Food Diary: How a 20-Year-Old College Student Eats on $15/Hour in Providence, RI

6:14 p.m. I’ve spent the last six hours catching up on work for the newspaper and now I’m grouchy and hungry as I make dinner. Tonight, one of my best friends and I are having some friends over for dinner. Most seniors at my school live off campus, which means we’ve been hosting and attending a lot of dinner parties and housewarmings recently. Tonight, we’re making penne alla vodka with sautéed mushrooms, as well as a nice serving of garlic (but mostly butter) bread. I ate this meal for most of my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners last semester because it’s one of the few meals I can actually cook, and adding a heavy hand of red pepper flakes always helps.

The ingredients for the pasta, purchased at Whole Foods by my roommate and split evenly between us, include: penne pasta ($1.69), tomato paste ($2.19), heavy cream ($4.29), yellow onion ($3.97), mushrooms ($5.98), garlic ($1.15), bread ($6.99).

6:23 p.m. We’re eating our meal with a cocktail my housemate brewed in a defunct Brita—she became a master cocktail mixer over the summer. The drink is a mix of Deep Eddy’s lemonade vodka, several High Noon seltzers, cranberry juice, and pink lemonade (all previously purchased). The lemonade vodka doesn’t need any chaser, but the cranberry juice and pink lemonade are so overpowering you can barely taste the alcohol. You still manage to get the same effects, thankfully.

The pasta, hot in both its temperature and spice level, is making the temperature in the apartment slightly unbearable. But not as unbearable as hearing my friend talk about all the money she made at her summer banking job.

10:32 p.m. My friends and I are going to a housewarming party down the block from our apartment, which is a rarity because few fellow seniors choose to live as far from campus as we do. The short walk is very welcomed considering the suffocating summer heat (you would think the Ocean State gets a nice breeze every once in a while). All three of us are eating mint chip ice cream sandwiches while walking over, previously purchased by another one of my housemates. I usually hate mint-flavored sweet treats, but the coldness of the ice cream almost stifles the flavor so it’s not too bad.

11:23 p.m. Drinking a cold beer felt like a smart decision when we first got to the party. But, within minutes, it’s already gotten warm and started tasting like what it really is: gross.

Monday total: $22.56


8:52 a.m. My remote internship starts today so I’m getting breakfast with my boyfriend before I have to spend five hours scrolling through TikTok at my desk and checking Teams notifications every so often. One of the perks of being an orientation leader at my school is that we get several complimentary meal swipes, so we’re at the closest dining hall to my house. I have a plate of scrambled eggs (with a heavy serving of hot sauce), home fries, and the most delicious veggie sausage (complimentary, but $9.25 normally). These veggie sausages are the only dining hall food I ever find myself craving, mainly because they taste nothing like actual sausages. There’s something so artificial about their flavor—not a hint of vegetables at all—and they’re always cooked so dry it’s almost a fun challenge trying to bite into the patties.