Student Loans and Belly Fat

Aug 192007
Authors: Dr. John Straayer

A stroll in the mall or Old Town will make it abundantly clear-there’s no shortage of overweight folk. An interview with graduating seniors will make it abundantly clear-there’s no shortage of student loan debt.

The majority of students graduate with an average debt load of nearly $20,000. Student loan debt is much like belly jelly-easy to put on, tough to unload, and entangled with associated negative consequences. Both, though, can be mitigated some by good recipes.

Like clergymen, university administrators and parents, professors are often plagued with the urge tell other people what to do with their lives, professional or personal or both. My three kids are long gone from college and the grandchildren aren’t there yet, so I’m taking out my preacher and parental impulses on Collegian readers.

College life provides a host of tempting ways to get fat and become poor and, all too often, put the grade point average and future options in the tank along the way.

All you have to do is lead the good life – the really good life. Go out for bacon and eggs every morning at $7.50 (including tip), have a burger, fries and mega-sugar-soda for lunch ($5.75 or so) and do the sports bar w/suds trip at least four time a week ($15.00 if you’re lucky and your pals don’t leave before the tab is paid). The cost of dinner the other three nights can be kept to, maybe, $6.00 with a shared pizza and milk. Oh, don’t forget the $3.65 daily caramel macchiato.

Not bad – $52.50 a week for breakfast, $40.25 a week for lunch, $25.55 for the coffee shop entrepreneur and just $78.00 each week for eats and drinks in the evening with your buddies.

So for $196.30 per week, you can eat amply, and enjoy college life-maybe put on a few pounds, miss a few classes, take some aspirin, and use your VISA. You can, if you’d like, save the receipts for five years and give the bill to your folks at commencement – a mere $51,038 – or, if the parents can’t afford it or just don’t like the idea, you can roll the tab into your accumulated student loan debt.

On the other hand, you can follow my recipe and put together a self-constructed scholarship.

Cereal or eggs and toast with coffee and milk in your own house or apartment can be whipped up for as little as $2.00 per person, per day (if you ever wash the dishes, add a few cents for the dish soap). A self-assembled sandwich from home-maybe another $2.00 and a buck for a soft drink on campus or in town-total of $3.00. Two cans of cream of mushroom soup dumped on a couple of chicken breasts or chunks of cheap beef or pork with a handful of potatoes and carrots in a crock pot can get you (and perhaps a date or freeloading room-mate) through dinner for less than $6.00.

I’ve read someplace that college students often avoid alcoholic beverages, but if you’re not an avoider, for $1.00 you can add two drinks with dinner by purchasing Busch or Keystone 30-packs on sale.

The cost of my gourmet suggestions? Breakfast for the week – $14.00. Lunch – $21.00. And dinner, complete with drinks – $49.00. Total for the week – $84.00. The five year tab – $21,840.

If you can stomach my recipe, or any of dozens of your own imaginative variations, you’ll have a self-manufactured scholarship – student debt reduction – to the tune of $29,198. This is, you might note, significantly more than the average student loan debt. That number is also sufficient to buy a car, lots of furniture and baby clothes, even contribute to the down payment on a house for a college-grad in his or her mid-20’s.

Add the savings of the new graduate’s newly graduated spouse, and the couple could have an extra 58 grand to pay down debt and help start their family and professional lives.

Obviously, it’s never either-or.

Sometimes we eat and drink out, sometimes we do it at home, sometimes we don’t eat or drink at all, and sometimes we dump the check on other people. There are free weekends at home and gifts from relatives. But then there are Starbucks, spring breaks, tailgaters and morning-after tacos.

You run the tab.

Mostly it is a matter of patterns, and patterns have consequences. The university-life menu is rich with options. The long run is built in the short run, so choose wisely.

I’ve done no systematic study of the relationship between eating and drinking habits on the one hand, and classes missed, late semester begging to do “extra credit” to substitute for blown assignments, or grade point averages on the other. But it is my suspicion that academic performance tends to go up as dining and entertainment expenditures go down.

And I am sure that with my menu, student loan debt will be lightened.

Freshman? Senior? – no matter; your graduation date is not all that far off. You’ll be looking for employment, housing and baby clothes, watching your weight, and trying to balance your checkbook before you know it.

How you do it, if you can do it, will rest with choices you make, beginning now.

Dr. John Straayer is a professor for the department of political science. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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