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Booked and busy: doing the banking and keeping the books


“Eken, we have to schedule a meeting with you two weeks in advance.”

“You are chronically busy.”

They say time is money, but when you come from a family of working-class Nigerian immigrants, there isn’t much of either. With four other siblings, two of whom are dealing with exorbitant college costs, I knew my expectations would be low when it came to the traditional splurge seasons — Christmas, birthdays, summer vacation — and save them for the big city. , not for Charlotte, North Carolina.

I knew that indulging my inner child with the food and fashion I craved would cost a pretty penny—double, no, triple, yes in New York. The summer before my freshman year of college, I hung out at Bojangles, a fast-food chicken joint just a dollar above the federal minimum wage. I scraped together a little extra with another grocery store gig that paid double digits an hour but was still pathetically meager. My wide-open Southern idealism led me to believe that those sweet summer savings would be enough to help me fly past town.

Little did I know how quickly those dollars would disappear.

Ah, the allure of being a freshman, the bright lights of the city, no curfew, and endless pleasure in my arms. I was like a kid in a candy store. To say I was frugal in my first months at NYU would be a lie. I went outside for a second and the $35 was gone. But no matter how many expensive tourist traps I fell into or shiny new dresses that were one size too small, I would rest easy because I knew I had salvation 600 miles away.

It only took one call to instantly double my bank account. My parents were more than willing to give me a few extras here and there to get me through the week since I was the Onukogu child that flew the furthest from the nest.

“Eken, how much do you need?” Mom asked quietly.

By default, I learned to play ball and downplay how much I really wanted to…

“Oh, not much, like… $75.”

… and let my mom sweetly suggest more.

“Are you sure? Not $100? We can send $150.”

It worked like a charm time and time again.

But soon I ran out of excuses for why my bank account was dwindling and the guilt skyrocketed. My parents always smiled and assured me that I could ask them if I needed anything, but it was clear that a small part of it was conditional.

During my sophomore year at NYU, I started working. It was as if the chaos of my first year had multiplied. I had all the new challenges of being a sophomore — longer commutes, harder classes, more career pressures — but without all the safety nets. I had burned through all the savings I had made back home in Charlotte, and my parents were less willing to give me emergency handouts—they expected me to know the ins and outs of New York.

To cut costs, I quietly put my meal plan on hold. I even decided to cut my Netflix subscription. With NYU’s free HBO Max, I thought Stranger Things could wait. Anyway, I wanted to start “Succession” for a long time. But with the life I live, I’m afraid my long-standing “to watch” list will remain intact.

If you’re like me, you may have a pot of gold called work-study, where the federal government pays you to work part-time as a full-time student. You work somewhere on campus, say in the library or the dorms, or even at the nearby elementary school—I choose the last two—and you get paid by Uncle Sam. There are a number of benefits you can get when you have a job and study, like priority on campus job applications, food stamps, and tax breaks, baby! So this is the perfect solution for the whole broken bitch, right? right?

The problem is that there is a whole school here. I majored in Media, Culture and Communications, and minored in Business of Entertainment, Media and Technology, and minored in Spanish. Of the five classes I take, I’m drowning in readings, essays, and group projects.

I try to use those awkward gaps between lectures to knock out a few smaller assignments. But catching up on homework in college is like slaying a Hydra—you submit one response to a reading on Brightspace, and then two more essays pop up in its place. And by the time you finally feel like you’ve tamed the beast, midterms come around. And once they start, they won’t stop.

So what is my strategy? Nesting. I have carefully planned my schedule so that the bulk of my classes are on Tuesday and Thursday, leaving Monday and Wednesday open for me to chase after the bag. On Fridays, I’m heavy with recitations, so I have to plan my shifts for the evening, which hasn’t been ideal for my night life. At 9:00 p.m., I finish my shift sorting and carrying packages, handing out keys, and other miscellaneous tasks as an office assistant for the Dorm Resource Center. And with the trip back to the dorm and training to be a villain? We don’t get to the party until 11pm. The same on Saturday.

Ekene Onukogu also works part-time at the Brittany Hall Resource Center. (Irum Khan for WSN)

However, with the strength of work and study, I am not tied to fixed eight-hour shifts.

I work in an elementary school through America reads and counts at NYU, which is very flexible when it comes to my schedule. I usually work on Mondays and Wednesdays. I start when school starts, which is exactly 8am. For about three hours, I am an assistant in a kindergarten, where I help children learn to read and write. After a one-hour lunch break, I’m back for another two hours, doing arts and crafts and teaching math skills until school ends at 2:15 p.m. The program also coordinates with the teacher I help so I can take days off when I have a test or three staring me in the face.

Ekene Onukogu is not only a full-time student at NYU, but works two part-time jobs. (Irum Khan for WSN)

It’s hard to remember to give yourself a break. If I miss a day of elementary school, I lose $80. That’s like 10 plates of halal food or half a textbook. And with bi-weekly paychecks, you’ll learn how to make money for the long haul. But when you’re two weeks away from your payday and you’ve decided to treat yourself for the first time in months and go to an event like a movie premiere or a Broadway show? You’ll kick yourself for daring to be so frivolous every time you pass that dumpling you’ve been drooling over on the way to work.

It’s easy to say “spend less,” but sometimes that card just needs to be extended. I was pushed to the limit, but there are some limits you just have to set. I don’t care how broke I am – I will never go back to Spotify with ads. I’d rather walk down the streets and hear pee dripping on concrete than listen to that godforsaken jingle that plays every 30 minutes on Spotify’s free version.

Such choices support me. Giving up Netflix was a big blow, but I managed to pull myself together. However, the day I get rid of Spotify, I just know I can’t be saved anymore. I hit rock bottom.

They say time is money. I have one and the other I don’t – I’ll let you guess which one. But one thing about me: I make it work. Being busy makes me feel alive. Sure, I can strategically time my meetings to coincide with paydays, but this town is not for the faint of heart. Now I can dream as much as I want. On their own dime, of course.

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