This column is painful for me to write. It contains truth in fact and in numbers that I have been reluctant to review. As graduation approaches, I’m trying to rid myself of my four-year demons, one of which has been money and spending.
On paper, my financial profile would look like this: Whitton, occupation: student graduating, major: journalism, student loans: a lot, current personal finances: grim. My student loans aren’t astronomical, as I transferred to the University of Massachusetts from a private institution to get a budget-savvy education.
Here is the alarming bit: After some accounting on my part, I found that, if had saved every dollar I made during the duration of my four undergraduate years, I would have had enough money to cover exactly what my student loans amount to. I also might have some extra money for cushion when graduating.
But no, I am bare-boned in the financial department. I will share this – I have, until this Friday, 37 cents in my checking account. I pay for some rent, food and – despite what seems to be a financial burden – keep enough cash around that there must be a way to save.
I am someone who has been there and overdrafted on coffee, folk artist t-shirts and inexpensive beauty products. I am also someone who has chipped in thousands of dollars on my own education, won scholarships but still struggled to keep a positive savings balance and someone who in the last year has made a grand effort to reshape my financial future with my spending habits. This is why I’m qualified to tell you how to get your financial assets together.
I offer this piece of advice: Do not, under any circumstance, use a credit card during college. I didn’t. Technically, there is a plastic piece of lies floating around somewhere in my parents’ house with my name on it. However, I have never used it. I couldn’t be any happier about this choice, because I hear from many of my peers that they are leaving college with not only valuable knowledge, but also anywhere from $2,500 to upwards of $7,000 in credit card debt. This is insanity.
This is a preventable and easy step to take. Don’t spend money that’s not yours. It’s simple. It’s like that “Saturday Night Live” skit from a few years back with Steve Martin. “Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford,” says Amy Poehler. “If you don’t have any money you should not buy anything. Hmm sounds interesting,” to which Steve Martin replies, “Sounds confusing!” This is the best piece of advice you could take.
Next: take control of the money that is yours. It’s simple – save your money. Let’s say that, during my four-year academic experience, including summers, I had saved a reasonable $15 a week for a separate account than my regular savings. After eight academic semesters, I would have had roughly $2,700. Man, do I wish I had that kind of money sitting around; with interest, it would be even more.
Another step to take towards financial freedom and success is realizing you are the only person responsible for your spending – don’t make excuses. You might be reading and thinking either that I grew up an indulgent materialistic and spoiled. I grew up wearing Salvation Army dresses and was dragged on camping trips, not expensive hotels – but was still extremely blessed. They gave me freedom throughout high school and college to make spending decisions on my own, and trusted me because of the practical foundations they taught me. Unfortunately I couldn’t be trusted up until this year.
We don’t talk about finances and spending enough while at college. We have unrealistic meal plans fees, housing costs and lifestyles. We pay fees for things that we will never use while attending UMass. We pay $8 for a drink uptown but are unwilling to give to charity or those who need it or to put in our savings; I’m not exempt from this.
Though the numbers I report may not sound outstanding to anyone or this advice as unheard of, I urge you to look over your personal finances, and make some changes if need be in order to ensure stability upon graduation.
My personal scenario tells me that not only did I not take responsibility of my spending habits early on; but I’m also a reflection of our society. I believe the media has failed to articulate to its youngest consumers (college students) that, amidst the three-year economic crisis, and the coverage on it, we as consumers are not told to save our money. In fact we were told, even by the President, to spend, spend and spend.
We heard things like, “Hey, young prospective buyers with jobs just as shaky as the rest of us, houses are cheap, go buy one. You need things – go support the economy and buy them.” And so we did. We bought and bought more stuff and, in turn, the job recovery process was slow.
The simple fact is, I’ve made a lot of money as a college student, but I’ve made a lot of poor decisions that I wish I could take back. Hopefully, you take your financial future wisely and catch some dollars before its too late.
Chelsea Whitton is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]