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College Expenses: My Financial Blunders You Can Learn From

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Do you remember your college years? All of your studying and wise financial decisions….or maybe not. Many of us probably remember some fun times and crazy decisions, but as for financial wisdom, it probably didn’t happen.

Some of my relatives are currently going through those wonderful years of college, and I recently found myself giving advice on what not to do, mainly because there are many things that I wish I would have done differently. Here’s a short list of my mess-ups as well as my advice on what I should have done (and therefore, what you should do).

1) I put little thought into what college I would attend.

Here’s a summary of my senior year of high school: I took my ACT, which I did OK on, but really didn’t prepare for. I visited one school, applied, and was not accepted. Then I applied for a local university since time was running out, was accepted, but forgot to attend orientation so I was put on the waiting list…..which I never got off from. So, I ended up going to the local community college for two years before I transferred to the local university that I was previously ousted from.

It all worked out, but I wouldn’t advise that plan to anyone! Once you’re a junior in high school, you should really start visiting colleges and study for that ACT. Score well, and you could earn some nice scholarships to a very prestigious school! Plus, by visiting multiple universities, you’ll actually choose the school that you enjoy, rather than the one nearby that gives you a letter of acceptance.

2) I didn’t need an internship, my GPA was high, so I figured a job would be easy to find

Bad move.

I graduated with a degree in finance and had no experience whatsoever in the workforce. My grades were good, but with no experience, no one would take me seriously. It took me 2 months to find work, and it could have easily taken me longer. My job was temporary, and had nothing to do with my degree. Still to this day, I do not work in finance at all, and as each day passes, it’s getting harder and harder for me to be considered for work in that field. College was just too long ago, and I still have no experience.

If you wish to succeed in your field of choice, ALWAYS work in that field as you’re taking your college courses. That experience will do wonders for you as you start looking for that first job. Trust me. Your grades are not enough.

3) I was completely debt free after 3 years of college. I figured I was in the clear….not true

Even though I got through 3 years without an ounce of debt, I still graduated with a loan totaling $12,000.

Life happens and I didn’t account for it. I spent money foolishly since I didn’t have debt – I bought some new golf clubs, TVs, an entertainment center, surround sound, and a nice car. Well, I decided to switch majors (I was an engineering major) and it tacked an extra year onto my college plan. And, let me tell you, college scholarships basically don’t exist for the 5th year of college (also known as “super senior” year). My expenses were more than I could handle. And totaling my car didn’t help the savings either….

You may be debt-free now, but always be ready for what may be coming in the future. If you have savings, keep them. You’ll most likely need to dip into them very soon!

What do you wish you would have done differently when you were in college? Did you make some dumb financial decisions?


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AUTHOR Derek

My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.

23 Comments

  1. I have four children and I’m still paying off my student loans (the size of my mortgage.)I am listening carefully to my children now. Most of them want to own their own business and I don’t know that they need a college education to do so. I know I’m going against the grain here, but there are a lot of other ways to gain the work and education experience they need to have the careers they want. I’m not holding any of them to a four year degree.

    • I’m glad you have an open mind Brenda. Too many parents push their children into college because they believe it’s the only way to succeed. Let me tell you, it’s not!

  2. I agree that these are great tips. If I could have done it differently, I would have studied more for SAT/ACT and been more selective in the school that I attended.

    • Same here! Studying for the ACT/SAT is really important and can score BIG scholarships.

  3. I would have not gone to college full-time after high school like my family pressured me to, would have gone part-time since I had to work full-time.
    Also I would have partied less and studied more.

    And I agree about the internships. Take full advantage of them!
    Learned my lesson this time around and am trying to get internships right off the bat, instead of waiting until my last year of grad school.

    • Stinkin family pressure. They mean the best, but sometimes they just need to relax and try to understand what’s right for you.

  4. Thanks for sharing what you have learned. It is really helpful to be proactive and know what doesn’t work. I think for me, I would have gone back to school earlier in life. Everything has worked out well in a way since I have a job I wouldn’t have gotten if I didn’t work right out of high school, but it sure gets hard to drag myself to evening classes now. I am tired most days.

