When I’m freaked out about the state of my finances and fearing the ever-looming start date that I’m going to have to start paying my student loans, I remember that while it sucks, at least I’m not alone. According to Ohio State, 70 percent of college students are also freaked out about their personal finances, be it paying for college or their monthly living expenses. Wait … seriously???
Yeah, I’m (well, OSU is) being dead serious. With college degrees being necessary in our job markets—nine out of ten jobs are going to people with college degrees—high school grads are feeling the pressure to go to college. Higher education sounds great right? Yes … until you include the fact that the average student loan debt per person in the US is $31,172, and students of color, for a multitude of reasons, are either behind or still paying off their student loan debt in numbers much greater than their white/non-Hispanic counterparts, according to this article. Yes, there are skyrocketing numbers of jobs in the trades (like plumbing, electrical and construction) that usually only require trade school and pay big, and should be promoted in high schools more than they currently are, but those jobs don’t appeal to everyone.
My finances have been concerning me more lately because I just received my college bill for next semester and am—like I always have had to—crunching the numbers, seeing if the paychecks that I’m scheduled to get before the due date will cover the cost. Most likely, I’m going to have to apply for a tuition payment plan (that requires you to pay a fee, by the way, which is super problematic) to stretch it out over the semester rather than pay it all up front in January. I also just recently checked my federal loan servicer to see how much I owe the government half-way through my undergraduate degree and nearly cried when I saw the number. I’m glad that I’m aware of how much I’m going into debt for my education rather than putting it off until graduation and being shocked, but it is still a scary thing to worry about as a 19-year-old.
But this article isn’t to wallow in self-pity about how much school costs. I wanted to share my knowledge on how to stay financially savvy (or at least financially aware) with you all, as according to many of my friends, I’m one of the most financially responsible people they know. While this isn’t a perfect checklist of things to do to be fiscally responsible, it is things that I’ve found to be beneficial for me so far in my life.
- Think about big spending in the future
Okay, this may be me kicking myself in the butt a bit for going a little overboard on Black Friday, but still! Knowing that larger bills—like my college bill next semester—are looming will affect your short-term spending. For example, now that I spent a lot of money on Black Friday and I have my bill coming up, I’m not going to spend any more money than necessary (groceries, Christmas gifts, etc.) until I pay it off.
- Get researching!
I am low-key a budgeting nerd (not enough to be a business major though) and I love looking at videos about how to build credit and how to create a budget. While there are so many cool creators out there, I personally watch One Big Happy Life on YouTube. While they make other types of videos beyond finances, they have mastered their debt and are super financially savvy. I love their content, and they explain some concepts to me in a way that I understand like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and all of the nuances behind all the news coverage that it denies most people who apply for it (spoiler alert: more people applied for PSLF than qualified for it because of all the guidelines that are in place).
- Get a credit card (and be responsible with it)
I recently applied and was approved for a student credit card and a lot of my friends cringed when I mentioned a credit card. I got a lot of worries about credit card debt and falling into it. However, owning a credit card does not intrinsically mean that you will fall into a credit card debt hole that you will never climb out of. I had a hard time coming to terms with that, as I was always scared of the idea of credit cards because I had only heard bad things about them. But in my senior year of high school, I took a personal finance class (shoutout to Mrs. Ford for teaching me basically everything I know about finances) and learned that getting a credit card can actually help you build credit as a student. The key (among many) is responsible usage—only charge onto your credit card what you know you can pay back at the end of the month.
Here is a list of credit cards aimed at students! They are more likely to accept you if you have very little credit, and they are typically very basic and help you learn how to use a credit card for the first time.
- Play the financial aid game
I am a bit more seasoned in the area of financial aid than most of my friends, and it’s because of a little thing I like to call “The One Where I Almost Had To Drop Out of College Because Finances.” Here are some things I learned in the process of fighting to stay in college despite having huge financial barriers:
You can take out more federal loans if you really need to! I ended up being allowed to take out Parent Plus loans in my own name because I was able to prove that my family was not in the financial situation to take out a loan for my education. It was not that huge of a process (other than getting all of the correct paperwork together while I was here and my mom was at home), but it does need to be redone for each academic year. It’s a financial aid loophole that is not widely known but was crucial in my financial situation.
Work with your financial aid office, preferably in person! Walking into the office and forcing them to see the human face behind all of the numbers is vital. In my opinion, it personalizes you to them and may make them more willing to find loopholes to help you out! I have found my financial aid office is a bit touch-and-go when you ask questions via email, but they have always been able to help me when I have walked in.
Lastly, apply for scholarships even while you are in college! So many people make the mistake of thinking that scholarships are only for high school seniors. There are many opportunities for scholarships during your college career: check with your college and your academic department, but also look out for others that you may qualify for online.
- Monitor your student loans (and any other debt you may have)
I’ve kind of touched on this a bit already, but checking with your federal loan servicer (and/or your private loan servicer if you have taken out private loans) is crucial to stay aware of your financial situation. Even if you don’t make payments yet, being aware of how much you have taken out so far will make you think twice about certain financial decisions you may be tempted to make. This is the same for any other debt you might have, like a car loan or credit card debt.
For me, finals season is when I always stress out about finances and student loans because I feel the pressure to succeed due to how much I’m investing in college.
I thought I would share the things that I have learned over the past few years and share it with you all! Writing this has eased my financial stress, but also hope to potentially help you all if you have the same issue!
Good luck with all of your finals, and your financial situation!