Not long ago I read an article that made me cringe: A graduate student at California State University, Northridge decided to put her tuition on a credit card.
On her credit card? With all the other options out there? [Gasp.]
Although Jennifer didn’t put her tuition on her credit card, she did charge some of her living expenses, which left her in a bit of a bind. Here’s the final part of her story.
Mistake #3. Living on Credit — Not Taking out Enough Money in Loans to Cover Living Expenses
When I went away to college, my mother made a deal with me. She would give me an allowance of $200 every two weeks for living expenses (basically all she could afford). She also got me a credit card. Six years later, we still have the same deal and the same credit card.
When I took out loans, I only borrowed enough money to cover tuition costs and my rent. As it turns out, that $200 every two weeks hasn’t been enough to live on, and I now have a standing balance on my credit card that I can’t pay off.. Very recently a wise financial advisor pointed out to me that the nearly 18% interest rate that I pay on my credit card balance exceeds the interest rate of my student loans. Neither my mother nor I thought that it might be a good idea to budget living expenses into my student loans even though she’s encouraged me to keep putting the larger, unusual purchases on my credit card.
Now that we’ve learned out lesson, my credit card will be paid off this fall before I start my new grad program. I’ve taken out extra money for my living expenses and I’m going to try something new once I’m established at school: My credit card is going in the pencil box that I bury in the bottom of my desk drawer, and I plan to withdraw a budgeted amount of cash every week. The objective will be to live “cash to mouth,” or to make the cash last the whole week, without running out — groceries, coffee, everything. Any extra cash will go into a reward fund that I will utilize at graduation, one year from this September.
While the economy is increasingly digital, and more merchants can handle small $2.00 coffee transactions digitally, stick to cash because it’s tangible. It’s easier to see how the coffee adds up when you’re making change and not just handing over a thin slab of plastic.
How many times have I heard that little gem of wisdom before? Lots. But there’s no teacher like experience.
Jennifer’s right — there’s no teacher like experience. But perhaps the mistakes she made (or almost made) can help you avoid some financial pitfalls of your own.
Want to tell your student loan story? Have any wisdom to share about your own financial experiences? Send us an email — we’d love to hear from you!