Adjusting to life at Penn was a very difficult process. Many people, especially Penn students with whom I have interacted , assume that because I am on financial aid, I have everything I need to survive on Penn’s campus. These people forget to account for things like food, whether you are on a meal plan or not, travel expenses like cab fare or trolley fare, house expenses like having enough money to buy cleaning supplies and expenses for going out with friends — if we even have enough money for that.
And to make matters worse, some of these people do not even want to understand. Every time I try to explain that I do not have enough money to do certain things, they either ignore me or look at me with a very disgusted face.
These are just some of the issues that I have encountered since I arrived at Penn from a low-income neighborhood in the Bronx, and I am glad to say that I am living proof that someone from my background can make it. That does not mean, however, that I have stopped struggling or am in a place where I am content with my financial situation.
Because let’s be honest — when I go back to the Bronx, I still have to help put food on the table and ensure that I am not a burden to my mother during summer, spring or winter breaks. So, believe me, I am constantly adjusting and trying to navigate this huge, wealthy space that was not made for someone like me.
I guess I just find ways to make it a little easier for myself. And I hope that by reading about some of the resources I used to better my situation, students who are low-income will take advantage of some of these tools or just feel like there is something that they can do.
Let me start with saving money, because I know that that is a huge problem in low-income communities like mine. The issue is not that we do not try to save, it’s that there are so many other expenses that pile up, which in turn leads us to prioritize those costs instead of saving up. How can you look to the future if you’ve got a light bill to pay now?
One of the main ways I save is through the refund check that Penn gives me. For example, if I know that I am going back home for the summer, I save a good chunk of my check and put it in a savings account that I do not touch. I put my savings in a completely different bank where I cannot have access to it unless I physically go downtown to the bank to withdraw my money. This keeps me disciplined because I do not want to have to go all the way downtown to the bank to cash $40 because I did not budget properly for myself.
Next, I budget myself accordingly based on my weekly spending habits. I use an app called Mint that is linked to my bank accounts, tracks what I spend and puts them into little categories/budgets for me. This app also holds me accountable because I know that I have to adjust my budget based on what I spend and if I spent too much, Mint will put my business on blast for me to see.
Lastly, I use some of the physical resources at Penn to help me. Penn’s First-Generation, Low-Income Program in the Greenfield Intercultural Center is a great place to get your textbooks for free if you are a low-income first-generation student. This center has helped me a lot because I know damn well that I could not pay for all of my textbooks without missing a meal or not having toilet paper.
I know that this is not an abundance of resources and that there are still going to be obstacles that low-income students must overcome. But I hope this provides a different way of looking at some of the situations that students like me face. Yes, being low-income is tough, but it is not the end-all, be-all. There are resources, myself and other peers included, that can help, and I hope you feel comfortable enough to use them.
JAMES FISHER is a College sophomore from the Bronx, N.Y., studying communication. “Spilling the Real Tea” usually appears every other Thursday.
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