How I Paid for College and the Mistakes Along the Way
I graduated top of my class in high school, #19 of 800, and immersed myself in school activities from theater to sports, was class president and did a ton of community service. Even with all the high school accolades and activities, I didn’t see myself getting scholarships. I also fell into the trap of my parents making too much to receive any financial aid (aside from some loans) but unable to afford to send their fourth child to college.
Without money or loans to afford tuition, my dream of going to college fizzled. At 18, I was embarrassed and kept the secret that I wouldn’t be going to school. I only began telling my friends when they started leaving for college. It was a very difficult time but I knew somehow I was going to get my college education. I deferred my entry into Rutgers, decided to attend community college and got a job.
I ended up dropping out of community college after the first month. My first big financial mistake since I lost the semester’s tuition. I made a few bucks delivering Portuguese food and pizza. I was saving what I could but spending most of it being a teen. I was living the college life without the college education. I wanted that college education.
So I created a plan, I got a job at Newark Airport and made decent money. I was making $7 an hour but I was working 60+ hours a week so paychecks with overtime was huge. I was saving and spending. Probably spending more than I was saving. At 18, I fell into the work-spend-work trap. I quickly rose from bartender to lounge supervisor and eventually human resource recruiter before I was 20 years old. I was promoted 4 or 5 times in a span of 3 years.
During that time span, I left Rutgers College for Rutgers Newark because of the proximity to work and home. That choice was great because I met some of my good friends today whose made my life so much more amazing.
I worked crazy amount of hours and took on a full 19 credit course load. I was literally working each day and going to school 3 days a week. I went to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays with classes from 8am to 9pm. Occasionally, I would have lab on Friday morning.
Although I made roughly $35,000 a year and enough to pay for tuition, I was making one financial mistake after another. I remember working 20 hours one day from unloading luggage from a plane, cleaning the bathroom to checking-in people to their flights. During the breaks, I would study. It was all good back then because I got to party, drive my BMW and go to school.
My Four Financial Mistakes Made In College
Financial Mistake #1
I maxed out on student loans. Back then I thought student loans were free money since I didn’t have to pay for it until some time after graduation. Why would I use my own money if I could use someone else’s? I was making enough to cover tuition and books but I chose to use my paycheck for things and partying.
Financial Mistake #2
I got my first credit card on campus without understanding how it worked. I wanted a frisbee these bank reps were giving away. All I had to do was sign on the dotted line. A couple weeks later, I got my first credit card and off to spend money I didn’t have. I can’t remember what I bought with that credit card. What I remember is I paid over $5,000 for that frisbee.
Financial Mistake #3
I had a bank account that I never used. I didn’t really even understand how checking accounts or debit cards worked. I had no clue about direct deposit so I chose to get a paper check. I would cash my paycheck at the supermarket. There was no way of accounting for my paycheck because I’d spend the cash without knowing where it was actually going.
Financial Mistake #4
I bought a brand new BMW against my parents’ advice. It was my money and my choice to spend how I chose. I was working and studying so much I began to feel stressed. I needed to reward myself for all the hard work so I did what a financially uneducated 20 year would do…buy a luxury sports car. I was such a financially irresponsible young adult.
All these early mistakes haunted me for years. I didn’t understand that all the spending and debt accumulation actually prevented me from living life. It made reaching lifestyle goals all that harder. I would work more hours just to pay for the lifestyle I was creating. I had no idea what lifestyle that was but it was all based on spending. It was YOLO of the worst kind.
These financial mistakes eventually caught up with me rather quickly. When I no longer had the airport job, I couldn’t afford payments to my credit cards, tuition or my car. At age 22, I contemplated filing bankruptcy. I would ask my parents and close friends for money. I asked a friend to borrow $400 to buy textbooks and another friend $1000 to pay for my ridiculously high car payment.
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So all the lifestyle choices and spending like a zombie prevented me from actually living. Although I was able dig myself out of the financial abyss, I repeated the mistakes but that’s another story.
Today, I’m considered highly educated receiving my BS in Finance at Rutgers University, MBA from Norwich and project management certificate from Villanova. The airport lounges I used to clean are lounges I now frequent. I went from financially uneducated to personal finance champion. What I’ve learned is that a person doesn’t have to struggle to live the life they’ve dreamed. We all make choices that impact our life and the answer is awareness…financial awareness.
When I look back, I can clearly see the mistakes but hindsight is 20/20. Financial awareness is extremely important coupled with financial education. It has to relate to where we are in our lives, how we think based on the lifestyle we live and where we hope to be in the near future.
It’s really amazing how we can keep ourselves in the situation in which we say we don’t want to be in. We want things so we work to afford those things. We are constantly working harder to pay for the things to make us feel better for all the hard work. It’s a vicious cycle.
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