Food or Fun?

Many students choose high tech gadgets over necessity items

Illustration by Dan McDonald

By Summer Bozeman

Do you have an iPod? A camera phone? A flatscreen TV? If you do, then you’re probably in the majority of Flagler students. But what did you sacrifice to buy them?

According to the National Retail Federation, college students spent $7.5 billion on electronics and computer equipment in 2004, separate from the $2.1 billion they spent on school supplies. The only thing the survey found students spent more on was textbooks — with $8.8 billion — and the numbers have only risen in the following years. The problem is that many students will spend their “bread money” on luxury items, forcing themselves to subsist on Spaghetti-Ohs and Cup ‘O Noodles.

Sophomore Sam Daniel isn’t surprised. “I think a lot of kids put too much value on stuff they don’t really need as opposed to essentials,” he said.

Daniel believes students spend the bulk of their income on things like iPods because there’s social pressure to do so. “I still have this old CD player and a friend of mine saw it once and said ‘Wow, haven’t you heard of iPods?’ ” he said. “I personally don’t care about his comment, but [some people probably would].”

Recent Flagler graduate Patty Bent can barely make her monthly bills, but she still managed to talk herself into an iPod Nano for Christmas. Instead of cutting her spending on food, Bent often works extra hours per week, depending on her overtime pay.

“What I did was tell all my relatives that I wanted Target gift cards for Christmas so that I could buy an iPod,” Bent said. “But then I decided I couldn’t wait and I put it on my credit card thinking I could buy essentials with the gift cards. But when it was all said and done, the gift cards made me feel like I had free money, so I bought myself an iHome, and now I have $200 less than I started with.”

Bent regularly works two eight-hour shifts in a row at the Three Springs adolescent detention center, and then another eight-hour shift at the Yankee Candle Outlet where she is an assistant manager. She says that without overtime pay, she wouldn’t be able to pay her living expenses, let alone have disposable income for luxuries.

Senior psychology major Marissa Kelly believes students spend the bulk of their money on luxury items because they know they won’t be able to in the future.

“We’re young, and have no one depending on us,” she said. “Once you’re married and have children, extra mouths to feed and expenses to pay, there won’t be so much wiggle room with your money. I think students may be OK with living on ramen noodles themselves in exchange for a shiny toy to play with, but that’s not a decision you get to make when you have responsibilities to other people.” She adds with a shrug, “I think if they want to live it up now, they should do it while there’s still time.”

So if someone has splurged on luxuries, is it possible to eat cheaply enough to cancel it out? The truth is, it can be done. Target, arguably the king of marketing to college students, sells the new 4 GB iPod Nano for $211.98 after tax (that’s about 200 Frostees, for those of you who have seen a Wendy’s commercial lately). It’s also roughly equal to 500 packages of ramen noodles, at 25 cents each. So if you ate ramen noodles three times a day, it would take you almost 167 days to balance out what you spent on your iPod.

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