U.S.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz on Blowing His College Budget

jason-chaffetz-my01
Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, says he is disappointed with the Trump administration. Mark Johnston / Daily Herald

I went to Brigham Young University on a football scholarship. I wasn’t a football player, I was a place kicker. There’s a huge difference. But I thought I was a celebrity. We had a really good football team, and I was an important guy on the team. “Big man on campus” is really the best way to put it.

When you’re on a football scholarship you get a stipend that’s supposed to cover your rent and a few incidentals. It was $360 a month. This was the late 1980s, and the NCAA has an interesting rule where you’re not allowed to supplement your income with a part-time job. They figured you’re already putting enough time into football.

So the first time I got my $360, I could see that for the last 10 days of the month I was going to be out of money. I’d overspent here and overspent there. I was going out to the movies and buying root beer. BYU has a no-alcohol policy. I’m sure girls were in the picture somehow. But I thought that somebody would always be there to bail me out if the money got too tight. That was my mistake.

I called up my parents, who were divorced, and asked if they could send me a check to tide me over. And much to my surprise, they both said no. My mom was gentler about it. She said, “Tell me what you need and I’ll show you how to live without it.” My dad had made a bad business decision and had filed for bankruptcy. He said, “I can’t. You’re going to have to figure it out for yourself.”

I was shocked. I was disappointed. I was mad. It was a very tough lesson about personal responsibility, and I had to learn about the magic of Top Ramen. With the few pennies that I could scrape together, I bought a case of Top Ramen, which I could boil up in my basement apartment. I got somebody to help me do my laundry in their apartment. And I also mooched off these girls I knew. I would sneak whatever cookies and bananas I could. It wasn’t stealing, exactly—with just a little permission, I probably overate my welcome. I was 20, and I was hungry!

It was a bad mistake, but it taught me something. It scared me, and I don’t ever want to have that feeling again. Now I get a very nice salary as a member of Congress, but when I’m in Washington, I sleep in my office. Right now I’m standing in my closet. I have microwave popcorn and corn nuts. A dash of frugality is a good thing for everyone. Everyone’s going to have to learn to go on a diet.

CAREER ARC

1987

Overspends his scholarship stipend and spends 10 days living on ramen.

1988

Serves as a co-chairman of Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign in Utah.

2004

After becoming a Republican in 1990, works on Jon Huntsman’s gubernatorial campaign.

2008

Defeats incumbent Republican Chris Cannon in the primary and is elected to Congress.

2012

Defends Mitt Romney and gets into a spirited debate with a Gingrich-campaign spokesman.

Interview By Lloyd Grove

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