Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.
I am really, really terrible at saving money.
I always have considered myself a giving person. I usually will take my friends out to dinner or get them lavish presents for their birthdays, even if the favor is not returned. I usually will contribute more to the tip pile than my friends when going out for dinner. And I always have had a good amount of money saved for recreational college use.
But now, that money is dwindling — quickly.
And, like clockwork, I get a call from my parents every month after my bank statement arrives at home. My mother, with concern in her voice, will tell me I’m developing bad habits that will put me far into debt when I graduate school.
And I’m starting to agree with her.
I worked all through high school so I would have a pretty impressive bank account by the time I reached college. While most of my high school friends were out enjoying the weekly local basketball or football game, I was spending hours hard at work at Buffalo Wild Wings in Lake Orion, Mich.
And it paid off, literally. Because I worked 20-hour weeks during high school, I was able to go without a paycheck for almost my entire freshman year. I could take myself out for lunch instead of using my meal plan. I was able to travel often, taking the Greyhound most weekends to visit friends across the state, and even sometimes across the country.
It was the freedom I was denied in high school. I finally had a social life in college. But now I’m paying the price for developing terrible spending habits and living beyond my means for months.
I avoid looking at my bank statement online because I literally can feel my blood pressure rise as my credit card debt continues to grow and my bank account continues to shrink.
My parents are not giving me any financial help, which I appreciate, because I know I should dig myself out of the financial mess I created without them.
They told me when I moved off campus this year I would have a difficult time handling my finances. Now they sit back and laugh, congratulating themselves for being right, as they often are.
My roommate is the complete opposite. He’s learned how to live within his means and is saving money for when he graduates college. Often, he’ll even cheat the system, asking for water cups at local restaurants and instead filling them with a soft drink.
He has proved to me that it’s possible to enjoy the college lifestyle without putting yourself in debt. And luckily, I’ve learned my lesson before I lost control.
Many times in college, students act without realizing the repercussions. Spending is no exception. I, as well as some of my friends and peers, will tell myself I can afford the extra burrito at Chipotle or a new outfit when, in fact, I cannot.
But we need to realize these actions could follow us for the rest of our lives through bad credit, denying us the chance to get loans when we need them most to buy a car or a new house.
That’s why I’m finally figuring out how to live within my means. Although I’m not the best cook, I’ll attempt to cook myself dinner every night instead of going out. Most of the time, the attempt is unsuccessful, as the food ends up burned or undercooked, so cereal has become my best option for dinner.
But the most substantial decision I have made to keep my bank account from getting any lower is committing to biking and walking around campus and East Lansing so that I don’t have to pay high gas prices or feed the meters. I drive a small car that gets good gas mileage, but before I started changing my spending habits, a quarter of my paycheck would go toward filling up my gas tank every two weeks, leaving me with little money to spend on groceries or other supplies for my house. Now, my car can last almost an entire month on one tank of gas.
Although my parents were correct in predicting that I would develop poor spending habits in college, it’s time that I prove them wrong and actually accumulate some money during my four years here instead of graduating in credit card debt.
College living definitely can be a money pit, eating up any savings we might have accumulated during high school.
But it’s not a pit that is impossible to get out of, and living within our means is something every college student can achieve.
Alex McClung is the opinion writer at The State News and an international relations sophomore. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.