Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How I graduated without debt

I graduated university debt-free in 2001. Here's how I did it:

Split costs with my parents: Though my parents were in the position to pay for my education, they believed I should help pay my way. Some people are surprised when I tell them this. I am grateful: it instilled a work ethic in me. First and second year we split costs. By third year, I was by and large paying my own way. Note: I went to school out of town and had rent/living expenses to think about as well as tuition.

Started saving early:
I started saving as soon as I got my first part-time job (at 15, playing violin in a restaurant). At 16, I got a job on the line at Green Giant, working 12-hour shifts in the “Bean Production Building.” Yes, it was really called that. I worked 6pm - 6am and made $6.85/hr. I saved the majority of this money for my first year's tuition. Let me tell you, standing in one spot and picking bad beans off a conveyor belt all day can really make you want a degree. ASAP.

Worked multiple part-time jobs while in school: I looked for jobs that allowed me to work early in the morning and later in the evening, in order to work around my class schedule. I took a 6am shift at the airport, and an 8pm shift as an editorial assistant at a newswire. On alternating nights I worked as a receptionist at a retirement home. Overall I worked 30-35 hours a week.

Worked summer jobs and lived at home in the summer: I started looking for summer jobs early and made sure I had some type of employment in place come May 1st. Three out of four summers I was able to live at home, which helped me to save more money.

Freelanced in my area of study: I studied journalism and began freelancing for the local newspaper, writing fashion articles.

Lived very cheaply: I always lived with roommates, and never paid more than $500 a month for rent. I bought food staples in bulk and rarely ate out. I didn't generally buy milk or cheese (cereal with water...those were the days) and ate very little meat. I survived on a diet of rice, lentils and pasta and consumed more curry than anyone probably should in their lifetime. I had no car (still don't), and took the bus everywhere. I wore a lot of black clothes because they matched with everything.

What I didn't have:

A cell phone (for the majority of the time I was in school)
A credit card
Internet at home (except for free dial-up access)
Fancy designer clothes or accessories
Haircuts (my mom cut my hair with a pair of kitchen scissors). In fourth year I started to treat myself to a cut in a salon, on occasion.

I may have been especially frugal, but I think overall, standards were different even ten years ago. You didn't see kids toting Gucci and Vuitton (fake or not). A "brand name" was more like GAP or Club Monaco. Girls didn't come to school with fake tans and manicures. Certainly not that I recall.

Have spending standards for students risen? Is it part of the reason why they're graduating with so much debt?

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