I am now a professor of education in Wisconsin, but I started and wrote most of the content for this site when I was a college student. I now have a wife who is a stay at home mom and four adorable kids.
I paid my own way through school (bachelors, Masters, and PhD) and made plenty of mistakes along the way. I’ve also learned quite a bit about saving, making, and investing money and now know that getting ahead financially is definitely possible as a student (even when the economy is bad). I had was a student with two kids and a single income (my research living stipend) during the great recession of the late 2000s. I created this site to share some of my financial successes and failures and my ideas about how to do better with your money while you’re still in school (or are otherwise money poor).
My Financial Story (so far)
I was raised in a “Money is tight” household. We always had enough to eat, but getting boxed cereal or eating out at McDonalds was a big deal, a really big deal. We didn’t talk much about money at home, we didn’t ask about how much money dad made, and he didn’t volunteer it. I realize early on that while the necessities of life would be provided for me, if I wanted anything fancy I’d have to find a way to get it on my own. That led to me taking odd jobs from a very young age (lawn mowing, babysitting, etc.) and as soon I was old enough (11ish) I got an early morning paper route. With tips I was making about $50/month, which meant I was living large for an 11 year old. I invested my savings in candy, Slurpees, baseball cards, and more candy. My parents encouraged me to save some of my earnings but that never made sense to me so I continued buying candy. I’d occasionally save up for a major purchase (like an Easton baseball glove that was way nicer than my friends, and some Levi’s silvertab jeans) but that was rare.
When I turned 16 I got a “real” job working 20 hours/week at the hospital as a dietary aid. I got paid more than minimum wage so I continued living large. In addition to my school job I worked full-time during the summer for the county mosquito abatement (which paid $2 more than minimum wage!). Now my huge income of several hundred dollars/month was spent trying to impress the ladies. I bought flowers, took girls to Broadway shows, etc. It didn’t do me much good (with the ladies), but that’s where my cash went. While I was in High School my parents helped me open a savings account at our local bank and encouraged me to save. Again, I didn’t really heed their counsel but I did manage to squirrel away a few thousand dollars by the time I graduated. I used that meager savings to purchase a two year CD that collected interest while I served a two year church mission (that my parents paid for). It was a pleasant surprise to me when I returned home to discover I had made several hundred dollars in interest.
After my church mission I worked various temp jobs for a few months and then started college. I was completely unemployed my first semester while I lived at home and paid for tuition through my savings (exhausting what I had saved). I completed four years of college (my bachelors degree) only having to take out out one short term loan for $1100 and another short-term loan of $1000 from the bank of Mom. Those two loans were both paid off by graduation. My wife (who I met during my senior year of college) did nearly as well, having just a $700 loan that was paid off two years after she graduated. While I had no debt, I paid the price by having no car, no computer, no fancy dates, etc.
After getting married and starting my Masters degree we decided that taking out some modest student loans would be a good idea, even though we were both working full time to provide for our growing family. We took out enough to make sure that we could pay for tuition and rent, but no more. When I started work on my PhD we decided that student loan debt was good debt (we didn’t even have to pay interest on it until graduation) and took out larger amounts. That money paid for our regular expenses while contributing to our finanacial buffer zone. I didn’t plan on being in graduate school for 7+ years and eventually those “smallish” loans grew in size and I had considerable student loan debt at graduation. Fortunately as a public school teacher (with a low salary) the government has payback programs that are reasonable and we may even qualify for loan forgiveness after 10 years working for the state.