A Money-Challenged Person Advises a Young Person How to Avoid Being Money Challenged (Ha)

Hi, Money-Challenged Person. I am starving soon-to-be college student who really wants day-to-day financial independence. My parents are footing the bill as far as college goes, but I’d love to be able to do us all a favor and try to be smart with my money startiiiiiing NOW. HELP.

1. The short answer to this question is, do everything I did, except the exact opposite of that. 

2. But really, the first thing I think you should do is find out exactly how much money your parents are paying for you to be in school each semester. That’s a good thing to know. Write that number down on a piece of paper and tape it to the top of your laptop or your desk or whatever. And just sort of recognize that that number is the amount of debt you could be accruing each year, and you’re not. That’s lucky. That’s great. That’s a gift. I didn’t realize how lucky I was not to have student loan debt until I was well out of school … and by that time I’d already replaced it with credit card debt (don’t do that). So yeah. Be aware of what your parents are paying for you to be where you are, and be thankful for that, and don’t fuck it up. I mean, don’t feel like you have to give yourself lashes each day in repentance for having won the parent lottery in addition to every other lottery you’ve ever won (America! Education! Etc.!) but just own it, know it, and appreciate it.

3.  I’d also have a conversation now with your parents about how living expenses are going to work. Maybe they’ll say, We’ll see how it goes. If they say that, say: Nope. Get a number from them about what you’ll be getting a month or a semester. What can they afford, what are they willing to give you. Talking about money is hard, but you need to have this discussion. It won’t be good for anyone for you to get X dollars and then check in when it runs out. You need to know what you’re working with. Only then can you realize how often you can buy frozen yogurt at 3 a.m. and how often you can buy new outfits for exams (important) (JK, not important, don’t do this) (well, don’t make a habit of it sometimes new exam outfits are just a thing that has to happen).

4. Re: Getting a job. YES. Get a job. I had a job during my last year of school, and I wish I’d had one the whole time. A lot of people will say, but school is your job. And yeah, sure, but you should also get a real job. It’s a nice escape from the college bubble, and a good reality check a few times a week. Wait tables, sit at a reception desk, whatever. Stuff you buy with your own money is way more fun than stuff you buy with your parents’ money. This is a FACT. “I’m going to go to this restaurant and pay with money I earned.” What a fun sentence.

5. Okay that’s all for now. Tiny little things to think about. Conversations to have. Jobs to apply for. That’s enough to start. More than, really.

6.  For actual logistical advice, Mike Dang’s got you covered: “Starting out as an Adult” and “Starting and Sticking to a Budget” 


18 Comments / Post A Comment

YES to #2. I had a sign above my desk that said, “There are 41,480 reasons why you should do your homework.”

Beans (#1,111)

I used a variation on #2… my parents were able to foot the bill for college due to the fact that an older family friend left them all their money after he died. I taped a photo of him to my desk and wrote “[name redacted] says do your homework!” on it.

Pumpkin (#2,153)

I think the “get a job” advice should really depend on your major. Some majors require internships/lab projects/all nighters and it’s bad to try and squeeze a job on top of that. Everything suffers.

/says the girl who did try to squeeze it in and passed out in the middle of a major important final.

deedeebee (#2,164)

@Pumpkin Tutoring is often a good job for people in intensive programs, because it helps you keep your own skills sharp. I spent less time studying because I never lost the basic skills.

Pumpkin (#2,153)

@deedeebee Tutoring wasn’t a paid option at my school (you could do it for free as a volunteer or for class credit) and there was an overabundance of people trying to tutor outside of the school setting which led to rock-bottom prices (oh, economics) plus I have a learning disability, which automatically put me out.

If tutoring or a desk job in your department is available to you, jump on it! But it’s not always a reality.

I did two retail jobs and unpaid research. Slept in the lab and my car a lot, maxing out on three hours a night. It was an epic bad idea. I feel like I lost out on A LOT of opportunities to connect with my professors and attend events, plus I was exhausted all the time and almost always sick.

It kind of grinds my gears whenever someone says all college students should have jobs, regardless of major. While it’s a good idea for some people, for others, it’s just not feasible. Hence the long comment, sorry!

LDW@twitter (#1,216)

I always had a job even if it was just 8 hours a week. You won’t make a lot of money but for me it kept me calm to know I had a bit of cash when I needed it. So I’m a big proponent of number 4 but only take on as many hours as you absolutely need.

@LDW@twitter That is basically what I did as well. I had a job where I only worked one day a week which worked pretty well. I usually worked a seven hour day on Sunday and that was it. It worked really well for me. It was also the kind of job where it wasn’t the end of the world to call in sick (ie not a huge burden on my coworkers or that needed a scramble to find a replacement). I definitely occasionally called in sick when I was really behind and needed that day to study or write a paper or was just too effing exhausted to go (*cough* also maybe because I had a terrible hangover once or twice).

thatgirl (#1,965)

A pretty good option is an on-campus job. By my sophomore year, I was getting paid to be a stitcher in the costume shop, and also a peer writing tutor. It was like, $60 a week at most, but it paid for lots of my fun. And it was very easy to work around my class schedule since I was already on campus.

