An Open Letter to the Student Who is Worried About the Financial Future
Dear Nervously Awaiting Your Diploma Student,
So you’ve done it. You’ve completed another semester at college. You’ve finished your tests and finals, you’ve packed up your things and you’re heading home. The car in the parking lot is loaded with dirty laundry and the remnants of this semester. You’re tired from studying late at night and ready to put any thoughts of school far behind you.
I for one, do not blame you. College takes a huge amount of work and brainpower and energy that not much can prepare you for. This semester you’ve not only accomplished and passed your finals, but you’ve also made memories you’ll cherish for a long time. You’ve participated in intramurals or music performances or sports and clubs, and you’ve made friends that will last a lifetime.
When I was in your shoes, I was thrilled to be done at this point in the year. I was excited to be heading home, however, I was a sad to be leaving my friends. Friends really do become family in college and they’ll certainly be the people you call in times when you need something down the road. It was this realization for me my Freshman year at Luther College that really got me thinking. My friends hadbecome more than dorm mates; they were the ones I went to when I wanted to do something, hang out, or just talk to. They were the people who were in all my best memories of college and the ones pulling me through my worst times as well. As someone who chose to attend college four states away from home, I started to realize my core group of friends was located in the Midwest, and I was a plane ride away from them.
This realization actually helped to fuel my motivation to find my own financial independence.
Let me explain a little. My friends all lived around the Midwest while I was in Denver, Colorado. An average round-trip plane ticket to go see everyone was going to be pricey, and especially if I wanted to go often. I started to round up an idea of how much money I would need to visit people and talked to my parents, especially since I wasn’t sure if I would be living anywhere near them post-school. I wanted to get a full picture of what my expenses could possibly be after college so I could make room for flying to see my friends.
The “data” I retrieved was a little startling. There were loans, living expenses, and just daily expenses in general. It was more than what I had expected as a college freshman. However, this reality opened my eyes to the importance of financial stability after college. I wanted to see my friends and be able to fly to see them. Thus, I would need money left over, and before that could happen I would need to find ways to save and pay off my loans.
There were a few things I had done and a few I wished I had in those early years before graduating. The first is that I understood and had the facts about the money I owed for school. Education is unfortunately pricey these days, and reading through my bills each month from the school helped me to be aware of that. When I saw the prices my eyes were truly open to this fact, I started looking around for more scholarships. I was surprised that current college students could receive scholarships—I didn’t have to be a current high school student to earn a scholarship! That extra money helped as well as finding an on-campus work-study position. This was a huge relief to me to know the money I was earning was going straight towards my tuition. I would highly recommend finding a work study position and more scholarships throughout college. This could be a huge asset for you!
I did also have a little spending money on the side from an off-campus job. I took the pay check and split it three ways each month: a third for spending on essentials such as food, a third for saving, and a third for emergencies. I made sure I budgeted my money each month to ensure I was spending only what I could afford. I found that by carrying cash instead of a card, I could keep track of my spending more easily. If I didn’t have cash, then I couldn’t spend it! (However, if you do this, make sure your friends aren’t always paying for things for you. If you don’t have the money for the activity, don’t even do it in the first place.)
There were also several opportunities to work with a financial counselor. From what I’ve heard, working with them helps a great deal. Being able to sit down and talk about money honestly with someone, brings a fresh look on your finances. There is also the ability to refinance your loan. This makes it easier to pay off the money you have borrowed for your education.
I started to set goals for myself towards the end of my college career, and this made a big difference in my money journey. I told myself I wanted to work after college and within three months have a portion of the loan paid off. I knew that by setting goals I could work to make sure that goal was met. I have a feeling goals would work well for you too! Try setting ones that are attainable and reasonable. Work towards it little by little with the goal to be debt-free.
Awareness was always my key strategy for money management in college. The goal of being financially independent post-college kept me going. I loved the thought of being able to support myself at some point with the hope that those long nights spent studying weren’t in vain. My biggest hope for college was that my degree would pay off at some point, which it did. I was grateful for the awareness I was given in my life when it came to money.
So, as you pack up and head home after your tests, I would encourage you to not put school so far in the back of your mind that you don’t even think about the money management side of things. Take some time this break to go over your finances with someone who knows what’s going on, whether that’s a parent or guardian, or even a financial adviser. It is so helpful to look at your options and see what you have going for you.
If you are looking for more ways to consolidate loans, find other ways to save, or to look in to other options for your loans post-college, please check out Earnest’s Resource Page. They are completely committed to helping you figure out the best ways to handle your money after college.
I believe that you can reach financial independence! I hope you will believe in yourself too.