At most Cornell dining establishments, students are usually met with a question: “BRBs?” For some, the answer is often a resounding “yes”; for others, it’s a “no, Cornell card.” Either way the result is the same: you swipe your Cornell ID to pay for your food, with nothing but a vague notion that somewhere far away, actual dollars are being charged. This disconnect is what allows us to mindlessly pay upwards of $8 dollars for a sandwich and $2 for a bottle of soda every weekday.
This is not about the prices for meals on campus being too high–they are, but that’s not the point. The point is that many students don’t care about how much food costs because the price isn’t directly affecting them. Any way you purchase food on campus via student ID, whether it be BRBs or Cornell Card, the charges are not immediately apparent. It’s hard to conceptualize money when you aren’t handing over physical dollars and cents from your wallet.
Of course, the same sort of phenomenon happens with credit and debit cards: swipe now and pay later. And there is substantial evidence that people spend more when they pay with a card versus cash. But using your student ID amplifies the problems of paying with a card. Instead of having a bill at the end of the month, it comes at the of the semester, where it is then tacked on to your tuition and possibly your housing bill. It’s hard to realize the cumulative result of daily $4 dollar cup of coffee when the bill is rolled up with the 50,000+ semesterly tuition.
Of course, this mentality doesn’t just apply to food, but nearly anything that can be purchased with a student ID. I am guilty of charging multiple overpriced umbrellas to my bursar whenever I fail to prepare for Cornell’s unpredictable weather or buying my notebooks and pens at the Cornell store instead of going somewhere cheaper.
These purchases may seem small at the time, but they add up over a semester and the final bill can be quite large. So next time you are tempted to buy something that you know you could get for cheaper somewhere else, just remember although it may feel like you are paying with monopoly money, the bill will come eventually, and they will expect you to pay it in US dollars.