04/21/2014 05:44 pm ET Updated Jun 21, 2014

What College Has Taught Me About Money

"Your total will be $8.50," the cashier at Dragon Express told me, and my heart sank.

$8.50 for a beverage and a pile of Chinese food, complete with orange chicken, noodles and vegetables plus a cup of egg drop soup and crab rangoon is totally cheap, actually. But in my world, $8.50 is a lot of money.

I grudgingly handed over my debit card and watched him swipe. "Do you want your receipt?" he asked me. "No, thanks," I replied. I don't need any reminder of my indulgences.

Food is essential, and it's okay to buy food I actually like to eat. So why should I feel guilty about spending under $10 on good Chinese food for lunch?

The answer lies in what college itself has taught me over the last couple of years: frugality.

Before I started life at Central Michigan University, I rarely reflected on the monetary facet of society. I'd earn my cash lifeguarding during the weekends and summers, and I know I put some of it away for college. But I'd also take frequent trips to Marshall's and not give a second thought about the clothes, shoes and accessories I happily threw on the cashier's counter. I'd walk out of the store, new stuff in hand, feeling optimistic and trendy (a very potent emotional combination). Now, I can't remember the last time I zoomed over to the mall and bought myself a hot pair of shoes or cute jeans. I think it was Christmas.

These days, I try to spend money on myself as infrequently as possible. I drive over to the grocery store every other week and buy the cheapest stuff I can find -- cans of soup, cans of spaghetti, cereal. And I still cringe when the Kroger cashier rings me up and presents me my total.

I'll admit, I still pamper myself here and there -- I buy myself makeup, because I consider it a necessity. Once in a while, I'll find something on Amazon that's normally super expensive in the real world that I simply can't pass up (and no, I don't consider Amazon the real world. More like some sort of ethereal dimension with minions who drop boxes off on porches). And I often buy a magazine at the front of the store because the headline is just too tempting and I need something to read while eating my Progresso soup.

Other than that, though, I try my best to save the little amount of money that's to my name, and I can honestly thank college for this type of thriftiness. It wasn't until I came to this school that I realized how expensive everything in this world really is (not to mention, tuition and housing itself, which I can't even think about without shedding a couple of justified tears).

One thing is for certain -- money isn't something to take lightly, no matter who you are. It's not a gadget to throw around haphazardly or a handful of paper to plunk down sloppily on every store counter. As a college junior, I can officially say I appreciate every quarter I have. And those are in a pouch for laundry every Saturday.

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