I remember my senior year before I went to college. The sort of advice I received was be sure to use condoms, don’t do drugs, don’t party and study so you can make good grades and make your family proud. What no one told me, what I wish I would have known before I stepped one foot on that beautiful country campus is that it wasn’t drugs, women or study habits that would haunt me long after those college years; it was finances.
My first week on that college campus there was a table set up. Two attractive, cool college kids asking me if I wanted a free t-shirt and twenty five dollars. “Hey man, you’re away from home; you need a credit card for expenses. Gas money, maybe a date, a book you need right away.” Eighteen years old, not even a bank account in my name I signed up for the credit card and ten minutes later I was approved. That same week when I sat across from a counselor in the financial aid office she laid out several options for me. “This is what the University is offering you, A Pell Grant, your partial scholarship, four loan options.” All I saw was green, more money in my hand than I’d ever seen, a couple thousand more than I needed. I signed that promissory note not realizing I was signing my future earnings away.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the University I attended for my bad decisions. I don’t blame the Federal Government or the Student Loan Lenders. Without those programs a lot of kids and adults would never even have a chance at college. I blame myself for not being better informed and though I can’t go back I can learn from my mistakes. My sisters, cousins, my future children will never be able to say, “I didn’t know.” I will be there with them letting them know, apply for scholarships, work a part time job, pay your student loan interest while you’re in school, maintain academic progress. Things I wasn’t told until it was too late.
I don’t regret going to college, I regret going to college when I did because I simply wasn’t prepared mentally. It’s what you’re supposed to do right? You don’t want to be the guy still staying at home working a job while all your friends are off at college. You don’t want to go to the military just as 9/11 happened and be deployed six months later. So I went to college and though the academics weren’t as hard as I thought the maturity level just wasn’t there.
Everyone in my office is excited about W2’s because who doesn’t love an influx of money? I on the other hand will be experiencing my third straight year of the Federal Government withholding my income taxes. All because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do when I was younger. A part of me is almost grateful that I am going through this because it’s forced me to budget more. It’s made me accountable. This hasn’t been easy but it’s been necessary. Though I wish I would have learned these lessons in my youth I still have a lot of life to live if God says the same and for that I’m thankful. Talk to your children about not just the parties, drugs, women or men. Talk to them about money and respecting it or it will come back to haunt them.