Financial Independence Week: Paying For Your Own Education

College-age readers (and younger), this post is directly aimed at you. Paying for college isn’t easy, whether it’s you doing it or your parents covering it for you. Unless you were very lucky in the scholarship department, someone is facing a financial hardship from this: your parents, you, your future self, or maybe even someone else. No matter who is paying for your education, there are still some principles that you should follow in order to keep your financial life and your relationship with your parents in good shape.

First, drop any resentment you have. If your parents elected not to pay for your education, that’s their choice. Do you consider yourself to be an adult? Then act like one. If you don’t consider yourself to be an adult, drop out of college, move back into your parents’ basement, and play video games for a few more years. That’ll show ’em how mature you are.

Now that I’ve got your attention (and if you’re still here, you’re more mature than most college students), a big part of being an adult is dealing with adversity, and resentment is one of the most sure-fire ways to fail when dealing with adversity. You made the choice to go to college and this degree will benefit you and only you, so it stands to reason that you are the person who should bear the brunt of the cost. If your parents are paying for a portion (or even all) of the expense of college, that is a gift. Consider yourself very lucky, not entitled.

Second, if you’re getting nothing out of college, get out of college. If you’re just barely passing your courses and spend all of your time, well, wasting time, college may not be the place for you. Take a one year hiatus and do something completely different, something that sounds authentically exciting to you. Live like a homeless person in Europe for a year. Wash dishes in the best restaurant in town and observe what’s going on in their kitchen. Play your guitar on the street corner for change. Sign up for a volunteer corps. Do that one thing that sounds exciting to you and do it now so you aren’t wasting money sitting in your dorm room wondering what the hell you’re going to do with your life.

Third, even if your parents are covering all of it, don’t turn down opportunities for aid and scholarships. Spend some time in the financial aid office and see if there are any additional packages that can benefit your situation. Even if the cost you’re reducing is not your own, your parents will have more money with which to both spend and save for their own retirement (think of it this way: if they have more in retirement, there’s less chance you’ll have to pay for their care when the time comes). No matter what, seeking out financial aid and scholarships helps your financial picture in the long run.

Last but perhaps most importantly, take advantage of the college experience and use it to reduce costs, whether you’re footing the bill or not. I wrote about this topic in detail in the past, so I’ll just summarize by saying that college affords you a lot of ways to live cheaply and have amazing experiences on the state’s dime. Don’t spend your time dropping $200 on a new pair of pants at the mall when your campus is loaded with tons of free opportunities – and some amazing ones that can even put cash in your pocket.

No matter what, though, never spend your time in college harboring a resentment against your parents for what they did and didn’t spend on you. You are taking the reins of your own life now, and by framing your life in the context of what your parents are doing just continues the cycle of childhood. If you do nothing else because of this article, grow up and realize that as an adult you are the one responsible for the decisions. Your parents are just there to offer a helping hand if they can, nothing more, nothing less.