    • Getting school out of the way immediatly was pretty nice, but there’s something to be said about taking classes later in life too. You’re more responsible and will actually learn the material. You won’t go into massive debt like so many students, and while others were in school earning nothing, you’ve had an income! 🙂

      • Very true. I do find I get more out of the courses because I can relate to them on a practical level. I also find I can contribute more to discussions because I have the experience to share. I just find I don’t have the energy I did in my early 20’s to keep up with as much now. I am not able to do as many courses in one year as I was. But, eventually I will get it done.

  5. I’ve been out of college a long time, but I wish an internship, and some type of career course for my major, was mandatory. That might have saved me a lot of time trying to figure out what I really wanted to do in life. And helped me into a stable job more quickly.

    • That’s true! Not only would an internship help you find a job after school, but it would also help you decide what job interested you! Yep, I definitely should have worked as an intern…

  6. If I could have done it differently I wouldn’t have wasted so much money at the bars on weekends. I wasn’t big into personal finance back then so another thing I would have done differently is started learning more about personal finance right from the start rather than not getting into it until after graduation. At least I got into it at some point though and am on the right track now!

    • Drinks are expensive! I never got into the bar scene, mainly because I was cheap and I was afraid alcohol would turn me into an idiot (like I had seen it do to others). I’m glad you are on the right track now!

  7. I got through college with almost no loan at all. I had scholarship, had a part-time job, and a little financial support from parents and relatives. However, debts started piling up after graduation. Since I have a full-time job and I was debt-free, I used my credit card unwisely, charged almost everything I wanted though I don’t need them. Unfortunately, the support from parents and my aunts stopped so I had to rely on my income alone and bills started to pile up until I can no longer make both ends meet. Lesson learned. Now, I am trying to pay off everything. A little more effort and time, I will be debt-free!

    • It funny how that happens. We think we’re financially responsible and then all of the sudden, we spend unwisely (in a big way most of the time) and then we spend years trying to get back to the financial state we once were in. Good luck paying off the debts! You can do it!

  8. I managed to fall into credit card debt and had to work full-time. I finished my four year degree in six years. I also switched majors a number of times before finally settling on economics; I should have gone into accounting.

    Years and thousands later, I found my way.

    BTW,I found my way into finance by pursuing a masters in accounting. It’s unfortunate, but I see fewer finance majors find their way into finance.

    • Yep, your story actually sounds pretty normal. Falling into debt and having to take a break from school for a bit. Congrats for still getting through it. Many don’t.

  9. I was a lifeguard SR year of HS so I had plenty of cash that I burned through freshman year of college on buying EVERYONE drinks…wish I could tell 18 year old Evan slow down lol

    • Haha! Big man on campus huh? Don’t you wish you knew then what you knew now? I’m getting pretty passionate about this subject and want to help all of those college-aged students. Hopefully, I can save them from a lot of financial destruction down the road.

  10. It looks like I made a lot of the same mistakes. But as far as the college goes, I settled for an in state school when I could have gone to a more prestigious school with scholarships because I listened to my fearful mom. That’s one semi-regret that I had when I was unemployed for almost a year after graduating. But there’s good news! I just got my reminder that my student loan payback starts next month! (can you hear the sarcasm? lol)
    Yeah, there are some things I would do differently but I say make your mistakes while you are young and the younger the better. I kind of wish my parents would have let me make more mistakes before I got to college.

    • Allowing your kids to make mistakes is probably a tough thing to do as a parent. It’s sounds like they did quite a good job raising you though! Good luck paying back those loans. It’s going to suck, but it IS possible to pay it back!

  11. Oh, how I can identify with you. Yes, we happen to have done similar misguided decisions during our college years. It is impossible to bring back and correct those mistakes but we can still unravel them. The way you’re giving advice now to young people is a sure way of atoning for them. As for myself, I make sure my children are guided with my wisdom from past experience.

    • I really do have a passion for helping those kids make the right choices! Everyone always talks about how you MUST go to school, but they never give advice on how the kids are supposed to pay for it!


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