5 tips to graduate college without the stress of debt

My husband and I made a lot of mistake when it came to college and starting our new lives together and unfortunately there is nothing we can do to help ourselves now but dig in and get busy trying to dig out of this mess.  We have two young children and I am currently working 3 jobs, my husband working as much as he can with his job, we have no life, no more fun toys, and no more house….we live with my mother. As much as this is a terrible situation we are in a very positive light has shown from it, we get to teach our kids about money and debt in a way that we were never taught. Our parents never warned us about debt and student loans (mainly because they had no idea) but that stops here, our kids will never know the burden of student loan debt, credit card debt, and consumer debt in general.  I hope that for those of you reading this, our mistakes will help you too and to me that is totally worth it 🙂

Here are my 5 tips to help you avoid the same mistake we made.

First, know what you want to be when you grow up! I know it sounds silly but part of my student loan debt problem is that I changed my mind half way through and then STILL didn’t end up wanting to pursue that field. What Travis and I plan to do differently with our kids is really to encourage them to try an apprenticeship/internship/job shadow before they apply to college to really make sure they know what their future career entails.  I know that my high school did offer a lot of different types of job shadowing but I never took advantage of those opportunities.

Second, once you figure out what you want to go to school for make sure you can actually get the job you want in the area that you want. One of the biggest mistakes that I made with my degree was location; there are just simply not enough options for entry level positions in my area. Why was this a problem? Well because my future husband and I at the time never discussed if we wanted to move or stay near our family and as it turned out after we had baby #1 we really wanted to stay in our home town and raise our family here. So moral of the story….look way down the road and make sure your future life wants will match where you decide to live to pursue a career.

Third, pick an in state school with a low cost of tuition. Let’s be real here, with the exception of a few rare cases…no one gives a dam where you went to college. Have you ever asked your Dentist, Banker, Doctor, or even your boss, where they went to college? Probably not….and why would you? Who cares?!!! I don’t know about you but I continue to go utilize the services of the same few people because they are good at what they do not because of where they went to school.

Fourth, try as desperately as possible to not take out ANY student loans! I know that it difficult but start saving now and work part time to cash flow you college degree. I can’t stress enough to you what a terrible burden our student loan debt is to us and yes….we too thought we had it all figured out and would get great high paying jobs that would pay it all back too…not the case, most entry level positions now have starting salaries that cannot keep up with the rising cost of education. Do yourself a favor and work, apply for grants, and apply for scholarships….do whatever you can to pay for your degree yourself, trust me you will be way better off in the end and this is the same thing we will teach our children when they are ready for college.

Fifth, while you are in school, if you can, save for your future life. You have to start somewhere right? We made the mistake of starting on our own with nothing literally and figuratively….nothing. So what did we do with all of that nothing? Well we charged it to our shiny new credit cards of course.  Oh man we don’t have a sofa, I guess we will have to buy a whole living room set and just charge it….we are college grads we’ll be able to pay it off! I look back now and shake my head thinking of how stupid we were and how much time and money we have lost with stupid decisions.  So that’s my last piece of advice to save some money to give yourself a little “starter” fund so you’re not tempted to start charging up those credit cards…in fact, don’t even apply for those credit cards, you don’t need them!

As I sit back and look at the mountain of student loan debt we have ($161,000 between the two of us) and that fact that neither one of us is in a career that utilizes our degree, not to mention doesn’t require a degree, I know we can’t change the past but I hope we can help to change our kids future and give them a more solid foundation to start their lives as adults in our current consumer driven culture.  My last piece of advice is simple and ties everything together…have a plan! Ask someone for advice, ask questions, and  be informed.