Life after high school is all about setting you up for a fulfilling, financially secure future. Identifying your passions, skills and career options are the biggest pieces of the puzzle, but there’s more to it than that. You have to stay financially healthy, too. Borrowing and/or spending too much money are big temptations that can weigh you down with debt for the rest of your life and cast a shadow over everything you do. It’s a trap too many people fall into. In fact, the average student loan debt for 2018 college graduates was $33,654, according to US Department of Education data. And that’s just debt from student loans. It doesn’t count the other debt you can accumulate if you’re not careful. Here are some tips to keep your borrowing and spending under control as you navigate life after high school.
To avoid borrowing too much:
- Attend a public, in-state college. In-state public tuition is about half of what you’d pay in tuition at an out-of-state school, and it can be just a third of what you’d pay at a private college.
- Look into a public, community college. You can get an associate’s degree for about half of what you’d pay at a public, four-year school. If you still want a bachelor’s degree, you can transfer to a four-year school after two years and take most of your credits with you.
- Consider trade school. Vocational or trade schools offer a direct, inexpensive path to good-paying jobs in fields such as welding, aviation maintenance, and dental hygiene.
- Explore apprenticeships. Toyota, IBM and other companies offer apprenticeships that place people without college degrees in jobs where they can learn and earn their way to a full-time position. The Indiana Office of Work-based Learning and Apprenticeship is a good resource for anyone looking for an apprenticeship.
- Take note of FAFSA and financial aid deadlines and apply on time. Be aware of financial aid application deadlines at any school you are considering, and be sure to start on the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) as soon as it opens Oct. 1. You have to fill out a FAFSA for each school year to qualify for grants, scholarships, federal work-study programs and federal student loans. (See more about the FAFSA on page 41.)
- Search for private grants and scholarships. Grants and scholarships are a great source of money that doesn’t have to be repaid.
To avoid spending too much:
- Say no to credit cards. When you buy something with a credit card, it seems like you’re getting it for free—until the credit card bill comes. Credit cards lead to spending money you probably don’t have and can incur debt you should avoid.
- Limit meals out. Eating out with friends is a constant temptation—and a major source of spending. Decide how many meals out you can afford per week and don’t exceed that number.
- Make your own coffee. Invest in a good coffee maker. Brewing a cup at home every morning will keep you from paying $5 or more every time you walk into a coffee shop.
- Don’t “stress shop.” Some people relieve stress by shopping, but there are better alternatives when schoolwork gets you down. Stream a movie, hang out at home with friends, or exercise.
- Beware of “free” trials. You might already be bombarded with online “free trial” offers for everything from streaming services to meal kits. But once you sign up and the free period ends, you’ll be stuck with an ongoing bill unless you remember to cancel, which isn’t always an easy process.
- Don’t browse online. If you need to go to a shopping site, go straight to the product you need. Browsing a retail site just to relieve stress can lead to overspending.
Ivan Lozano, 21
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
Money tip: Apply for FAFSA every year. There are also many, many, many scholarship opportunities out there that can help.
Extra cash: I am working part-time at Crew Carwash while I finish school. They offer a flexible schedule and tuition reimbursement. The people I have met there have become great friends of mine.
Bonus: Take advantage of all the free services the university provides. Many places give student discounts, so don’t be afraid to ask!
Hannah Junod, 23
Hometown: Vincennes, Indiana
Money/life tip: I would encourage students to look into all the scholarship resources out there. There are scholarships for all kinds of people, and some even go unused. It never hurts to apply.
Gap year: I know many people who take a gap year to save money and work while they decide on college/trade school. It is never too late to continue your education.
Parker Noll, 23
Hometown: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Find the money: First, apply for scholarships and grants. This money is given to you, and you do not have to pay it back over time. Go online and do research to find the best scholarships, and spend time trying to find some that you may be eligible for. Second, reach out to the college’s admission team. They would be more than happy to walk you through different ways to pay for your education.
Avoid loans: Make loans your last option. Hold off on this because you may be able to find money elsewhere. A lot of people make the mistake of applying for loans right off the bat. You will have to pay back loans—with interest!
Other options: Some campuses offer work-study programs where your paycheck goes straight into your tuition—this can knock off a few grand over a year.
Precious Townsend, 21
Hometown: Kokomo, Indiana
Money tip: Connect with opportunities for scholarships and try to obtain a full- or part-time job. This will help you later if you need to come home on school breaks to make money.