A Money-Challenged Person Advises a Young Person How to Avoid Being Money Challenged (Ha)

Hi, Money-Challenged Person. I am starving soon-to-be college student who really wants day-to-day financial independence. My parents are footing the bill as far as college goes, but I’d love to be able to do us all a favor and try to be smart with my money startiiiiiing NOW. HELP.

1. The short answer to this question is, do everything I did, except the exact opposite of that.

2. But really, the first thing I think you should do is find out exactly how much money your parents are paying for you to be in school each semester. That’s a good thing to know. Write that number down on a piece of paper and tape it to the top of your laptop or your desk or whatever. And just sort of recognize that that number is the amount of debt you could be accruing each year, and you’re not. That’s lucky. That’s great. That’s a gift. I didn’t realize how lucky I was not to have student loan debt until I was well out of school … and by that time I’d already replaced it with credit card debt (don’t do that). So yeah. Be aware of what your parents are paying for you to be where you are, and be thankful for that, and don’t fuck it up. I mean, don’t feel like you have to give yourself lashes each day in repentance for having won the parent lottery in addition to every other lottery you’ve ever won (America! Education! Etc.!) but just own it, know it, and appreciate it.

3. I’d also have a conversation now with your parents about how living expenses are going to work. Maybe they’ll say, We’ll see how it goes. If they say that, say: Nope. Get a number from them about what you’ll be getting a month or a semester. What can they afford, what are they willing to give you. Talking about money is hard, but you need to have this discussion. It won’t be good for anyone for you to get X dollars and then check in when it runs out. You need to know what you’re working with. Only then can you realize how often you can buy frozen yogurt at 3 a.m. and how often you can buy new outfits for exams (important) (JK, not important, don’t do this) (well, don’t make a habit of it sometimes new exam outfits are just a thing that has to happen).

4. Re: Getting a job. YES. Get a job. I had a job during my last year of school, and I wish I’d had one the whole time. A lot of people will say, but school is your job. And yeah, sure, but you should also get a real job. It’s a nice escape from the college bubble, and a good reality check a few times a week. Wait tables, sit at a reception desk, whatever. Stuff you buy with your own money is way more fun than stuff you buy with your parents’ money. This is a FACT. “I’m going to go to this restaurant and pay with money I earned.” What a fun sentence.

5. Okay that’s all for now. Tiny little things to think about. Conversations to have. Jobs to apply for. That’s enough to start. More than, really.

6. For actual logistical advice, Mike Dang’s got you covered: “Starting out as an Adult” and “Starting and Sticking to a Budget”

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