10 Ways College Made Me Poor

by Ron Haynes

RCAT DoorWhen I was in high school, I had no worries, no cares, few bills, and no clue. I earned money mowing lawns, working in the meat market in my local grocery store, babysitting, sacking groceries, and building a home. But I spent every thin dime I made. On what? I have no idea. There isn’t one thing left to show for all that work.

Then, I went to college. College didn’t really do anything to prepare me for life in the real world and here’s why:

1. I took out multiple student loans even though I didn’t use the self discipline required to succeed. I simply wasn’t motivated to study. I was borrowing and going into debt just to stay in school because that was what I was supposed to do. I didn’t have a real goal, graduation seemed so far away, and I was easily distracted.

2. Free money, in the form of grants, only furthered my distorted view of reality. Need money? Just apply for it! Let someone else pay my way.

They proclaim that every man is entitled to exist without labor and, the laws of reality to the contrary notwithstanding, is entitled to receive his “minimum sustenance” – his food, his clothes, his shelter with no effort on his part, as his due and his birthright. To receive it – from whom? –Ayn Rand (1905 – 1982)

3. The credit card vendors at the tables in the student center tempted me with that T-shirt! Do you know why they give free T-shirts for credit card applications? Because college students will sign anything to get a free one, especially freshmen. Do you know why colleges allow credit card issuers to entrap students into a lifetime of debt? Because they pay the colleges.

4. The free health care myth distorted my world view even more. All I had to do was flash that student ID and I got “free” health care. It still hadn’t sunk in to my head that nothing is free. Someone has to pay for everything.

5. I got free software, too. Just by being a student, I was eligible to use the software put out by a myriad of companies, and that’s how they get you hooked on their product. It’s called the “Puppy Dog Close” amongst salesmen. Allow a family to take a puppy home to “try him out” for a few nights and they will never want to get rid of him.

6. ZERO teaching on personal finance. After graduating and beginning to work is when people should be making quality personal financial decisions, not when they should begin learning how personal finance works. There was never any teaching about an emergency fund, investing for retirement, buying a home, savings accounts, or frugality. College taught me only about all the freebies, nothing about responsibility.

7. Cheap housing only perpetuated my skewed view. The dorm was cheap but my apartment was even cheaper. It was only $235/month … split 4 ways. Split the gas bill, the power bill, the cable bill, and the food and you have a student living on less than $300/month. While it’s great that I didn’t spend much on living expenses, coupled with the lack of training I had on personal finance, I spent everything I made.

8. Are meal plans available to anyone but students? Getting a 16 meals per week plan at college cafeterias where I could eat all I wanted at every meal didn’t cause me to learn about budgeting. It only caused me to get used to having anything I wanted and as much as I wanted.

9. There was never any time management teaching. When was the last time YOU could schedule your workday to be only on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM until 4 PM? Is there anything realistic here?

10. No teaching on interviewing or preparation for getting a real job. I knew all about regression analysis, capital structure, strategic management decision making, strategic marketing, and global human resource management, but I didn’t know how to interview, how to mimic the body language of my interviewer, how to deal with office politics, or how to negotiate my salary.

Nothing in real life is like college. Nothing in college really helped me prepare for life. I had a great time, I made a lot of friends, I met my future wife, I did a lot of fishing, I learned how to borrow lots of money, but I didn’t learn anything about real life. I didn’t learn anything about handling my finances, or about managing my time, or about budgeting my money, or about getting an interview, or about the dangers of debt.

None of these 10 items were that bad by itself, but taken as a whole, I believe they skewed my view of how life works, how employment works, and how debt works.

Since most colleges don’t teach these important principles, those most in need of this education are left to try and figure out this information on their own after they graduate or drop out for a lack of money.

Some will succeed in learning it and most will struggle, but all would be better off if they had learned it before entering the work force.

What’s the Solution?

Teach your children before they go off to college about:

  • Personal financial management, especially budgeting
  • The dangers of debt, particularly credit card debt
  • How to interview for a job
  • How to develop a work ethic
  • How to manage time so they get the most accomplished
  • That life is nothing like college life, and college life is nothing like real life
  • photo credit: abooth202

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1000 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Nicki at Domestic Cents

I found myself agreeing with all 10 statements. I’m thankful my daughter is still young and I’ll have time to (hopefully) instill some of these values and tools in her before she takes off for UNreality. Thanks!


