Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Add something new to your bank of experiences

Upscale experiences are possible even for the most frugal UMass students
(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

Living as a college student usually means constantly being on a tight budget. With tuition, rent and food costs, the majority of us can’t afford to spend our cash on the more “frivolous” experiences. Eating out in Amherst is often limited to the $1 midnight cheese slice at Antonio’s or an occasional splurge at Miss Saigon, Mission Cantina or House of Teriyaki.

Any friend of mine will tell you that my frugality can reach levels most people have never conceived. But I also passionately believe in treating yourself to indulge in experiences worth the expense now and then. I really believe that saving for and splurging on a stand-alone experience  is good for the soul, enhancing your everyday life with new energy and vigor.

Yet even with good reason, sometimes barriers of cost, travel and timing remain. No matter the motivation, if you lack a car, you lack a car. If you can’t get a weekend off for a getaway, or the cash to blow on fine dining, you might consider yourself out of luck.

But there are plenty of ways to treat yourself to more than an at-home spa day; enjoy upscale experiences without breaking the bank. Here are some general tips and underrated wallet-friendly Amherst spots of luxury.

Lean into sharing appetizers, midday desserts and drinks at odd times. This is truer in larger cities, but if you’re willing to have a bite during the less busy hours, many fancy restaurants offer discounts on more than just drinks during “happy hour.” Splitting a decorative patisserie tart can feel special, and a plate of fancy cheeses or truffle fries can often be scouted for under $5 between 3-6 p.m. on the weekdays. Holiday breaks often leave this time wide open for college students while the rest of the world is working, so take advantage!

Picnics are another excursion that you should not be avoiding. Better on the days the temperature stays above freezing, they can be done almost anywhere and anytime. Just pack a large blanket or sheet if you want to sit on the ground and a few good sandwiches and drinks. If you have a meal plan, a few dining hall sandwiches or grab-n-go can be the cheapest option. But if you want more (low-budget) sophistication and class, my personal recommendation is to splurge on a sharable baguette, cheeses, jams, charcuterie, fruit and something sparkling. Trader Joe’s and Big Y have extremely affordable options. To really amp up your arrangement, check out this easy cheese pairing guide and elevate the experience with plastic travel sparkling cider for your bubbly, easily acquired for less than a buck from the local Target or Dollar Tree.

While those less-than-secret ways can be taken anywhere you go, there are a few opportunities that are specific to Amherst and the University of Massachusetts that you should consider putting on your radar.


Dollar Oysters at Bistro 63

One of the nicer restaurants in downtown Amherst, Bistro 63, has one of the best deals you could dream up. Every weekday from 4-6 p.m., you can get the highly-lauded delicacy of oysters for the very happy hour price of $1, with the only additional requirement to buy something as minimal as a soda off the menu.

Set conveniently in the center of downtown, Bistro 63 is accessible from campus by foot or bus. Easily fit this outing in between classes or to celebrate as a toast to the end of your day.


Amherst Farm Winery

Before underclassmen stop reading, this is a classy outing even the underaged can enjoy. Located east of campus along Route 9, this picturesque vineyard and charming barn-housed tasting room is beautiful during all seasons, though I recommend going when the tasting room is open (March through December).

The opportunity to try six different award-winning wines of your choice comes at the affordable price of only $8 and includes a branded glass as a keepsake.

A beautiful outdoor deck featuring a porch swing with a view, hidden rooms filled with books, cozy couches and various fire-lit nooks are all perfect places to enjoy a cheese plate or picnic that anyone can gnaw on while the grown-ups swirl their libations.

Keep up with their Facebook page for special events and live music. If you lack a car, the route 30 bus goes right to the vineyard, or you could combine it with the next suggestion.


Take a long bike ride

If you have your own bike, then you’re used to maneuvering through the hordes of class-going pedestrians on campus. Consider taking a leisurely ride instead. I’m not suggesting a grueling cycle up a mountain, but a scenic, easy ride through what you may take for granted: New England, one of the most beautiful regions in America.

Luckily you can still ride without your own two-wheeler, thanks to the new ValleyBike Share system. Single trips range $2-$7 depending on the length of the ride. Just find any docking station to start your journey and end it at any other.

The Mass Central Rail Trail, accessible behind Amherst College, has miles of smooth road through an almost complete canopy of trees, with views of expansive, beautiful farmland and the legendary Pioneer Valley mountains. I suggest looking online for other possible paths or destinations. Meander off your chosen route and enjoy a lavish picnic.

The author recommends trying both of the sauces provided with the spread.


Baking/Cooking 101 

Expert-taught culinary classes are a luxury experience, that can sometimes run a typical minimum of $100, you can find at your fingertips for free. Award-winning chefs that have put UMass’ dining on the map teach three-hour long courses dubbed Baking/Chocolate 101 and Cooking 101. Typically, the sweet variety is offered one semester, and the savory classes in the other. These courses fill up faster than your typical general education course, require a UMass dining plan to join and you can only enroll in one class per semester, so take advantage and plan early.

If you want to learn more of the savory end of the kitchen, you can pick a class for a cuisine you would most like to explore, from homemade pasta, sushi and dim sum, to Indian to American barbecue. I got to make taquitos, chimichangas and loads of guacamole in Mexican 101.

Chocolate 101 sends students home with truffles, hot lava cake and chocolate covered strawberries.

Hopefully these suggestions give you an idea to try something new in the area—there are truly so many fun activities to try in Amherst for students. Live it up and take advantage of our beautiful college town.


Emma Waldman can be reached at [email protected].


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