Surviving Student Life (at least Financially)

I have always held the belief school is not solely meant for learning from a curriculum; I believe school is also meant to teach when and how to cheat the system.

As students of the 21st century, we have been faced with an insane amount of suddenly necessary technology. Laptops of a specific persuasion, cell phones, tablets, and even social media are required or expected for certain classes. It can be very expensive if you are neither previously supplied the equipment nor offered discounts.

During art school, we did not need to buy many books. We had one suggested textbook for Art History, which cost about $180.00. You must be thinking, “Where is this going? $180.00 is nothing.”

Well, well, well: let me tell you…

We may not have needed textbooks but we certainly did need materials. Each class of materials had a lab fee ranging from $150–$250 depending. You’d think the fee covered a decent amount of materials if it was coming from each student; however, my specific program’s funding was cut by 75% the year prior to my attendance.

So, in addition to the lab fee, we were required to purchase our own materials for every class: paint brushes, paint, colored pencils, cameras, sketchbooks, paper, canvas rolls (the 50lb. ones), wood, erasers (the nice kinds or else the paper would mark), photo paper, testing paper, and even film. Although it is typical for classes to require outside investments costing anywhere from $100–150, each art class cost roughly $300–$400 in extra materials. AKA: the average class cost $525 just in fees and materials.

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Although this caused a financial burden, there were some classes worth the cost and some that were a waste of money. It all depended on the person.

While digital photography is a sustainable trade across multiple industries, film photography is not unless you plan on entering the fine arts world. Nobody hires a wedding photographer to take only film photos unless it goes in hand with the theme of the wedding.

For example, digital photography is useful for for numerous instances including both correctly photographing and editing pictures of:

  • Inventory (think of all the terrible photos you see from people selling stuff online)
  • Artwork (you need to know color correction and lighting to make it look remotely close to the original)
  • Website content (if you have a food blog, you don’t want the food to look disgusting)
  • Event photos (save money on small events by not hiring a photographer and instead taking a few pictures yourself)
  • Documentation (scientific and otherwise; you’d need to know how to focus and adjust your settings to photograph small or large subjects)
  • Insurance photos (if that picture of your great-great grandma’s necklace is of poor quality, you might not be able to receive compensation if it is damaged)

Digital photography is a very useful skill from which ALL people, no matter their major, would benefit.

Naturally, all art majors were required to take film photography, not digital.

We were required to buy cameras ($100–$200 depending), film ($90 worth per project), and photo paper ($100–$150) throughout the semester. When you work part-time earning minimum wage at a sandwich shop, how can you afford those additional expenses?

You make friends.


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One of the greatest friendships was cultivated in this particular film photography class. We will call him Lion.

Lion and I both had very different visions for our professional, creative futures than what the program insisted. To give you a better idea, this is the same program that told a recently-engaged-me that I shouldn’t get married because I would either get divorced or lose my career due to spawning children. Simultaneously, they told Lion portrait art was not  a sustainable trade post-graduation—let me tell you he is doing just fine drawing portraits for money as I type.

Naturally, we were soul-friends. We both agreed it was ridiculous to purchase all the materials for a class and “hobby” we did not plan on pursuing—had we been freshman, this mentality would have been ignorant—I believe you must first try something before rejecting or claiming it simply a “hobby.” However, by the time we took the class, we were in our junior and senior years solidifying our theses. We had to spend money gathering materials and making deposits in relation to our final shows, graduation, and life after graduation—not on film photography materials.

So, we teamed up.

We both went in 50/50 on our materials, cutting costs in half, and worked together with Sparkle, the sunshine nugget of our dreams, enabling us to knock projects out with time to spare. We even bought materials from other students pursuing advanced photography, buying sheets and film as we needed versus ordering more than was necessary or driving two hours to the closest photography store.

So, basically, you do not have to waste all of your money alone: you can waste half of it with friends.

In all seriousness, there was a great deal of life-changing camaraderie that came with this class. Because Lion and I worked on everything together, we were also responsible for each other, dependent on learning and spending money on materials together versus separately. We had to learn so much more than just spending money on the materials and following the curriculum—there’s a reason some of the greatest businesspeople never finished school.

Education is not about what is taught, it’s about what is learned.

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…and we learned a lot about each other, about patience and gratefulness‚—and a lot of new cuss combinations, i.e. “Fucking-camera-crapping-film-fuck-faced-shit.” I mean it when I say working in a tiny darkroom is a great bonding experience: you could almost see the cuss-words floating through the darkness.

You don’t have to do anything alone. You just have to find people with which you actually want to work and vice versa. Lion is one of these people. Sparkle is one of these people. Husband is one of these people. I am so fortunate to have them in my life to this day.


3 thoughts on “Surviving Student Life (at least Financially)

  1. Hey! Great blog post. I completely agree with how hard it is trying to juggle finances while studying, also while trying to enjoy yourself and have fun. I created the Do You Even Adult blog to provide students with great tips and tricks on how to conquer adult decisions and tasks while studying. Please check it out and let me know what you think! I would be happy to collaborate on some of your very knowledgable life lessons. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks so much, Georgina. []

    Liked by 2 people

  2. In my entire university education I only bought 2 textbooks. One for psychology and 1 for accounting. I had at least 5 to 7 textbooks each semester, but would borrow from friends.

    I was a top student so classmates were always glad to lend me their books. I always underlined, highlighted and left jottings everywhere. Rather than read the whole textbook, they generally read whatever I highlighted. Saved me money. Saved them time. 😂

    – Alexis Chateau


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