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Money Journey: My Financial Mistakes Made in College

How I Paid for College and the Mistakes Along the Way

I graduated top of my class in high school, #19 of 800, and immersed myself in school activities from theater to sports, was class president and did a ton of community service. Even with all the high school accolades and activities, I didn’t see myself getting scholarships. I also fell into the trap of my parents making too much to receive any financial aid (aside from some loans) but unable to afford to send their fourth child to college.

Without money or loans to afford tuition, my dream of going to college fizzled. At 18, I was embarrassed and kept the secret that I wouldn’t be going to school. I only began telling my friends when they started leaving for college. It was a very difficult time but I knew somehow I was going to get my college education. I deferred my entry into Rutgers, decided to attend community college and got a job.

Read More >>> What types of financial aid is available to pay for college?

I ended up dropping out of community college after the first month. My first big financial mistake since I lost the semester’s tuition. I made a few bucks delivering Portuguese food and pizza. I was saving what I could but spending most of it being a teen. I was living the college life without the college education. I wanted that college education.

So I created a plan, I got a job at Newark Airport and made decent money. I was making $7 an hour but I was working 60+ hours a week so paychecks with overtime was huge. I was saving and spending. Probably spending more than I was saving. At 18, I fell into the work-spend-work trap. I quickly rose from bartender to lounge supervisor and eventually human resource recruiter before I was 20 years old. I was promoted 4 or 5 times in a span of 3 years.

During that time span, I left Rutgers College for Rutgers Newark because of the proximity to work and home. That choice was great because I met some of my good friends today whose made my life so much more amazing.

I worked crazy amount of hours and took on a full 19 credit course load. I was literally working each day and going to school 3 days a week. I went to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays with classes from 8am to 9pm. Occasionally, I would have lab on Friday morning.

Although I made roughly $35,000 a year and enough to pay for tuition, I was making one financial mistake after another. I remember working 20 hours one day from unloading luggage from a plane, cleaning the bathroom to checking-in people to their flights. During the breaks, I would study. It was all good back then because I got to party, drive my BMW and go to school.

Jason Vitug BMW

My actual BMW parked.

My Four Financial Mistakes Made In College

Financial Mistake #1
I maxed out on student loans. Back then I thought student loans were free money since I didn’t have to pay for it until some time after graduation. Why would I use my own money if I could use someone else’s? I was making enough to cover tuition and books but I chose to use my paycheck for things and partying.

Financial Mistake #2
I got my first credit card on campus without understanding how it worked. I wanted a frisbee these bank reps were giving away. All I had to do was sign on the dotted line. A couple weeks later, I got my first credit card and off to spend money I didn’t have. I can’t remember what I bought with that credit card. What I remember is I paid over $5,000 for that frisbee.

Financial Mistake #3
I had a bank account that I never used. I didn’t really even understand how checking accounts or debit cards worked. I had no clue about direct deposit  so I chose to get a paper check. I would cash my paycheck at the supermarket. There was no way of accounting for my paycheck because I’d spend the cash without knowing where it was actually going.

Financial Mistake #4
I bought a brand new BMW against my parents’ advice. It was my money and my choice to spend how I chose. I was working and studying so much I began to feel stressed. I needed to reward myself for all the hard work so I did what a financially uneducated 20 year would do…buy a luxury sports car. I was such a financially irresponsible young adult.

All these early mistakes haunted me for years. I didn’t understand that all the spending and debt accumulation actually prevented me from living life. It made reaching lifestyle goals all that harder. I would work more hours just to pay for the lifestyle I was creating. I had no idea what lifestyle that was but it was all based on spending. It was YOLO of the worst kind.

These financial mistakes eventually caught up with me rather quickly. When I no longer had the airport job, I couldn’t afford payments to my credit cards, tuition or my car. At age 22, I contemplated filing bankruptcy. I would ask my parents and close friends for money. I asked a friend to borrow $400 to buy textbooks and another friend $1000 to pay for my ridiculously high car payment.

Read More >>> What is the debt avalanche and debt snowball method?

So all the lifestyle choices and spending like a zombie prevented me from actually living. Although I was able dig myself out of the financial abyss, I repeated the mistakes but that’s another story.

