In August a few of us were hanging out at my friend's apartment after the departmental picnic. We'd been watching silly game shows, playing cards, and catching up after a summer apart. Someone suggested we go get ice cream, but my friend decided not to go along. He told us he couldn't afford it. He was also sleeping on a thin foam pad on his floor because, he said, a mattress was too expensive. At first, I was baffled; he has the same scholarship that I do and had had a reasonably lucrative summer job. What was going on in his life that left him without $1.39 for an ice cream cone? I lent him an air mattress that I'd bought on clearance the year before and decided not to ask questions since his finances really weren't any of my business. Things became clearer when he bought a pricey ticket to fly out to see his girlfriend.
I admire his determination to spend money only on the things that enhance his life the most. People frequently assume that college students are broke, and that makes it easier to get in the habit of frugality. There is great value in being able to say, "I can't afford that," aloud. We prefer not to face the cold, hard reality that our resources are finite, and the availability of easy credit makes it possible to live as though they aren't, at least for a time. It's much more socially acceptable to spend money you don't have than to opt out of events that don't fit your budget, but being able to prioritize will serve you better in the long run.