Wednesday, I was absolutely starving and desperately in need of some caffeine. I had just started to text a few friends about lunch plans when I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see a guy I knew vaguely as a friend of a friend, and who – I must admit – is hot.

Before I knew what was happening, I was sitting in Starbucks with him. I reached down to get my ironically packaged homemade lunch from my bag, when I suddenly came back to my senses: my companion would run a mile if he thought I was the kind of person who brought a lunchbox like that into college. This, combined with my mounting desperate need for some caffeine – I am, like so many students, totally addicted to the stuff – led me to spend money for the only time that day in college when I bought a cup of coffee. I ate my packed lunch later with a few friends, who are still teasing me about the incident.

Wednesday night: the traditional low cost night out for students, where clubs slash their entry fees and heavily advertise their drinks promotions. What could be more student friendly? Personally, however, I’m lucky to have change from a fifty euro note left in my purse on a Thursday morning. But does this have to be the case – could I go a whole night without spending any money? I vowed to go out for a night without spending a cent – or at least as close to that as I could come.

My Wednesday night inevitably commenced with a pre-drinking session. I was determined to stick to my aim of spending absolutely nothing, meaning I was going to have to get myself something to drink without buying it – and as I live at home, my parents’ liquor cabinet was (unfortunately for them) my first port of call. For a student not living with their parents this would not have been an option; I know that if I had been in this situation I would have probably have caved and bought my drink. After all, drinking is the divine right of the student, correct?

Incalculable Jameson and Cokes later, my friends and I set off to walk into town. The prospect of a cheap night didn’t seem to bother anyone – until we hit Harcourt Street and saw the line for Crawdaddy. At this point there was no persuading my friends to continue walking towards Doyle’s or one of the free clubs such as Q-Bar and I was forced to pay a five euro entry fee – which, in my defence – is not much to get into a decent (ahem) club. I didn’t spend anything else throughout the night, as I was luckily able to turn on the charm and persuade a few guys to buy me drinks.

Sticking to my aim seemed horrible when I caught a whiff of the aroma wafting from Harcourt Diner that night. What I would have given for some fast food just then! But this, I told myself firmly, was the whole point of my experiment: to avoid this overpriced pitfall of every student’s night out. I rang my brother at home and told him to stick a few frozen pizzas into the oven. Inviting everyone back to mine, we started to walk home, ignoring the numerous puzzled taxi drivers who pulled up beside us. Being so close to town was a wonderful aid to saving money, but for many students the only route home is in a taxi late at night, and pricey fares are definitely not conducive to maintaining a student budget.

As I opened the front door we were greeted with the smell of hot pizza, and as I sat down in the warmth of my kitchen, kicking off my heels with a cup of tea in one hand, a slice of pizza in the other and my friends all around me, I reflected that this was one aspect of my night out which I would definitely be happy to relive.

The day, in hindsight, was somewhat a success. Although I had not fulfilled my aim of spending absolutely nothing for twenty-four hours, I had only bought one cup of coffee and paid a small entry fee into a club.

So can students spend a day on campus without reaching in to their pockets?

Eh, no.