Nice list — I too am guilty of all of these! I would add that many kids (myself included) just prolong and exponentially multiply their agony and financial ignorance by going to grad school.

Honestly, I don’t even remember if my on-campus rent & meal plans were cheap; but they were covered with loans and/or grants, so what did I care, right?!?

Ted Duboise

“Right On”, Ron. As I’ve said before, our education system, industry, and the dept. of labor all have different goals which is why there is a skills gap in America – not an income gap. This article hits the nail on the head!

V. Higgins

I can definietly understand your point of view on this one and I agree with a goodly amount but I do want to say that there are some universities/professors that seek to help provide that real-world learning. When I worked for the scholarship fund at my university one of the first things they did was provide us with learning tools for handling our own finances and they offered financial counseling/classes for free for their employees. I also had multiple professors that were there to answer any questions that, especially concerning things outside of class.
Another way to combate the “all of this for FREE!!” college syndrome is to have your kid work for it. My parents declared bankruptcy during my freshman year and I knew exactly how much health insurance cost, how much my dorm/apartment cost and how much my food and text books cost, because I was paying for them. This can be stressful, but if planned for ahead of time (saving at least 30-40% of high school employment) it really helps it sink in that they’re adults now.

Complete Savings

I am so taken in with your blog post. Exactly what I went through in college. Thankfully I had a scholarship so didnt need a loan. A Summer Internship which involved real time work was awakening though. I had a taste of what a working life would be like then.



I think your article resonates with many former college students, and I can imagine that parents would want to teach their children those skills you listed before the college experience begins. In light of your likely very shared experience, I wonder if it is reasonable or even desirable for students and parents alike to think or expect that college will prepare a student for “the real world.”


You know, things are very different now than when I went to college back during Reagan’s first term. I have some definite plans for how I’m teaching my children. I explained mortgages last night after seeing some crazy people get an interest only loan on HGTV. Great teaching opportunity!


It’s fantastic that you are taking those kinds of opportunities to teach your children; it will definitely give them an advantage in terms of money management and financial planning. And it’s also one of those many small ways you get to show your children that you love them and care about their well-being.


I certainly had student loans and got a credit card when I was in college. I’m sure I had a tough time paying my student loans but I did it, right on time. Basically all this stuff is so far in the past that it’s not really on my radar anymore. College is certainly making me poor now, but it’s paying for my son’s education, not my own, that’s killing me! So, to add to your list of lessons, I’d advise your readers to be maxing out their kid’s 529 plans or, just when they think they’re free of it, college will start making them poor again!


I think that there are a lot of differences between a four year university and a community or two year college. I’m 37 and attending a community college. There are no food plans, housing, and not many freebies. I guess that might come from paying over a third less in tuition. I think attending a college or university for the full 4+ years it takes to earn a degree is insane. Taking the transferable required undergraduate courses at a cheaper school only makes since. Many university’s have dual enrollment programs with community colleges, ensuring you are taking the correct courses.

I am pursuing a Associate Degree (2 yrs). Time management is often talked about by my instructors. There are also free workshops and classes on all 10 points. My personal opinon is that the traditional college or university is stuck in the out-dated ideal that education should take place in an environment separate from the real world. Having experienced the “real world” has made me a better student. I have a better grasp of any idea the instructor brings up and how it relates to life.

And as for the slacker student who doesn’t know anything about the real world? I can’t wait to get back to the real world. Working 2 PT jobs for a total of 35+ hours a week, 40+ hours a week in classes and homework, and still always being broke makes the “real world” look pretty darn good.

Dan Massicotte

Hey you have a good point. I’m glad my parents taught me all that, because you’re right, college doesn’t cater to anything of the sort!


Thanks for the reality check for a student like myself. Luckily I work a job at the moment where I am a junior employee and there are many senior employees that are in the “real world.” When I tell some of my friends about the real world they quickly change the subject. Whenever someone gripes about too much homework or something like that I tell them that this is the smallest problem we will ever face in life.

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