I’d like to think that I’ve always been pretty responsible with my money. It’s not that I’m cheap; it’s that I am strategically frugal and I’ve always been this way. If there’s a coupon to be used or a deal to be had, I’m all for it. I was like that in college too, but I had my vices. While it’s a little hard to believe (and accept) that I am more than a decade removed from my university days, I still remember some of the less prudent financial decisions I made along the way.

Car Modifications

Maybe it’s because it was right during the height of the so-called “tuner” culture popularized by Initial D and The Fast and the Furious. See that picture at the top? That was my Acura Integra. In fact, I took that photo with my second ever digital camera. And I dumped several thousand dollars into that car.

Bring on the stereotypes if you must, but I loved my Integra. The “upgrades” and “modifications” slowly built up over time. Some changes were cosmetic, like the carbon fiber front lip, the aftermarket side markers, and the underdash neons (I know, I know). Some changes were for a false sense of performance, like the APEXi WS2 catback exhaust system, AEM-style short ram air intake, and front and rear strut bars. I lowered the car with KYB AGX adjustable shocks and H&R Sport springs.

When you’ve got a “starving student’s budget,” frivolously spending money on modifying a (slow) car probably isn’t the smartest decision.

Compulsive Gambling

I never really got into the clubbing scene. We went a few times, as can be expected, but we ultimately decided that our weekends could be better spent doing something else. As a result, we didn’t waste our money on hefty cover fees and marked-up drinks at the trendiest spots in town. I’m not judging anyone who did; it just wasn’t for us.

Instead of hanging out with other people our age and dancing the night away with loud, bass-heavy tracks, we spent our weekends (and admittedly some weekdays and weeknights too) surrounded mostly by middle-aged men at one of the local casinos.

Who else remembers the tiny casino in the basement of the Holiday Inn on West Broadway or the decidedly sad casino on the second floor of the hotel on Fraser and Marine Drive? Or how about the “old” Grand Villa in Burnaby before it got torn down and transformed into the much nicer property today?

We started with slots, graduated to roulette, and eventually expanded our selection to include everything from blackjack to pai gow. We were small potatoes, of course, and gambling was wildly addicting. When you win, you want to win more. When you lose, you want to chase back your losses. And so the cycle renewed over and over again.

In the Arcade

Compared to the thousands of dollars I would have wasted on car modifications and at the blackjack table, the few dollars spent here and there on arcade games probably sound pretty minuscule. But the context and scale are entirely different.

I’d splurge on something for the car maybe every few months, only indulging in a major purchase once a year or so. We were regulars at the casino, but we wouldn’t go every weekend. At the University of British Columbia, though, the Student Union Building had an arcade in the basement. And my schedule was such that I’d oftentimes have stretches of several hours between classes.

Long before Guitar Hero and Rock Band became a thing, there were DrumMania and GuitarFreaks. My favorite game for the longest time was Pump It Up, basically a Korean take on Dance Dance Revolution. And I remember when DDR first started getting popular, some local arcades were charging as much as $3 a play. That added up really quickly!

If I Could Take It All Back

These days, while we are nowhere near wealthy, we’ve managed to accumulate a fairly comfortable savings cushion. This is due in no small part to our selective frugality. If I hadn’t wasted my money on the car, at the casino or in the arcade, I probably would have achieved this level of relative comfort a lot sooner.

All that being said, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think I regret any of it. As you may have noticed, the common theme among these three vices is that they all provided a means of escape from the stresses of everyday life. I could get my mind off my worries… only to replace them with stressing out about losing a couple hundred dollars at blackjack.

More than anything, though, these vices helped me connect with friends. I’m still friends with some of my old car buddies, I married my favorite gambling partner, and video games have always been a big part of my life regardless.

What about you? Where did you waste your money when you were younger?