Student lives cheap, earns big reward
College students are notorious cheapskates. With tuition to pay, books to buy and housing to pay for, students are constantly scrimping to make ends meet. Zions Bank sponsored a reality web series called “Cheapster” on that very premise, and Jen Hillam, a senior in exercise and sport science, won this season’s top prize.
In the web series, students competed to be the ultimate “cheapster,” competing in a number of challenges and sharing money-saving tips. Hillam came out on top of the competition, winning $10,000 for herself and $10,000 for the U.
In the end it all came down to votes. Viewers voted at the end of each episode to select the winner. For Hillam, stacking up votes was the hardest part of the competition, but also the most rewarding.
“It was painfully miserable asking people to vote for me,” Hillam said. “It was humbling to see how many people from my past came out and voted for me every single day.”
Her journey to the jackpot started in August when she saw an advertisement for the competition in a Zions Bank newsletter. She won a spot on the show by telling the true story of her all-time cheapest moment, when she salvaged two brand-new shirts from a dumpster in the Rice-Eccles stadium parking lot.
“I still have the shirts, and I still use them,” Hillam said. “I washed them of course.”
The series, which is designed to pass along money-saving ideas, also helped Hillam discover her inner penny-pincher.
“I didn’t think that some of the things that I did were cheap,” she said. “They’re just natural … When I started thinking about ways I was cheap, I realized that they weren’t.”
She has also learned to take advantage of benefits students at the U receive, such as free tickets to Pioneer Theatre productions and the UTA Student Transit Pass.
“They’re not exciting [tips], what people want to hear,” she said, “but they’re the ones that save me the most money and allow me to have fun.”
Tom Hurtado, communications adviser for ASUU, helped Hillam find a team to film an episode near the end of the series. She stood on top of the Union shouting savings tips with a megaphone, including freezing old bagels, filling up water bottles with milk at the cafeteria and, of course, her signature dumpster dive.
Thanks to Hillam’s scrimping, ASUU will receive $10,000, which Hurtado said will go toward student scholarships.
“We don’t know exactly how that will occur, but we’ve earmarked that fund for a scholarship for students,” Hurtado said.
That was exactly what Hillam had in mind. She hoped to help other students who are doing all they can to save but could use a little help. She said she plans to put her own prize in the bank, at least until tuition rolls around.
“I never really expected to win, so it’s really a ‘what now’ scenario now,” she said. “It’s probably going to go to tuition. People tell me I should get something nice, but I’ve been so cheap for so long, I don’t know what I’d get.”