Friday, October 29, 2010

The Things I Wish I'd Learned BEFORE College

Seeing the balance on my student loans always makes me cringe. I have been in and out of college for 13 years and have yet to complete a degree. I just can't seem to decide what I want to be when I grow up. Making that decision even more difficult is the fact that I have a job that I love that pays well in a business where I have worked my way up from the bottom. With the job market as it is, though, I realize that my job may not always be here and, should it disappear tomorrow, I would be hard-pressed to find another position earning what I do based solely on my work experience. A majority of those in my department have degrees in something ranging from biology to theater, but they have degrees and that counts for something regardless of the fact that the required classes to earn these degrees do not apply to this position. As much as it irritates those of us who have not earned degrees, this is the world that we live in so we need to keep up or assume the risks.

I am crossing my fingers that work will slow down just enough that I can start taking classes again at the beginning of the coming year. I won't be taking out a single loan to make this happen, however. I will never sign another student loan document with the exception of a check to pay off each one. I currently pay them via online bill pay, but I want the satisfaction of hand-writing those final payments. Below are some of the things that I wish I had thought about prior to signing up for student loan debt starting at the tender age of barely-18.

1. Student loans must be repaid and will affect your lifestyle for years or even decades after you graduate (or drop out).

Student loan payments can drastically affect your lifestyle. It's frustrating making hundreds of dollars worth of payments every month when all you have to show for it is a prestigious piece of paper, much less if you never earned said piece of paper. There are very few ways to get out of repaying your student loans. They're not bankruptable. You can't return or eBay your education to recoup some of your money. You are stuck with the debt that you signed up for, so...

2. Read the fine print. Just because it's a student loan doesn't mean it's a low interest rate.

Until I had to start making payments on my student loans, I had no idea that I had signed up to make payments at 18% interest for 15 years. 15 years!!! Had a loan officer said to me at 18-years-old, "You will begin making payments on this loan at age 22 and your loan will be paid off right around the time you turn 37." there is no way I would've signed that piece of paper without at least thinking about it for a while.

3. You don't have to spend every last penny that is handed to you.

Spending student loan overages on things other than school necessities only extends and increases the payments you'll have to make in the end. I'm making payments on pizza, shoes, and a $500 car that I drove for less than a year more than ten years after all of these things are long gone. Just because the money is handed to you doesn't mean you can't spend what you need and give the rest back. Carefully consider what is truly a need and what is a want.

4. If you don't have a major, don't attend a private college.

Yes, there is some prestige that comes with the names of some universities, but not if you can't afford to stay long enough to graduate. I spent $27,000 to for three semesters of general courses that I would've had to take at any school. Here is a tip: To say that you graduated from Harvard (for example), you only have to complete your degree at Harvard. You could spend three and a half years as a full-time student at UMass for about $41,000. One semester at Harvard costs over $19,000. So, to graduate from Harvard, you can spend four years there and spend well over $150k, or you can spend $60,000 (or even less if you attend a school other than UMass - I just choose a state school in Massachusetts for this comparison). Both students get a degree declaring their graduation from Harvard.

5. Student loans aren't a necessity.

Future students and parents: Plan ahead for college. This is a foreseeable major expense. You can save for it. You can work hard in school. You can apply for a million grants and scholarships. You can shop around and find a great school that is within your budget.

6. Financial aid can be negotiated.

Government grants may not be negotiable, but assistance from your school may be. Talk to a financial aid counselor and find out what kind of assistance is available. You may qualify for grants and scholarships for students in need or reduced tuition. When it comes to money, treat the school as a business and think of yourself, the student, as a customer. You have the option to obtain your education and spend your money (including grants and scholarships) elsewhere. It may be in their best interest to work with you.

7. Where there is a will, there is a way.

American culture pushes doing everything the easy way. Technology has advanced in ways that allow us to do more work with less effort. Much of the media promotes instant gratification and constant entertainment. I know parents have been using the phrase, "When I was a kid..." for generations and no teenager really wants to hear it, but there are some real lessons that can be learned not only from prior generations, but from those in the younger generations who have embraced hard work. If there is a gap between what your grants and scholarships cover and what college is going to cost, find ways to reduce that cost or pay for the difference. Consider living at home rather than on-campus or reducing your course load. Work during college. Sacrifices may need to be made. These may be your first real grown-up decisions if you've just graduated high school and they won't be easy, but they are important.

Please leave a comment with your own lessons learned regarding student loan debt.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Now We're Hittin' The Big Time!!

We have cleared the $10,000 hurdle!!!! That means we are more than two-thirds of the way to our goal and the one-year deadline is still four months away! Wooooohoooooo!!!!  A frugal holiday season and plenty of overtime are upon us, so I intend to keep the momentum going!
Get 15% off
your first order
use code positron
Home Essentials
Buy Home Essentials at Soap.comBuy Home Essentials at
Not valid for existing or customers. Some resctrictions apply.