My mission, since I chose to accept it, was to see whether or not there was a way to survive comfortably in the town of Princeton – eat two meals and maybe go on one interesting excursion – while spending no more than five dollars. On many a lazy summer day, I had spent less than five dollars feeding and entertaining myself in New York – technically the second-most expensive city in the world. A little college town like Princeton should have be a cinch. As you will see, the results were not pretty.
Throughout my expedition, there were certain rules that were not to be violated, all of which are suggested by my first sentence: when I said “survive,” I meant exactly that. For example, although eight or nine packets of Skittles from the Palmer Square Kiosk may well fill you up, they would hardly be considered sustenance food. Additionally, as much as I might like the Seafood Salad Sandwich at Subway, it would drain too much of my budget for it to be considered a feasible option for one of my meals.
Most of my investigation involved comparing prices. As a matter of fact, that’s essentially all there was to it. While I could have tailored the search to my particular tastes, this piece was meant to be a universal call of distress or, rather, a tale that all of you can use to feel annoyed at the lack of cheap nutritional options in this supposed college town. Accordingly, I contrasted the prices at many establishments that I never would have visited otherwise.
With no breakfast, lunch became a meal that needed to provide ample fuel to last me until dinner, and through my yet-undiscovered cheap excursion. My first attempt was at Panera. Though usually put off by the endless line, today, I was more annoyed by the prices of their food. Though it is often touted as one of Nassau Street’s more affordable options, a very light meal (that is, a soup and a half-salad) can run for as much as six dollars, a price that I certainly couldn’t consider. Knowing full well that Starbucks (and anything fancier) was out of the question, I searched for a place where I might buy lunch (that’s food and a drink) for about two dollars. These restrictions ruled out even pizza, since, no matter which parlor I visited, a slice and a drink cost much more.
On this budget, the only method for survival seemed to be to mixing and matching. Hoagie Haven essentially had the cheapest canned sodas and, coupled with a hearty side order from George’s (which included everything from bean salad… to macaroni salad!), it seemed lunch in Princeton could be purchased for about two dollars and twenty-five cents. But what about a fun little adventure for the afternoon?
On a sunny day, the town of Princeton is a beautiful example of suburban bliss mingled with visible, but false, teenage angst. So it’s quite shameful that there is very little to do within walking distance that doesn’t involve shopping or eating. (Limiting the search to walking distance restricts the scope of the investigation, but any type of travel would cost the money that I barely had). Since you and I would both want to save the remaining two seventy-five for a glorious dinner, the adventure would have to be free. An afternoon spent window shopping or lounging in Palmer Square can be relaxing, if you like that sort of thing, but the best free option that I could find was a jog to, and around, the Princeton Battlefield. All things considered, this is hardly a bad way to pass the time, and, unlike the available meals, the excursion ended up being quite satisfying.
Since I only had two dollars and seventy five cents left in my pocket, and since dinner can often be even more expensive than lunch, the task facing me was hardly a simple one. Lunch was quite light, and I had just run around a large battlefield. As a result, I was approaching the day’s final meal with a considerable appetite. From my experiences at lunchtime, I should have known by then that two seventy-five was only going to buy a side dish, some ice cream, or a lot of candy, and only the first choice actually qualified as dinner.
Most restaurants on Nassau Street are either quite tightfisted with their sides – choices for lunch at George’s were hardly generous – or, as is the case with Zorba’s Brother, many large side orders accompany some of the main courses, but these entrees were far out of my price range. If I had saved some of the beverage from lunch then I could have splurged on a slice of pizza at Iano’s and topped off my day with a handful of candy from Ricky’s. Perhaps even a Jawbreaker. Whatever I chose to do, of course, it was quite obvious that my options were unhealthy and, more importantly, far from fulfilling. I would then end the day no less hungry – perhaps even more so – than I began it.
To inquire about the chance of survival on five dollars in Princeton may seem ridiculous, and in some ways it is, but only because we all know that our little town is far from welcoming to the poorly funded. Most of us will never have to sustain ourselves on such a budget, but, nonetheless it’s important to point out that the lack of affordable establishments close to our campus.
The places we tend to categorize as “cheap” will fill your belly only if you fork over more than it costs to order a large pizza from Papa John’s or Domino’s. Even for a student with more financial flexibility, a meal away from campus often has a troublesome effect on a weekly budget. Dining halls and eating clubs inevitably become monotonous, and our wallets shouldn’t have to suffer so dearly whenever we want to do something just a little bit different. If I can make it in New York on five dollars, I should be able to make it anywhere. Unfortunately, this popular logic does not apply to Princeton.