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In this episode, one woman shows us the reality of partaking in Greek life — and how the cost of living in a sorority can run one person thousands of dollars a year. Click here to learn about making the most of an entry-level salary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rowNwCSlLPk

Through weekly video essays, "Making It Work" showcases how *real* people have upgraded their personal or financial lives in some meaningful way. Making your life work for you doesn't mean getting rich just for the sake of it. It means making the most of what you have to build a life you love, both in your present and in your future. And while managing money is a crucial life skill for everyone, there's no one "right way" to go about it — you have to figure out what works best for *you,* full stop.

Written by Alexis Kelly

Video by Grace Lee
https://www.youtube.com/c/WhatsSoGreatAboutThat
https://twitter.com/whatssograce

Video narration by Ash Anders

The Financial Diet site:
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Like many girls my age, I grew up watching Elle Woods, the characters on Greek, and even my own aunt glorified Greek life and the sisterhood and fun parties that came with it.

All these women had so much in common. They were all beautiful and popular.

Every girl seemed to want to be them. And every guy wanted them. I couldn't wait to become one of them when I got to college.

They were also cookie-cutter, privileged, upper middle class, white women. It never crossed my mind that sorority life could be different, even difficult for someone who didn't fit their mold. During rush, our recruitment counselors emphasized the importance of looks.

We needed to look the part, dress conservatively, and take pride in our appearance. But why would this matter if these were the girls I would eat ice cream with in my sweats for the next four years? As I went from room to room meeting each different chapter, each sorority's financial vice president would get on the mic and talk about finances.

Every one of them undermined the hefty price tags by telling potential new members how it was so worth it and the best investment ever. It eventually came time to pick which sorority to go with. Of course, joining the top tier sorority full of mainly blonde, white members was twice as expensive as any other organization on campus, about $980 per semester.

But who wouldn't want to be a part of it? All the girls were beautiful. And if they let me in, it had to mean I would fit in, right?

I thought so. All the members kept explaining that it would actually end up being more economical than other sororities because their dues were all inclusive. I'm pretty sure the dues didn't actually include anything.

We didn't have sorority houses. So the $980 didn't include housing or any meals at all. I used my financial aid refund to pay mine, leaving me with very little money to live off of for the rest of the semester.

But who cared-- a small price to pay for such amazing friendships and a community who would love me no matter what. During my first semester in this exclusive sorority, we were also forced to pay more than $400 for a mandatory sisterhood retreat. The initiated sisters slept on couches, beds, or sleeping bags, while the new members slept on hardwood with a pillow, if we were lucky.

The all-inclusive dues did not include many of the unofficial uniforms of the sorority. Every event required a new T-shirt, which cost between $15 and $40. I was constantly on the phone with my parents begging them for more money because I couldn't afford to keep up appearances on my own.

Unfortunately, this financial nightmare went beyond retreats and T-shirts. We would also get text messages from the older sisters telling us what we had to wear with each T-shirt. Sometimes it was white skinny jeans and nude ledges.

Other times, it was dark washed jeans with Jack Rogers sandals. I vividly remember a girl in my chapter speaking up to say that she didn't own the mandatory Jack Rogers sandals. I was so glad that she did, because I had never even heard of them.

The president of the chapter said anyone who didn't have the specific shoes would have to figure it out or buy fake ones for $30. The problem was, I didn't have $30. But that didn't seem to matter.

If I didn't have the shoes, it meant I couldn't participate in the event because I didn't look like everyone else. If I didn't participate in the event, I would be sent to standards for disciplinary action. If any sister is sent to standards three times or more, they are at risk of being deactivated, a.k.a., kicked out of the chapter.

The bottom line was this. You better be able to afford to look like us, or we'll kick you out. I will also never forget when one girl in my pledge class cried to our pledge mom and told her she didn't own white pants and that she hated how she looked in them because she wasn't as thin as the rest of our sisters.

Mom responded, it's just really important for us to all look the same. And it's only one day. For a sorority that claimed to empower women, it seemed they cared more about everyone looking the same than this amazing girl feeling comfortable.

Sororities might very well be an amazing experience for girls like Elle Woods or the girls in Greek. It's probably easy to have fun when you're genetically blessed enough to fit a sorority's cookie-cutter mold and have parents with a bank account big enough to buy every single new uniform required of you. Unfortunately, at least in my case, if you look different or don't have enough money, you're often not one of these women these organizations will empower and love unconditionally.

I would love to go back and tell my 18-year-old self, you don't have to go broke, be uncomfortable, or look like everyone else for people to love you, because the experience I thought I wanted so badly turned out to be an expensive and disappointing scam. I stayed in the organization for that first semester as a new member and two more as an initiated sister. It never got better and only got more expensive.

The first semester, between dues, the retreats, T-shirts, formals, and miscellaneous expenses-- like matching shoes and new white pants-- I spent about $2,400. The next two semesters, dues were increased. But I already had the uniform pieces.

So the cost was roughly the same. After those three semesters, I decided to drop. After that, only one of my sisters reached out to ask what happened and why I dropped, and if I was OK.

She's the only one I keep in touch with to this day. There was no love lost, just a few thousand dollars down the drain. It was a miserable mistake.

And it cost me more than $7,000 when it was all said and done. I found that Greek life is a way to buy your friends. And those friends come with a hefty price tag.