FruitLoops (#2,249)

I registered just so I can pitch in my 2 cents about 4.

4 is not as straightforward of a consideration for someone who’s getting financial aid. Financial aid includes a portion called Student Contribution. The idea is that both the parents of a dependent student and the student himself/herself are expected to contribute a certain amount. Financial aid is then the difference between the combined expected contribution and the cost of attending.

Some colleges (a lot, it seems), does this HORRIBLE, AWFUL thing where they increase your expected student contribution with your income. So, you feel all great working hard during the school year at your job and making money… only for you to get less financial aid the following year. Some colleges only have a fixed $ amount of expected contribution and some scale expected contribution at a lesser degree (e.g. you make $1 and the college ONLY takes away 40 cents of financial aid)

So… long story short, check with your school’s financial aid policy! If you get heavily penalized for working during the year, I’d use the time to do something else that can translate to financial independence/responsibility later.

/higher education financing nerding out

blueblazes (#1,798)

Yep, get a job that still gives you time to sleep and study. I worked a few hours a night at our college newspaper. It gave me enough money to buy beer and pizza and the occasional new outfit for finals. It also taught me about things like HR and taxes. :)

ghechr (#596)

I’d also say that you should be planning for your career after college while you’re still in college. Meaning, get on the ball about applying for internships, interviewing people who have jobs that you’re interested in having, maybe even asking someone to mentor you, and all that jazz. The sooner you get working on this the better. It’ll pay off when you graduate.

Blackbird (#2,196)

Regarding getting a job while in college, I would say to try and find something that you can enjoy, if only a little bit. Having a part-time job makes you feel awesome when you get to pay for your own things and/or increase your savings, but I’ve had jobs in college that would make me depressed the whole day before having to go in, and that wasn’t worth it at all. Especially since my moodiness and exhaustion from the job caused me to study less effectively, which is no good.

And be sure to look out for internships and such in your field. If you get lucky you can find one that pays you, and then you get the benefits of lots of good experience AND a steady paycheck. (I was able to do this this last summer and it was one of the more rewarding experiences I’ve had in college.)

If you’re okay with going unpaid and are at a research university, be sure to ask any professors that you like or whose work you’re interested in if they need any help with their research or if their grad students need any help or if they’d look at that awesome idea for an independent project I’m sure you have bouncing around in your head. It’s a great avenue to gain experience, you could possibly pick up some practical skills, and if you get lucky enough to get author credit on a paper you help research or write you have something awesome on your CV when applying to grad schools (if grad school is your thing)!

I really wish someone had sat me down and explained #2 to me (and that I’d had the sense to listen to them). I slacked off a lot and muddled through with barely-passing grades some semesters, and looking back on the amount of money my parents spent for me to do that is a guilt trip I’ll be dealing with for a long time to come.

As far student jobs go, one of the best things I did for myself in undergrad was get a workstudy job at the library. Aside from the part where it led me to a career, it was a job I found genuinely enjoyable, not too hard, and gave me a lot of time to read and do my homework, so a library can be a pretty awesome place to work as a student (I just should have spent more of my free time studying and less reading for fun, see above paragraph).

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@Caitlin Young@twitter I loooved my library work-study job. Although, I think at most colleges those only go to people who are on financial aid, so maybe not that applicable to this letter writer? (I am an Old, but when I was in school work study was a component of my financial aid package.)

'riella (#2,067)

Thank you so much! I was the one who asked. (And thanks for the helpful comments.)

Lily Rowan (#70)

If it’s not too late, I’ll throw in my big mistake: Spending money I didn’t have in my senior year, on the assumption that after graduation, I would have a great job and All The Money to pay it back! Yeah, no. Don’t do that.

nonvolleyball (#305)

@Lily Rowan I did this when got my first real (& wonderful in many ways but definitely not “great” in the “don’t even worry about when you’ll pay off your credit card; it’ll all even out in the end” sense) job, & have only recently started saving again after rectifying that ongoing mistake. the household joke is that I enrolled in a very expensive postgrad money-management course.

(seriously, young padwan, credit cards are your ENEMY unless you’re able to pay them off in full every month. you’re allowed to carry a balance occasionally for truly extraordinary circumstances, but pay off your dental surgery before you buy airplane tickets with that sucker, or else you will have All of the Debt for Way too Long.)

I did some basic math to figure out how much I was paying in tuition for each lecture/seminar/lab. It’s not so much a saving money thing, but I was a lot less tempted to skip a class when I realized I had already paid $150 to go to that class.

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