Being Smart With Student Loans

Student loans are an inevitable part of many college students lives. When I was an undergrad, I was lucky enough to only have taken out a couple of loans that were reasonable in amount. But when I went back to school for my graduate degree, I made a mistake that set me back many years financially – I took everything they gave me.

Tips for College

Taking What They Gave Me

I decided to start graduate school off with a bang and take 2 courses (I was attending part-time) of which I didn’t have the money for. So I applied for student aid and was awarded loans. The loans were based off of the entire school year and totaled $15,000. I was blown away when I saw this number. I was expecting something much less, something closer to the cost of the classes I was planning on taking. But the student loans also took into account living expenses. That is why they were so high.

What I should have done was take what I needed and nothing more. But I took it all. Financially, I was in a tough spot. I had bought my own house recently and was struggling to make ends meet. I could afford to get by; I just couldn’t afford to live how I would have liked to live, meaning eating out, buying new things, going on vacations, etc.
I ended up using the “extra” student loan money to live life.

At the time, I wasn’t that concerned about how I was going to pay it back. I was going to grad school and money wasn’t a big stress in my life anymore. Fast forward to when I finished grad school and reality set in. I had close to $25,000 worth of debt. I know that this isn’t a lot compared to what other recent grads have, but I was expecting a few grand from the cost of classes. I had somehow “forgotten” about the money I used to live off of the past few years.

Putting Myself Behind The 8 Ball

Now that grad school was over, suddenly my money issues came flooding back, and in a worse way. Not only did I have to find a way to get by on just my income again, I now had an additional bill for a few hundred dollars each month! Luckily I was able to get a raise at work and I sold some things on the side to help me out. After a few years of living very lean, I was able to pay off my student loans.

Don’t Make My Mistake

It can be very tempting to take the entire student loan check and use the excess money to live like a king or queen. I am here to tell you to not make the same mistake I did. It will come back to bite you. You will forget about how much you took out and will have to live on much less when it comes time to pay back the debt. Only take what you need, not what you want.

Final Thoughts

When taking out student loans, take the time to determine just how much money you need to get by. And by “getting by” I don’t mean living the good life. I mean just able to afford classes, books, food and shelter. If your student loan award is more than you need, send the excess back. Doing this will save you many headaches down the road. It’s not fun to live like a poor college student but that is what you are, a poor college student. You will learn many lessons living life this way – like how to survive on less.

When you graduate, you will be thankful that your student loan bill each month is an amount you can afford and you will be thankful that you know how to survive financially on less. Once you get in the habit of spending money and living well, it is very hard to come back down. Don’t even tempt yourself.

6 Responses to Being Smart With Student Loans

  1. When I graduated in college, all I really want to do is buy hi-tech gadgets, going for a trip and buying some clothes that I wanted when I was a student. But I was totally wrong, it was just too late that I realized how broke I was. I didn’t have a student loan because my parents paid my tuition.

  2. I agree 100%. When I was in college, I only took out a loan for my tuition. It forced me to get a job and work a ton of hours to cover rent and food, but I also graduated with much less debt.

  3. I definitely took out the full amount of my loans for the first three years WHILE working. It was stupid, I blew so much money on eating out and smoking. Oh well, live and learn, right?

  4. There are so many reasons to take out student loans but I don’t think many parents and students really think it through. I have friends who let their child go out of state for no other reason than that she just had to go to Indiana. One year and she’s already in more debt than you were after grad school. She left after one year and is now at a well respected university that is 45 minutes from home. She is in debt for no reason.

    I think parents need to do a better job of helping kids manage their expectations. Her parents knew all along that they couldn’t afford to send her to school there. It wasn’t a recent thing. I’ve seen this with several friends and it boggles my mind. It is one thing if your child wants to go into a program that can only be found at a certain school, but that is typically not the case with undergrad.

  5. I guess taking as much as you can isn’t a bad idea for those with self-control. People forget that money is fungible. If you can get low-interest cash from student loans that you can use to pay down high-interest loans elsewhere, it makes sense…

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