I’d like to state that I was incredibly lucky to have my parents pay for my college tuition, room and board, and dining hall costs for all 4 years of college. I was definitely not financially responsible enough to figure out such an enormous expense by myself, and probably wouldn’t have even known how to start tackling it. I’m very lucky to be debt free because of that. My mom is a teacher and my dad is a network admin at a community college, so college tuition was definitely not a drop in the bucket.
During college, I went a little crazy. I had a work study job that paid $8.75 the first 2 years and $9.75 the last 2. I was usually assigned only 4-5 hours a week, but others who couldn’t make it to their shifts would put up 2-4 extra hours and I was always ready to snipe them since this job mostly had me sitting around and helping other students with their IT issues. I was making $200-300 hundred a month easily. While it wasn’t a ton of money, it was way more money then I’d ever had before. When I got to college, I had the checking account mom opened for me back home, but I also opened a local student checking account in Philadephia so I could direct deposit my work study checks. And for the first time, I felt like THIS MONEY IS MINE. Which was a dangerous thing.
I think I missed the point of my parents early lessons on saving, and spending money on what I truly valued — I saw my mom’s “Are you sure?” questions as a way for her to patrol what she believed I should value. Because of my mentality, I felt so completely restricted with money up until that point that I finally let loose. This was the first major shift in my financial philosophy. All my life I had saved and saved, and now I found myself asking, “What was I saving for?” “What’s the thing I want more later that I’m saving this money for?” “Why haven’t I bought the things I’ve always wanted?” So I did.
I bought clothes I didn’t really wear, I bought them at retail price from stores like Charlotte Russe or Wet Seal, I shopped online, I bought Fruit Rollups at CVS. I hung out with friends and ate out in Chinatown and took a few cabs to some parties downtown. It was liberating! To be clear, I had “let loose” in my mind, but I was still relatively responsible in that I never spent my account down to $0 or overdrafted my account, and I was probably only spending $20-30 in a single session. But by no means was I saving — I wasn’t even thinking about saving anymore. I had a negative mentality towards saving during this time because I felt it prevented me from just doing what I’ve actually always wanted. It left a runway for the future me who was never going to have as many desires as present me. (Sad how many of us have fallen into the trap of disregarding our future selves!)
Between the summer of freshman and sophomore year, I decided to take a class during the summer. I was anxious about how difficult the class would be if I took it during the regular semester from rumors I had heard. I lived in my college boyfriend’s fraternity house for a month and a half — and I think the rent was something around $600 a month. I somehow had enough money to cover this and spent the summer eating $1 scones, $2 fried rice from the chinese food truck on campus, $1 party pizzas and $.10 packs of ramen from the grocery store. Every once in a while I’d splurge for a $4 box of tomato or potato beef from that chinese food truck. We had these studies on campus that were Behavioral Labs where you click around some computer test and you can earn $10-20 an hour. I signed up for these as frequently as possible and got through the summer (probably taking 2-3 a week). It’s actually hilarious to recall how little I needed back then to feel like I was living the dream and totally financially stable.
Because I downgraded my college dining plan, my parents started giving me $300-400 a month to cover external food expenses. I was very lucky to have this because I was just terrible with my finances and my mentality was still far from thinking about saving. I bought my first DSLR over Winter Break which was the Nikon D3000 for $450. This was my first very expensive purchase. At some point during the year I also ended up paying $90 for a refurbished 50 mm. I must have saved up for a couple of months for this, but I can’t really remember now.
At the end of my sophomore year, I took a pricy vacation with my college boyfriend to Puerto Rico. He had gone for spring break a few months earlier and due to giving up his seat 2-3 times, he got some vouchers so we could fly there for free. Even so we still had to pay for a place to stay, car rental, and activities. We did go kayaking in the bioluminescent lagoon which was probably by far the most expensive thing we did. Even so I’m not sure I paid more than $200 total. After that trip was the first time I had an alarmingly low checking account balance, $7.
It was totally irresponsible of me to go on the vacation, but I did something we’ve probably all done (in fact I did this even one year ago). I spent the money from future me. I had an internship that summer planned out as well as an on campus job that was an extension of my work study job doing IT for the campus college houses, which came with free summer housing. I worked 20 hours a week staffing the college house computer rooms to help students with IT issues ($9.75/hr + free housing), and then I commuted once a week to New Jersey to an internship that I worked 30-40 hours a week ($15/hr). I did most of the work remotely overlapping with my time spent doing IT work since most of that was waiting at a desk for someone with an issue. It was the life. I think this was probably the most financially prosperous time of my college career. BUT. BUT BUT BUT. I squandered it all away, which I totally kick myself for now. One of my best friends was staying on campus and he had a car. We went to the mall and outlets and sonic drive in way too many times that summer. I also broke my computer and had to replace it. I vaguely remember hearing a few friends talk about putting their summer internship money in an ING savings account that was getting 3% interest…But I had no idea what any of this meant at that time! It’s actually shocking to think my brain totally tuned out during those discussions.
