Campuses countrywide are about to re-open for their various academic years. Continuing students are excited for one reason; HELB. The loan, courtesy of the Higher Education Loans Board, usually drops into students’ accounts a week or two before the onset of a new semester. The money is supposed to cater for the upkeep and school fees expenses for university students. However, unlike the past where only a handful could afford university education; times have changed and most parents can comfortably pay for their children’s school fees. The amount awarded by HELB is therefore considered as ‘free money” by the students.
Fast forward to opening week and an average university student has several thousand shillings lying idly in their bank account. This proves to be a tidy sum owing to the fact that the student also has additional perks in terms of upkeep money from his/her parents and relatives back at home. Some are also lucky enough to have gotten a paying job during the vacation.
With lots of cash and free time at their disposal, the first month in campus is party time. Alcohol manufacturers and sellers are the largest benefactors during this period as friends throw bashes and throng clubs to celebrate their re-union. Booze flows freely as individuals can buy ‘mzingas’ or a bottle of their preferred liquor without feeling any pinch whatsoever.
Food vendors also make a killing as the moneyed students are too lazy to cook because of their full pockets. Meat is a common item in the diet of students during this time with chicken and fish appearing occasionally.
It is during this time of the semester that campus girls get to be treated to expensive dates by their boyfriends who are out to prove that they too can afford to give their ladies the good life. Chains and other pricey accessories are purchased to impress long-term girlfriends.
For the tech-savvy students, a new phone or laptop will be top amongst their list of items to spend on. Having a ‘good’ phone is a requirement of some sorts for most university students. Many attribute the type of gadget one uses to the individual’s pocket size and thus it becomes a matter of outdoing one another. In fact, some are of the opinion that one cannot simply be in campus yet they are are using a Nokia 1110, the thought itself is preposterous.
As the semester progresses, money resources begin to dwindle. Students now realize that if they don’t minimize their expenditure, their upkeep money would barely make it through another month.
The now budget- conscious students become awfully careful, using as little money as possible on a daily basis. Their cost-cutting strategies would put an economist to shame. Many re-discover their love for books as they read away in the library during lunch hour to avoid incurring unnecessary expenses. The free internet offered in most institutions diverts students from engaging in activities that require spending money in any way whatsoever. On a Friday night, the rush to secure a free LAN port is just a reminder of how empty people’s pockets really are.
Meat intake becomes a rumour as eggs and beans take over as the key protein providers. Vegetables are the norm as those who claimed to be ‘allergic’ to Kales instantly become the chief advocates of healthy living. Individuals who supposedly could not cook suddenly turn into master chefs, whipping up dishes from as few ingredients as possible.
The alcohol lovers resort to cheaper brands on a quest to quench their thirst. Getting someone to buy you a drink is akin to milking an old cow. Breakups are very common as the semester draws to an end as keeping a girlfriend is considered an added expense that one cannot simply afford to incur.
As the semester nears its crucial point, parents and all known relatives are contacted in the hope of squeezing some extra cash from them. Often, they will oblige after thorough persuasion and a lengthy lecture on how you should learn to manage money. This will be just enough to push one through the remaining few weeks and the exams period. The end of semester comes as a sigh of relief. Having survived another tough semester, one can only hope that the cycle will not repeat itself the next one.