What This College Freshman Learned About Money May Surprise You

3 Minute Read

College is getting more and more expensive. And students are going further and further into debt (to the tune of $1.2 trillion!). Parents know that. Students know that. Everyone knows that.

But as much as we know about the high cost of college, there’s plenty we don’t think about. That’s why we asked Caitlyn B., a freshman at University of West Florida, to spill about what she learned during her first year away at school.

Last year, Caitlyn won Dave Ramsey’s Financial Literacy Challenge and the $36,000 grand prize scholarship that went along with it. But even with a considerable scholarship to cover room, board and tuition, she still faced plenty of additional expenses.

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"It’s the little things that add up to be the most money," she says. "Tuition is set, and your room and board are set. But the little things add up, like your books, computer, cell phone bill, school supplies, and all the little weekly things [like shampoo and toothpaste]."

Students also hit up their fair share of Panda Express and Starbucks, she says. It’s an easy habit to fall into with hectic school schedules and busy social calendars.

To pay for all her expenses, Caitlyn holds down a full-time job on top of being a full-time student. But she doesn’t mind—it’s worth it in order for her to graduate without debt.

"Honestly, I think it’s a blessing to only have to work one job," she says. "Some people work two or three jobs to stay afloat and stay in school. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about squirreling away everything I can because I have such a great scholarship that takes care of a lot."

It’s also not uncommon for students to take out loans to cover their fun money. They’ll take out a $10,000 loan, for example, and use $4,000 of it to pay for restaurants and movie tickets.

"That’s the worst thing you can possible do," Caitlyn says. "Students think: Oh, I have $4,000 to spend this semester, everything’s great and dandy. Then midterms hit and they have no more money."

Caitlyn advises high school students to save as much as possible before they start school—and to make a budget once they arrive. That way, they won’t have to stress about getting through the semester without maxing out three credit cards. And they won’t have extra interest payments from those student loans haunting them for years to come.

Because the less debt students rack up now, the more freedom they’ll have later on. What teen doesn’t want that?

Dave Ramsey’s $55,000 Financial Literacy Challenge, sponsored by Zander Insurance Group, runs April 7-25. High school seniors can enter for a chance to win one of three college scholarships, including one worth $40,000, and underclassmen can enter for a chance to win one of three Chromebook 2 laptops. Make sure your high school student enters today at daveramsey.com/challenge.

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