Every student’s favorite d-word: debt

How to pay college expenses and save some money

Let’s talk about debt, something that people don’t really ever want to discuss. But let’s face it, it can’t be avoided.

I am a senior in college and have no debt. None at all. Let me tell you, it hasn’t been easy. First of all, I have to admit that I do get a good chunk of assistance from the state because my family is low income. But the rest of the amount I owe to Ferris is paid by cows. Yup, cattle. I grew up on a small-scale beef farm and my dad and I would raise and sell beef cattle to pay for school. It’s a lot of work, but it is paying off. I know it sounds pretty redneck, but it has also taught me to appreciate hard work and that I can achieve goals if I set my mind to it.

I still have bills and expenses just like any other college student. Here are a few tips and tricks that I have learned over the last few years.

I have had at least one job since I was 15. Before that, I babysat a lot. My life has been chaotic at times from juggling school, the farm and work. Not to mention trying to be an average kid and have a social life, play sports and do 4-H. I was the kid that always had to work and people would ask me, “Why work now when you have the rest of your life to work?” I knew then that if I worked hard and saved money and gained experience, it would pay off in the long run.

It has. One tip I can give about job experience is always think about resume building. I always knew that I wanted to go into art and graphic design and I was fortunate enough to get a job in a professional photo gallery in my hometown. This job alone has boosted my resume in many ways and helped me get my graphic design internship. My boss at my internship could care less about the one summer I taught swim lessons at my local pool. I know that not everyone can have opportunities like that, but if you look, I’m sure you can find something.

Do you hate taking Gen Eds? Did you know you can take most of them during the summer at a community college and have them transferred to Ferris? Want to know the best part? You only need to get a C for it to transfer and it won’t affect your GPA at Ferris. I’ve spent all four years at Ferris and completed two summers’ worth of classes, which was a very wise decision financially.

I am good at saving money, but I like to spend it, too. I have every paycheck direct deposited and I put 85 percent into my checking and 15 percent into my savings. It works great, because it’s money that I don’t really look at. Sometimes I forget it is there. It’s nice to have in case of an emergency and even at only 15 percent, it adds up pretty quickly. In 2015, I challenged myself that every $5 bill I came across, I would put in a box and save it throughout the year. Of course bills came up and I had spend it before the year was over, but it was rewarding to know that I had saved quite a bit of money that I didn’t think was possible. I love saving coins, too. I have had so many friends who hate coins and will throw them on the ground and not think twice about it. I have no shame in picking up that crusty penny on the ground—sorry not sorry. For the last few years, I would save all my coins for a year and use them for Christmas shopping. It doesn’t usually add up to much, but it is better than nothing.

Like I mentioned above, I love to spend money, too. What girl doesn’t? I try to budget as best as I can. I have a planner that I write my hectic schedule into, but I also write in it every bill I have due and every pay day. I am a very visual person. This helps me visualize what money I have coming and going from my account. As dorky as it sounds, it works really well for me. All of the bills that I pay are directly withdrawn so that I don’t miss a payment and have a late fee. If I get paid this Friday, I know what bills need to be paid within the two-week period and then I have an idea of what I have left over to spend on fun things. When it comes to spending, I tend to have a lot of self control. I have that annoying debate with myself every time I buy something. Do I really need those shoes? If I buy that shirt, what do I have that will look good with it? Should I buy that book; will I actually have time to read it?

When it comes to spending, I look at the big picture. If I’m going to spend $5 at Starbucks, I could spend that $5 on a bag of coffee from Meijer and it would last me more than one day. Do I really need to spend $20 at the bar? Maybe I can get one drink with my friends at the bar and have a six pack at home and drink from the comfort of my home. Possibly save money on a cab, too!

One other tip that has helped me from time to time is to sell my old junk. I really don’t need all these books laying around, or I haven’t worn a certain dress in a while, why keep it? I sold my Wii console and bought a drawing tablet—best decision I made in quite a long time.

I may not buy everything I like, but I don’t live without. I keep a list of all the things that I’d like to have but don’t have the resources to get. I’ll save money for a while and when that goal is met, I’ll buy it. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to be able to work and save and buy something cool.

One last tip that has really helped me stay debt-free is that I use my skills to my advantage. I am a photographer and I sell my work on the side to make extra money every now and then. In 2015, I shot three weddings, senior photos and two family sessions. It was downright exhausting and after awhile it wasn’t as fun anymore. But it was well worth the money. I know that not everyone is a photographer, but you have to posses some skill that would mean something to someone else. You can knit? I can’t, I’d love to buy a scarf from you.

Being debt-free is pretty nice, but it has cost me. I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I’ve had, parties I’ve missed, things I’ve given up or the number of times I’ve nearly driven myself crazy. But let me tell you, hard work pays off.