This time of year always makes Johnny and me nostalgic for starting a new school year. Buying new pens and a planner, spending $500 on textbooks… each. We loved school, but financially it was kind of rough. Here’s what I wish I’d known when I was a student.
It’s okay to get loans and be poor.
I was kind of embarrassed by how poor I was, especially as a freshman. I wanted to have fun and give off the impression that I had money to spare. I wish I’d been more open with my financial situation with friends and been more responsible with the money I had. College is one time when it’s almost romantic to be poor… someone even coined the term “starving student” because it’s what you’re expected to be.
Pay attention to the details.
Rather than shy away from all there is to know about student loans, researching terms like “subsidized,” “unsubsidized,” and “pell grant” is a must. I made mistakes because I didn’t do my research. First, I had a couple unsubsidized loans, rather than subsidized, which meant they were accruing interest while I was still in school. (Subsidized loans don’t accrue interest until after you graduate.) Soon after we got married, I corrected my error with subsidized loans, and paid off my my unsubsidized loans with them.
My next, very costly, mistake came when I signed up for my first pell grant. Johnny and I were getting married before the upcoming semester, and so I signed up for the pell grant just a few days before Johnny and I said, “I do.” Much to my horror, the pell grant was rejected for the semester because I wasn’t married on the day I signed up for it. Despite multiple phone calls pleading for them to look over my minor clerical mistake, I still had to get a loan the first semester we were married. Shoulda coulda woulda wish I’d done my research.
(Financial) Ignorance is not bliss.
One of the Harry Potter books was released at the beginning of my freshman year, and when I went to buy it, my debit card was rejected because I didn’t have enough money in my bank account. As you can imagine, it was a rather embarrassing moment. And I left Harry Potter waiting, which was unforgivable! I’d had no clue how much money was in my bank account because I didn’t want to know. I wanted to avoid thinking about finances at all costs and live as if my money situation was better than it actually was. In retrospect, I wish I’d been checking my bank account every day and keeping an itemized budget. I thought that would cause me more stress, but it would have slashed my financial stress in half.
Good Grades Equal Money.
I’m going to tell you a tale of two students. One is me. The other is my roommate. We were both given scholarships to attend our university. Once we got to college, one of us (possibly me), squandered my scholarship and lost it after my freshman year. My roommate, er, I mean the other of us, maintained a 4.0 and had her scholarship renewed every single year, never having to pay a dime in tuition.
And even if I hadn’t started college with a scholarship, I could have been offered one after my freshman year if I’d gotten straight A’s. By our second year of marriage, Johnny was on the dean’s list, and we got a scholarship for one of his internships, which saved us poor kids a couple thousand dollars. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I wish I’d opened my textbooks a few more times so I could have had a little less debt on graduation day.
A Personal Finance Class Is a Must.
One awesome aspect of college is the chance to take elective courses. And while fencing or basket weaving may be right up your alley, be sure to take a personal finance class, too. The stuff you’ll learn in that class will be more useful than almost anything else you learn in college. Neither Johnny nor I took any personal finance classes at our college, and so we didn’t get our financial heads on straight until we’d almost graduated. Our school did offer a financial seminar one Saturday, and we attended several classes and took pages and pages of notes. I can still remember specific stuff I learned that day because it was so eye-opening to me.
My poor children will hear me drone on and on about all this throughout their teenage years. Anything you’d add to my droning?