Dear Freshman...

Mary Hunt

Listen carefully. You're riding high. It's been a long time coming and now you're experiencing the freedom you always dreamed of. You may not be thinking clearly right now and that is quite understandable.

Moving out of your parent's home and into a college dorm or apartment is very exciting. It means new confidence, new friends. Finally you get to make your own decisions.

In a few weeks when things settle down, reality is going to slap you in the face. I can ease the shock by telling you a few important things now. You can thank me later.

Don't fall for entitlement

You are going to be tempted by feelings of entitlement now that you are on your own and making your own decisions. The biggie of course is the cost of college and how to pay for it.

There is a financial aid office on campus that deals in entitlement issues, although that is not what they call it. The message is that you can borrow just about as much as you need or want to pay your college bill each semester. It is frighteningly easy. No need to qualify, just be enrolled. If you must take out a student loan, let it be the absolute least amount you can possibly get by on-not the most available to you

For every dollar you borrow in student loans, expect to pay back two. Look, I know that is not important to you now because you believe that when you graduate you will get a really great job and pay all of it back really fast. Well, my dear Freshman, that is based upon certain assumptions: First that you will graduate, next that you will be welcomed into the industry of your major and last that you will find joy in making $600-a-month payments for 30 years.

Talk to anyone who is carrying a load of student debt right now (you should get some first hand feedback if you are contemplating student debt) and you are likely to discover that repaying student debt is neither quick nor easy. And try doing that on a single income because one of you needs to be home raising children or things don't work out like you planned and your degree in advanced oceanography doesn't qualify you to do much more than wait tables.

Get a job

A good way to avoid the student debt scene is to work. Pay as you go. Yes, I am referring to you getting a job. Maybe two. Work vacations and summers like the responsible adult you are. There is a common belief on college campuses that it is not good for your grade point average to work. Or your social life. Do not buy into this theory.

It is my observation that students who actually participate in paying for college with their own money, tend to be more disciplined, more serious and more diligent in both their work and studies.

Beware of the stores

And the malls. You're going to be tempted to hit everything right away. After all, you have no parental units holding you back. There's fashion to wear, stuff for your room-things you need! So why not just go for it?

I'll tell you why. If you start spend-ing like crazy now, you'll be broke by Fall break. Stop, breathe-get a grip! Those places will be there all year. Stay away unless you really, really need something.


Never forget that delivery is the devil with an "ery" at the end (well, it is if you are dyslexic).

Ordering food delivered now and then is one thing. But it's a sign of a serious problem when you can rattle off the numbers for Subway and Domino's but can't remember your parent's phone number. Or you have the entire menu for that great Chinese place committed to memory but can't recall your vocabulary words.

Sure, food fosters friendships and gives you and your buddies an oppor-tunity to burp in unison, but it's transient. It's here today and gone in an hour. Along with your cash flow.

Remember the cafeteria-that large food area where you've already paid for three squares a day. Check it out.

It's not your money

Just because your campus allows certain credit-card vendors to peddle their wares-with full approval from the college brass-does not mean you should grant them even the time of day.

Hard to believe isn't it? Your parents barely trust you to do your laundry and brush your teeth every day, but Visa and MasterCard are ready to hand you $3,000, $5,000-maybe more. Free money. Woohoo!

Okay, you need to get this: It's not a gift, it's not your money. It's a snare to make you feel wealthy; a trap to pull you into their clutches for 10, 15 years or longer. It's bait to hook you so they can reel you in. Face it. It's open season on Freshman and these companies will go to curious lengths to slip a shiny new credit card into your wallet.

They'll offer you a free liter of Pepsi, a flashlight, maybe a T-shirt just for filling out the application. They'd hand out credit cards if the law didn't forbid it. They'll do just about anything to get you hooked.

The only winners in that deal are the companies handing out applications and the college that earns a healthy commission based on the revenues those applications generate.

Run, don't walk, from those tables with the perky sales-types hawking free stuff. You'll have plenty of time in your sophomore or junior year to apply for a credit card.

Bottom line here, kids: Learn moderation. Practice living below your means. Never spend all of your money. Study hard, work even harder and then pace yourself.

Oh, and give your family a break. Call home.

© 2005 The Cheapskate Monthly. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

     "The Cheapskate Monthly" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt.  What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt.  Today, "The Cheapskate Monthly" is read by close to 100,000 Cheapskates.   Click here to subscribe.