Paying for college is hard for the vast majority of people. It’s even harder for some. For me, it was downright grueling. There were plenty of factors that lead to such difficulties, like being an out-of-state student and coming from a family that couldn’t help much financially. However, there were some factors that helped me survive through it, both financially and mentally, like careful spending, the heavy use of coupons, and (the largest of them all) getting married. This is my story.
Since you’ll need to understand exactly why I was an out-of-state student, among other things, I’ll start off with my goals for college from when I was in High School. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to be a video game designer. I still want that to a certain degree, but not as much as I used to. After doing extensive research, I realized that the best way to become a video game designer is to learn how to program games, enter the industry as a programmer, and then prove that I have good ideas as a designer while I’m there. So, I looked into college that could give me a solid programming eduction, and that did research related to video games in one way or another. I was also intrigued by the idea of doing research into virtual reality gaming, so I looked for colleges that did some of that too. After looking around, I came up with only two options that really fit what I wanted; Clemson in South Carolina and Georgia Institute of Technology in, well, Georgia. Clemson was local, GT was definitely not. So, I looked into applying to both, and ran into a snag for Clemson. Clemson requires that you have 3 semesters of foreign language credits. I only had 2. While I felt that it was a stupid reason to exclude me, I was nonetheless excluded. That left Georgia Tech as my only option. Thankfully, I got in without any problems.
Unfortunately, the out of state tuition there was high. Total cost of living on campus was estimated at over $26,000 per year, assuming that I was only going to school 2 semesters per year. My parents were able to give me around $800 by paying a housing pre-deposit for me, and they sent me off with around $200 of food. They were able to occasionally give me more free food, which they were happy to do, but they weren’t able to help me financially beyond that. Thankfully, my Grandparents were able to give me some aid. They gave me $2000 per semester for a maximum of 8 semesters. How many semesters did I actually take throughout my college career? Including summers in which I was actually taking classes, I went to school for 14 semesters. If you do the math, that leaves me with a lot of debt.
What’s worse is that my father was extremely paranoid about co-signing anything, but I had to have a co-signer for my student loans or they wouldn’t give them to me. I had to fight with my dad every semester about it. It’s a good thing that he ended up agreeing to co-sign for me every semester I asked him to.
And I was awful at budgeting. My first semester, I got a refund check because I had asked for loans that were too large. You’ll never guess what I did with it. I spent very nearly all of it all at once on a stack of video game consoles and games. Looking back, I can’t help but think how stupid it was for me to purchase such things (or at least that much of it) at the time.
And then, I fell in love. I started dating this girl my freshman year, and we fell in love at once. Within a month, we were engaged. Everybody said we were going to fast, and we understood why, so we chose to have the wedding more than a year away. During that time, she taught me all about how to actually spend money wisely, how to find and hold onto the right coupons, and how to keep myself from cluttering up everything around me. Just about the only thing she didn’t have to teach me was that I should avoid using a credit card. My parents had bad times paying off credit card debt, so I knew about that one. The rest was all new to me.
She taught me how to actually save money, something that was very foreign to me. Throughout my life, I had gotten very, very good at getting as much as possible for the money I had, but I was very, very bad at keeping myself from using all of it to it’s maximum immediate potential. And save we did, until we had around $5000 in our savings for emergencies. Any extra that we could save went directly to paying back loans. This way, we were keeping our debt smaller while helping ourselves avoid emergency credit card use.
I would still occasionally buy a video game or two, but from then on I always bought them used and looked to see if I could find coupons first. But, one of the biggest single things I learned was not to buy something just because you had a coupon for it. Instead, she taught me to look for coupons for things I needed to buy anyway (or perhaps really, really wanted to buy). That way, you get the advantages of coupons without buying things you didn’t need; unnecessary things.
One thing is for sure, though. Getting married did not put me in line for lots of cash from the in-laws. They were arguably in worse financial position than my parents were, and while we got more free food from them (largely because they lived only half an hour away while my parents lived 5 hours away), they weren’t able to help us at all outside of that. In fact, there were a couple of occasions where, thanks to our careful spending and saving through several semesters, we actually loaned them money (interest free, since they are family and all) when their old computer broke and they needed a new one.
But, aside from learning a lot from my wife, getting married helped in another huge way. After we were already engaged, we learned that my marriage to her would make me an in-state student! Becoming a dependent of a Georgia resident makes you a Georgia resident, and in marriage, you can technically claim dependence on one another. She had lived in Georgia all of her life, so she was considered a Georgia resident. Voila! Suddenly, I was too. This alone saved us thousands of dollars. But I have to keep telling everybody the truth, we didn’t know that before we got engaged!
So, how much debt did we end up with? Between the two of us, we could have bought a small house with the debt we accrued. But then she wouldn’t be in line to be a teacher, I wouldn’t have the amazing job that I do, and neither of us would have degrees. And she deserves to be a teacher if she can teach me how to be smart with money!
Guest Story from Steve, a contributor for Coupon Claim