As my time in college comes to an end, I have been particularly reflective on how my financial habits have formed. I’ve found that even with limited financial resources, I’m still able to learn how to manage my money well. Here’s a couple of lessons of personal finance wisdom I’ve acquired throughout college.
Choosing A School – Understanding Your Financial Aid Award(s)
Late in the Spring Semester of my senior year in high school, I was deciding between two highly selective colleges. The educational prospects at both universities were excellent. The only stark difference between the was the culture of the student body. One was clearly more nerdy, introverted, and geared towards STEM, while the other sported a preppy, social, and outgoing liberal arts focus. For me, the choice hinged on which environment best suited my career goals.
That is not to say I didn’t take the cost of attendance into my decision. While I ended up enrolling in the STEM school, the liberal arts college actually offered me a noticeable addition of money. My parents, who were still surprised and excited that I was in the position to decide between these two prestigious schools, were comfortable with my decision.
One thing I want to point out is that I did not do my due diligence in examining my school’s financial package close enough. The financial aid package had a line item named “Suggested Federal Student Loans” for an amount around a couple thousand dollars. The school had included this amount in their total financial aid package, but it would technically not show up when I came to pay for my first semester of school. My aid package was artificially inflated with this non-existent loan amount.
The school’s financial aid office assumed that I would take on these student loans automatically to pay for my education. I found this practice to be deceptive on their part. I ended up complaining to the school’s aid office as a result.
Although this oversight of my financial aid on my part did not affect my family in the long run, it’s still something I pay close attention to now in all of my finances. Read the fine print. Then you will know what you’re getting yourself into when you sign on the dotted line. Be sure to look into what your financial options are after graduating as well. Whether it’s deferment or refinancing your student loans, these options can save you headaches or even a bunch of money in the long run.
Choosing Your Major – Do What You Love Or What Will Pay The Bills?
I find myself lucky when it comes to the major I selected. Aerospace engineering happens to be my passion as well as something that will pay the bills. I knew this going into college because I come from a town where the aerospace and defense industry is large and booming. I knew being employed in the aerospace field was a clear possibility, and one that I would enjoy to boot.
Unfortunately, with the cost of college going endlessly increasing, picking your college major is more crucial than ever. As much as I am endeared to the idea of doing what you love for a living, my belief lies on a pragmatic approach to position yourself for employment in an industry with strong prospects, even if you’re not head over heels for it.
If you’re not able to major in what you love due to your passion lacking in its employment outlook, then at least do it as a hobby or even side hustle as you can.
Learning to Live Within Your Means
College is a great time to develop an intuitive feel for the value of a dollar. When it comes to the essentials, such as food, clothing, and other necessities, it’s important to find the best deals. Some restaurants and food trucks carry large servings of meals for cheap prices. I’ve always relied on these good bargains to feed myself outside of my meal plan for lunch. When it came to clothes, I always waited for the best sales to arrive in order to get discounted prices. Textbooks for class were either borrowed or bought cheap from other students.
Not having a lot of disposable income forces you to be resourceful in order to make your money last longer. Make sure you build good financial habits through your daily purchases. These habits will serve you well in the future.