Weaning myself off student loans and my parents’ financial support has been a drawn-out process. Sometime in the middle of college, my parents stopped paying my rent; soon after that I started paying for my textbooks; and the ultimate financial kiss-off came when I didn’t get any money for my drive home at Thanksgiving.
But it wasn’t until I graduated and started paying off my student loans that I felt that final big rip of that financial bandage. I had to radically reassess my finances and come to terms with reality.
Replacing the university support network
After 22 years of homework, I was eager to launch myself into the real world. But leaving the comfort of a university made many of the amenities I’d grown accustomed to suddenly disappear. Not only did I need to find a steady employment, I had to learn to live without the comforts of working at a university. No more free printing. No more free gym. And most importantly, no more health care.
As a teaching assistant, I had been given health insurance through the university. Upon graduation, without a job lined up, I needed to find a new source of health care. Because I was under 26 years old, I was able to stay on my mother’s health care plan as allowed by the new Affordable Care Act. This bought me enough time until I got a full-time job and was enrolled in my employer’s health care plan.
Leaving the university has also added other, new expenses that I wasn’t quite prepared for. No longer living a short bike ride from school, I now drive to work every day and have to account for a full tank of gas every week. And although I had been paying for my rent and utilities since early on in school, I finally inherited my own car insurance and cellphone bills.
But most significantly, my student loan repayments have suddenly added a few hundred dollars to my monthly expenditures.
In order to compensate for these monthly drains on my income, I’ve been forced to change the way I live. For example, since I no longer scrounge around for cheap campus food twice a day, I go to the grocery store more and am learning how to cook.
Organizing my finances
With more expenses and less superfluous money to kick around, I’ve also had to organize my finances. For the first time in my life, I’m balancing my checkbook and planning ahead for monthly expenses. Though this might not seem like much, even just setting up a Google doc to record student loans, rent, utilities and other bills, has enabled me to keep better track of how much extra money I have to spend each month.
I also got a credit card for the first time in a few years to help me better manage my money and take advantage of rewards. Because I pay my balance in full at the end of every month, I’m not accruing any interest and am able to pay for groceries and big purchases before I get my paycheck.
Back to reality
College and graduate school were both expensive endeavors, but my student loans shifted my financial burden until after I finished school. Now that I’m feeling that weight, I’m slowly gaining a new perspective on the cost of my education — and changing my lifestyle.
Though I’m by no means a frugal consumer or a financial wizard, I’m learning how to live within my means and at the same time keep a more vigilant eye on money management.