UCLA’s campus sits in the heart of the West L.A. and Santa Monica area, notorious for its high costs in property, food, gas and just general living. Also bordering Beverly Hills and other wealth neighbors, a bunch of UCLA students come from rich families who seem to supply them with endless buckets of money. In the face of that, it challenges us other students to keep to our budgets in mind constantly, especially when the smell of coffee floats through the air after long nights spent studying and writing papers.
Take a peek at week-long UCLA student budget, trying to balance work and play.
How do you pay your tuition and fees?
My parents thankfully cover my tuition and they let me live a pretty carefree college life. They never really pressure about me about money, but they always taught me to stay mindful about my expenses. My father has an M.B.A. and my mother works as an accountant, so they definitely impressed on me to value every dollar and to always reuse, save or fix my belongings before buying new ones. My dad taught me to live and die by the motto, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately, I receive no financial aid, so I feel every dollar I put into my college tuition. I push myself incredibly hard academics-wise so I can get in and get out in four years instead of dragging it out (and paying more tuition) more than I have to.
What are your monthly expenses?
I live in a notoriously expensive part of L.A. (UCLA’s location doesn’t make it easy on us students), the West L.A. or Santa Monica area. UCLA also has an inflated student population, and its surrounding neighborhood and Westwood house an alarming number of students in a rather small radius. Because of that, cheap rent around here starts high. Living in a two-bedroom two-bath apartment, I pay $775 a month, minus utilities. With utilities like wifi, gas and electricity it costs around $810, and people consider it cheap.
Other than rent, I try to cook as much as possible, though this winter I haven’t cooked as often as I used to in the fall. Shopping mainly at Trader Joe’s and Target, every two weeks I usually spend around $50 on groceries. I do own a car, but I don’t drive it often so I get gas for it maybe once a month, if that. Gas these days costs a pretty penny, and recently I’ve paid around $80 each time I fill up the tank. Most days just going to and from school, I take the free campus bus, so it costs me nothing.
How do you pay your expenses?
The university reserves on-campus jobs for students with work-study. Work-study students receive their financial aid from their paychecks by working, so as a student who doesn’t receive financial aid, they discouraged me to apply. Trust me, I tried, they said no. I rely on my parents for all my expenses, but of course I feel bad leeching off of them day and night. I try not to spend too much money per month.
What are your budgeting plans for after graduation?
After graduation, I definitely want to find a paying job to finally start pulling my weight in my family. I also plan to move home after graduation, so that will definitely save me some money. In terms of what I want to save for: graduate school tuition. If I decide to get a master’s degree, it usually costs around $60,000 a year, definitely not a sum to laugh at. If I decide to get a doctorate degree (a real possibility), since universities consider doctoral students as veering more towards the faculty side than the student side of the spectrum, they tend to pay for part of the tuition though most likely not all of it. Either way I know I want to advance my education, and I need to start saving money towards that goal as soon as possible.
How did you spend your money last week?
Monday February 4
I have struggled with acne since I turned 17, and my face still looks like that of a prepubescent 13-year-old. After Chinese New Year dinner with my relatives on Sunday, my cousin recommended a brand he uses that really cleared up his skin. Betting on the fact that the same blood runs through our veins, I purchased some skincare from the brand he told me about.
$32.98 UNT skincare
Tuesday February 5
I just went to and from school and ate food I cooked for myself. For lunch I tend to eat quinoa and some form of stir-fried vegetable. For dinner, I like to eat frozen food, just to avoid eating the exact same thing I ate for lunch, or to ration my vegetables for another day. I purchased some of the frozen food I ate sometime in the fall, so I no longer remember how much it costs.
Wednesday February 6
This quarter, I enrolled in an independent study class in which I read texts and conduct research all on my own. In the absence of a lecture and classmates, I simply meet my course advisor once a week on Wednesdays. I tend to get nervous and anxious for these weekly office hours and generally stay up pretty late Tuesday night reading and thinking. I think I just psyche myself out for that one hour.
Because I stayed up until late the previous night, I got a latte at my favorite coffee shop on campus during lunch time. After my office hours with my advisor, I have a four-hour gap before my club meeting. I live a fair distance from school, so I just sit somewhere on campus and get some work done. I do get bored at some point (I mean, how can I not?) so I usually swing by the same coffee shop and get a snack. That day I got a hot tea and a jelly donut.
$3.40 at Music Café
$3.35 at Music Café
Thursday February 7
Since the independent study course has kept me considerably busy, I haven’t had the chance to really hang out with my friends since the quarter started. Finally, this week I had some time to relax and catch up with my two buddies, two guys I knew from high school who also transferred to UCLA. I had craved Asian food, so we got kimchi fried rice at some place we found in Santa Monica. My friends also planned to stay up to do homework and got coffee, but I just got some ice cream instead.
$18.74 at Yogiyo Korean BBQ
$5.20 at Honeymee
Friday February 8
Like any sane college student living life, I fluctuate between good student and procrastinator, so like an idiot I stayed up until 2 a.m. Thursday night watching a Korean drama. Of course, for my morning class on Friday I rolled up like a zombie from the grave and felt like death. I had an hour to kill before my office hours with another professor, so I couldn’t resist buying another latte and a chocolate croissant. That coffee and pastry combo really sucks me in, what can I say?
Like I said, I tend not to go out with friends that often, but this week my ex-roommate who works as an RA and the other ex-roommate who helps a professor on research also had room in their schedules. Along with my current roommate, we all went out for dinner.
$5.40 at Music Café
$13.50 at Denny’s
Saturday February 9
I transferred from another four-year university, so whenever my friends from that university drop by L.A. I try my best to hang out with them. We had all craved Korean food and got Korean tofu soup on Sawtelle. Despite its steep price, the spicy hot soup felt so regenerative and necessary in the cold, rainy weather. That night other friends also came to visit, and we went out for some drinks and fried chicken in Koreatown. I drove so I didn’t drink, and I bought that tank of gas sometime in January. Both of these hangouts came up pretty impromptu; otherwise I definitely would not have gone out so many times in a week.
$16.19 Seoul House of Tofu
$19.91 Toe Bang
Sunday February 10
After a fun-filled weekend, I finally had time to wind down, read a book for class and go grocery shopping. I factored in that I planned to visit home the next weekend, so I bought less groceries than I usually do. I also ran out of feminine sanitary pads, and every time I underestimate how much they cost. Sometimes I feel like as a woman life simply costs more.
$13.78 at Target
$29.08 at Trader Joe’s
Week Total: $161.53
Personal Care: $39.98
Household essentials: $6.78
School supplies: $0
How does seeing this influence your spending habits?
Last quarter I had enrolled in a lot of units, so I lived like a monk: hardly eating, hardly sleeping and hardly going outside to see the sun. This quarter, despite the independent study, allows for a bit more free-time, so I definitely used this week as a “treat yo-self” gift to myself. Nevertheless, tracking my expenses forced me to recognize that I spend a ridiculous amount of money on coffee and food. I will definitely dial it down in both of those areas so that when it comes time to spend my own money I won’t cry from the debt.