Final Thoughts

Today, I’m considered highly educated receiving my BS in Finance at Rutgers University, MBA from Norwich and project management certificate from Villanova. The airport lounges I used to clean are lounges I now frequent. I went from financially uneducated to personal finance champion. What I’ve learned is that a person doesn’t have to struggle to live the life they’ve dreamed. We all make choices that impact our life and the answer is awareness…financial awareness.

When I look back, I can clearly see the mistakes but hindsight is 20/20. Financial awareness is extremely important coupled with financial education. It has to relate to where we are in our lives, how we think based on the lifestyle we live and where we hope to be in the near future.

It’s really amazing how we can keep ourselves in the situation in which we say we don’t want to be in. We want things so we work to afford those things. We are constantly working harder to pay for the things to make us feel better for all the hard work. It’s a vicious cycle.

Read More >>> Why Your Friend is a Millionaire and You’re Not

Read More >>> Spending Habits: How You’ve Spent Your Gross Paycheck Matters – Part I

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About The Phroogal Jason

Jason Vitug is Founder and CEO at Phroogal. His vision is to build the largest financial knowledge-base with the mission to help people live life richly. On his free time Jason travels, hikes does yoga and reads. Follow him on Twitter, connect through Google+ and LinkedIn.

15 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing a bit of your background and story, Jason. It’s always inspiring to see where people were, how far they’ve come, and then realize how our experiences and what we’ve learned looking back can help others. What I am impressed with regarding your story is how motivated and hard-working you were. Perhaps slightly misdirected at some points (as happens with all of us), but when pointed in the right direction really brought you success. Congratulations on getting to where you are now!

    • Thanks. The motivation is definitely internal but I was definitely uneducated in the matters of money. I see how important that is and hence my foray into making financial knowledge more accessible. We all definitely have a story to share and many more in my closet that I’ve yet to release.

  2. I also got my first credit card in college, but I signed up to get a free Bob Marley shirt. I had no idea what I was doing and quickly got myself into debt and not be able to pay the credit card. My credit was ruined before I graduated college. It took a long time to get my credit up to par. Free is not always free.

  3. Great story. I signed up for lots of credit card offers when I was in school to get that I could get the free gifts to give out as Christmas presents (true story!) Most of the companies sent me cards – how they could justify it with my pitiful income I don’t know – but I think you know the rest of the story.

    • I haven’t heard of using the gifts as Christmas presents. That would be pretty interesting story. I just remember when banks use to give out toasters or my all time favorite George Forman grills. Those were really useful.

  4. I also made the same mistake as you did. I maxed out all of my student loans when they were given. And when I had extra loan money paid to me, I figured it was free cash, not thinking of the time when I would have to pay it all back plus some.

    • Yea. I definitely think it’s important for us in those years to understand the pitfalls of taking out too many loans. Why it’s not free money and really finding alternative ways to pay for college.

  5. Thanks for sharing your money journey, Jason! I made a lot of these same mistakes. It’s hard when you grow up without much and you suddenly have access to all this “free money.” I just wanted to spend it all on things I never had a chance to before. A lot of people rip on Dave Ramsey, but his “live like no one else today” advice really helped me back then.

    • Thanks Kristin. There are always nuggets of truth from many different sources. Based on my experience and what I’ve heard from others we can all learn a lesson from a variety of sources and apply it to our own situation.

  6. Thanks for sharing that, Jason! It makes all of us who have made really bad financial mistakes not feel so stupid and naive. Hopefully it will helping others from repeating. I mean isn’t that what we are all about in the PF community?

    • You’re absolutely right. That’s what we are here for to share our stories. People learn best through stories. It’s because we can relate to specific pieces of it and apply to our own lives. When I started blogging I really didn’t share much of my story. In many ways, I was still really ashamed of the mistakes. I repeated so many of them and to be honest I am still a work in progress. I have a belief that life should be lived and experienced albeit living under extreme consumerism and debt isn’t a great way of living.

  7. Oh, I can see how you were tempted by the allure of the E46! A nice car indeed.

  8. I worked at Newark airport too! For Continental Airlines years ago. Super fun but spent all my money traveling around the country/world, haha… Not a bad way to blow it though :)
    J. Money recently posted…Ask J. Money Anything Day!My Profile

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