THE RISING COST OF EVERYTHING: College Students Feel Pains of Inflation

UW couple face difficulties with soaring gas and food prices

Ashton Hacke, left, and Michaela McGee celebrated three years together in Philadelphia in October 2021 along with other friends. Neither Hacke nor McGee think they could take a trip like this again with current prices and how busy they are. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kaycee Clark-Mellott)

By Kaycee Clark

Special to the Wyoming Truth

LARAMIE, Wyo.—Ashton Hacke, an international studies major, and Michaela McGee, a primary and special education major, are in a “medium-distance” relationship—one that’s complicated by soaring fuel and food prices.

The University of Wyoming students have been long-distance before, but this time feels different: Money is tight, and they can’t do the things they used to do.

McGee earns $13 an hour as a paraprofessional with the PrePARE program in Casper while still enrolled at UW. She will transition into student teaching during the spring—an unpaid position.

Meanwhile, Hacke attends classes and lives 150 miles away in Laramie—a five-hour roundtrip drive for McGee and a $108 bill for gas and food. She makes the journey twice a month in her 2013 Toyota Corolla, paying about $40 each time she fills up the tank.

“I obviously don’t want to spend all my money on things if I don’t have to,” McGee said.  “But I think that my trips down to Laramie are worth the cost, and I am grateful that I have worked hard for the money that allows me these experiences.”

Ashton Hacke, left, and Michaela McGee travelled to Jackson Hole in April 2022 when gas prices began rising. They were grateful they didn’t have to pay for gas because the trip was sponsored by UW as some places in the region were over $5. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kaycee Clark-Mellott)

McGee spent $2,000 when she moved up to Casper and set up her apartment that rents for  $700 per month. She said she is “trying to not spend [on] anything that is a ‘maybe I will need it’ items,” such as clothing, decorations or makeup. She also has been planning out home-cooked meals to eliminate unnecessary purchases at the grocery store.  

Even though expenses and work schedules prevent them from seeing each other every weekend, the couple talks by phone or FaceTime every night to stay connected.

Hacke, a 20-year-old junior, and McGee, a 20-year-old senior, are high school sweethearts from Half Moon Bay, California. They dated long distance during her first year at UW out of necessity, but this time, the geographic separation was a career decision.

“Michaela was going to stay [in Laramie] because she didn’t want to do long distance again, and it [also] would [have separated] her from all her friends,” Hacke said. “I definitely pushed her, [saying], ‘No, you got to do this, it’s good for your career.’”

Back in Laramie, Hacke holds down three jobs to help him pay for college and other expenses. As a Resident Assistant (RA) at Tobin House, he receives free room and board, which equates to $11,600 per year for out-of-state students, and an $87 monthly stipend.   

“[Being an] RA gives you the ability to not worry about [money] as much, but at the exact same time, you’re the frontline for the entire university on rape, sexual assault and personal therapy for 60 students,” Hacke said, noting the stress of the job.

Hacke also works as a writer/photographer with UW’s student newspaper, the Branding Iron, and as a senator with the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming. Each job pays $11 an hour, so he brings home $209 before taxes for an 19-hour work week. 

Much of Hacke’s earnings go into saving for the camera gear that he hopes to use as a multi-media journalist or for dinners at Crowbar and Grill when McGee visits Laramie.  

Ashton Hacke is now in his second year as an RA at UW. He oversees 60 students in the Tobin House and sometimes the strain of helping these students impacts his mental health. However, having room and board paid for is a major plus for Hacke. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kaycee Clark-Mellott)

“You can’t deny those Pad Thai fries and pizza,” Hacke said. “But it [has] kept getting more expensive.  It went from being a really fun thing that we like to do to now going only on special occasions.”

Hacke also has adjusted some of his habits, so he’ll have more spending power down the road. He only eats on campus through his paid-for meal plan and cut back on going out with friends to events that cost money. When McGee travels to Laramie, Hacke pays for their dinner, and those two meals eat up nearly all of his $87 monthly RA stipend.

“I make sure that when I do receive money that I am putting it in savings,” Hacke said. “But I have a philosophy that when I receive money, it’s all going to a single goal. I’ll save up money for years and years for one thing, whether it’s gear or for Michaela.”

He added, “While money can be tight, there’s not much either of us can do [about it].  Despite this, we make the best of our situation and don’t let it come between us.”

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