I upgraded my camera in the middle of the year because I found an incredible deal for a camera that was selling for $600 when the usual price for it was $800. I sold my old camera for $400. Then I had an obsessive period where I’m pretty sure I spent all my extra money from the previous summer on 3 or 4 lenses. =__=
This was the year I got my first credit card. My college boyfriend wanted me to take advantage of the $200 cashback deal for the Chase Freedom to fund a Spring Break cruise. It ended up being totally worth it since it made that cruise dirt cheap. I had tons of concerns of whether I could pay it off or not since I had always been taught putting money on a card was bad. I had enough in my checking account to fund the trip, but just the idea of putting such a large sum down in a place that was one step removed from a checking account seemed big and scary. The experience ended up being really positive, and it began my initial shift towards viewing credit cards as free money.
That summer I was interning at a startup in NYC, but they were only paying an $800 stipend per month. This hardly covered my rent in my friend’s living room ($750). I had probably one of the most shockingly slummy setups around his living room futon. I had bought these cheap rolling closet racks from Bed Bath and Beyond, which I draped shower curtains and sheets over to make a little fort covering around the futon for privacy. I also returned them at the end of the summer to take advantage of BBB’s return policy. Not my finest moment…I unfortunately had to ask my parents for living money because I had so poorly managed my finances from the previous summer. It was completely stupid. I spent pretty conservatively during this time on food eating these bulk packs of Roti and Pizza Rolls. Instead of spending on food, I developed a crazy addiction to purchasing bulk sets of nail polish on ebay.
I can’t really explain my behavior during this year, but I know my anxiety for finding work after college was very high. I had no seriously desirable skill set, I was getting pressure from my college boyfriend to have my life figured out, I saw all my friends with their shit together knowing their career next steps and planning ahead for the oncoming on campus recruiting season, I didn’t feel like my grades were good enough or competitive enough for on campus recruiting…Just so many things that stopped me from just trying. I was so obsessed with failing that I was too scared to try. I was scared people would find out what a fraud I was. I still didn’t even know what I wanted to do! If only people had told me (or maybe if only I allowed myself to hear) that your first job out of college isn’t the end all be all. That most of my friends applying to these jobs didn’t feel qualified either. That most of my friends didn’t plan on doing this forever and viewed it more as a stepping stone to the next thing. I had a serious complex during this time in my life to live authentically so seeing my peers settle into these jobs I didn’t think were for me was unthinkable. That’s another huge life philosophy that changed. You can only hold out for so long before you gotta do what you gotta do and that’s okay.
The year flew by. My college boyfriend was a year older and had already graduated and was doing consulting. I spent most of the year barely being caught up in classes and traveling to various places to see him. It was an easy way of delaying making up my mind about my career and avoiding failure at looking for a job at all. Long distance was really hard and unhealthy for me, and that’s about all I can say about that. I graduated without a job, but had a part time internship lined up. I moved into a summer sublet with some grad students and commuted to NYC 3 days a week for this part time internship. I think it paid something like $10/hr, it was enough to cover my rent of $300 a month.
Then in July I got dumped due to me not having things figured out and probably some other reasons. By then the part time internship was over, and I committed to really job searching because I had no other options. I was at the end of the line and rejection or no, standing still meant drowning and rejection meant floating at least. I also got a part time job at a pizza restaurant on campus to make enough spending money for food. The tips were terrible and I probably only ever made $10-20 per 4 hour shift — at least I’d get some free food on the job. I was literally counting pennies from my tips!
Things were pretty low for me for a couple of months — the grad student housing I lived in was infested with house centipedes, there was no A/C in the house, I was eating generic brand Nilla wafers and Roti for meals, and I got food poisoning several times from my roommates not washing my pans properly. It didn’t make sense, but I never considered moving home during this period because I was afraid moving home and being financially secure would tempt me into complacency and then I would never leave. I was very afraid of myself during this time because I really questioned my own sense of motivation and discipline.
Finally I got a lucky break and a company brought me in for an onsite interview for a 4 months paid internship in NYC (I seriously could not find a full time job, they were always internships). I made it through the interview and by the end of August I was planning my move to NYC. I had made it…well sort of…