How to: Penny-pinch

Can I pay my tuition in hugs?

Sam Johnson

More stories from Sam Johnson

The Tator
December 13, 2022

Photo by submitted

Before our oasis arrives, I have some tips to ensure your summer is as enjoyable as possible.

Of all the generalizations made about college students, one seems to be more universal than the rest: we’re broke.

I’ve realized that it’s not enough to cook at home, avoid unnecessary purchases and share streaming services — we need to go above and beyond.

I may be running low on cash, but if there’s one thing I’ll never run low on, it’s innovative (some say terrible) ideas.


Shopping for clothes is expensive. You may be thinking of thrifting, but even that adds up.

You know what’s really cheap? Bedsheets. Wrap yourself in a bedsheet and live like it’s a toga party 24/7 for a cheap outfit and conversation piece. Nobody needs a top sheet anyway.

In the winter, simply swap that bedsheet for a quilt or sleeping bag for affordable insulation.

Now that we’ve got the torso covered — pun intended, I’m a visionary — it’s time to think about the feet.

In the warmer seasons, no shoes, they’re for cowards and rich people. 

Plus you won’t be allowed service in most establishments if you don’t wear shoes — just another opportunity for cutting costs.

Once the snow starts falling, however, you might want some footwear.

You might get lucky and find a pair of shoes hanging from a telephone wire, but if not, you have to get creative.

Throw pillows make a serviceable — and warm — pair of shoes.

Numerous pairs of socks, a garbage bag and duct tape can also be assembled into a working pair of waterproof sneakers in a pinch. 

Now it’s time to put your best foot forward towards saving (like I said, a visionary).


Rent and utilities are another added expense that costs a pretty penny.

You can virtually eliminate almost all of these by living on campus. If you’re paying school with loans, you can pay it back when you’re raking in cash with your creative writing degree. Just toss some loan money at it and worry about it later.

If you can’t do that, there are other options for cost-effective living. 

Rent, thankfully, is pretty cheap in Eau Claire. With just a bit of creative problem solving, utilities can be nearly eliminated.

Wifi is an easy one, just go to campus when you need it. 

Water is no problem. It’s called a river, and it’s free.

Heat and electricity are pretty unavoidable in Wisconsin, but they can be made cheaper if you aren’t scared of the dark and are okay with shivering indoors.


Unfortunately, you need sustenance.

The foraging club on campus can help with that. There are plenty of nutritious and edible snacks available in nearby forests. If it’s good enough for squirrels, it’s good enough for you.

Another idea — I think is some of my best work — is photosynthesis. All you need is dirt, water and sunshine. Plants do it, and they don’t even have brains. How hard can it be?


Now that we’ve got you clothed, fed and sheltered, you might want to go places from time to time. High gas prices are making driving less feasible, so it’s time to try other options.

Horses. I haven’t heard a word about high hay prices, so trade that used car for a horse and enjoy the savings. You might even be able to afford a cowboy hat.

Another option comes from “The Flintstones.” Sell the engine of your car for spare parts, cut a hole in the floor and use those legs to get where you need to go. It’s a great workout and a great deal.


With all these savings, you might finally have a few extra bucks to have some fun. If not, I’ve got some alternatives.

Books are an ancient form of storytelling that utilize the written word. Some of them even have pictures. They can be found for free at libraries — which are kind of like a free Blockbuster for books.

Shopping carts are a free fun ride in parking lots all over town — except Aldi.

Homework is another option. I hear it can even be started ahead of time.

Some might find these ideas ridiculous, but guess what else was once considered ridiculous: Silly Bandz. The inventor of them is worth $15 million, I bet you’re feeling silly now.

With your newfound financial security, all you have to worry about is school and having a social life — a potentially challenging endeavor now that you’re a plant in a toga on a horse.

Johnson can be reached at [email protected].