When 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.
Yes, it can. College life isn’t like real life and the years I spent living in college fantasy land did very little to prepare me for the important aspects of living such as finding a job, living on a budget, interviewing, or effective time management. Here are ten ways that college made ME poor.
1. I took out multiple student loans and 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. Where’s my check?
3. The credit card vendors at the tables in the student center tempted me with that T-shirt! Do you know why they gave free T-shirts for credit card applications? Because college students would sign anything to get a free one, especially freshmen. Do you know why colleges allowed credit card issuers to entrap students into a lifetime of debt? Because they paid the colleges. This is no longer legal, but I was long gone from college and deep in debt by then.
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 and in reality, health insurance was part of my tuition and fees. I’m the one who paid for it … and still was 15 years later in the form of student loan repayments.
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, living on a budget, 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 $200/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 on dining out, gifts for my girlfriend, and clothes.
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 saving money on food. It only caused me to get used to having anything I wanted and as much as I wanted any time 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 alone, 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 by Michael Cavén