As the new year starts to take shape and I take inventory of all that I have and all that I have done, I realize that I am oftentimes too hard on myself – I’m guessing many of you are in the same boat. I don’t give myself enough credit for the things I’ve actually done right in my life. Given my Type A personality, I usually just focus on the bad stuff and why I’m not already early retired. Read all about that here. Today I’d like to share with you something Mr. MMM and I did right, before we started on our personal path to financial freedom. We both graduated college with very little debt, on our own, years before we even met.
Mr. MMM and I had polar opposite experiences in high school. We grew up two hours apart and lived in completely different worlds. He was class president and the King of Cool – at least that’s how he makes it sounds when he retells his stories – which I totally enjoy! I, on the other hand, was a very quiet girl that floated through high school with very little aspirations of college. I always had dreams of going to college; my family just didn’t have the money to help with it, nor did they know how to navigate the financial end of getting aid/scholarships. Because of this, I believed my path was to gain full-time employment after graduation.
Note: I mean no disrespect to anyone who chose/chooses to skip college for a different route. It certainly isn’t the only route to a happy, fulfilled life. I had just always wanted to go to college and thought it wasn’t an option for me. Hence, my envy when I watched my high school friends filling out applications and showing off their acceptance letters. Ugh.
Mr. MMM was accepted to a big STATE school. His parents didn’t have a ton of money when he was growing up, but they did manage to squirrel away enough to pay for his first semester at the big STATE school. What did he do? He partied his butt off and failed out since he saw no way of paying for the rest of his college career. Nice. This is a big regret for him. Ultimately, it all worked out. Read on fellow Mad Money Monsters!
Full-Time Employment & Community College
As expected, I started working full time after high school. First it was McDonald’s, then I sexed chicks (I am not even kidding – I had to pick up baby chickens and put them down a male or female chute at a hatchery), and then I landed a great job at a local factory soldering electrical components. There I met a pivotal person who changed the entire course of my life. He was a younger engineer who questioned why I wasn’t in college if that’s what I wanted to do. I explained to him that my family didn’t have the money to send me and that I didn’t think I was smart enough to handle the coursework. At that moment, he burst into embarrassingly (is that a word?) loud laughter. He then explained to me that he thought I was definitely smart enough and that I should apply to the local community college.
I was so extremely encouraged by our conversation, as a starry-eyed 18-year old, that I secretly applied to the community college. When the acceptance letter came in the mail I couldn’t contain my excitement – I had no idea what an open admissions policy was at the time. Ha! Unfortunately, my excitement was still met with financial concern from my parents. I eventually told my friend at work that I was accepted but couldn’t go because I still couldn’t afford it and didn’t want to go into huge debt. He encouraged me to take two classes each semester, including summers, and pay for them with cash. I did just that until I graduated with an Associates Degree.
LA Or Bust
Meanwhile, Mr. MMM threw caution to the wind and hopped a plane to LA at 19 to pursue a life on the west coast. He worked 3 jobs for 2 years to make ends meet in the glittery town until he threw in the towel and headed back home. His parents welcomed him home but insisted upon him paying rent to live at home.
He quickly got a job at a local theater and worked his butt off to get his own place and make his way as a true adult. He worked that job for years until one day a former high school teacher came in and struck up a conversation about all the dreams he had before graduation. Shortly after that, the theater rolled out a college reimbursement program. Mr. MMM jumped at the chance to get a nearly free degree. He worked double shifts and went to school on overdrive. He graduated as a teacher in record time and started his education career immediately upon graduation.
He quit that career after many years to pursue his passion in film. This is where I come into the picture! We met a few years into his new career. Woot woot!
Graduation From A 4-Year School
Back to my story, I was accepted to two private, 4-year colleges to finish my undergraduate degree. I graduated with honors with my AD and was hoping for a nice financial package at the 4-year schools. Unfortunately, my DREAM school refused to offer any financial help to transfer students. I was crushed. I sat down with their financial office and talked through my options. My only option was paying for it cash – which wasn’t an option (see above) – or take out loans to cover the entire $50,000. As much as I wanted to go to this school, I knew the smart financial move was to go to school #2, offering a scholarship, resulting in me paying only $14,000 for both remaining years.
Note: The sticker price on both schools was about the same. School #2 just offered help to transfer students with excellent grades. Sweet! I ended up borrowing the full amount plus a few thousand to have money for living expenses, since I had to quit my factory job to finish school.
After graduating, I started working in my scientific field of study and never looked back. Both Mr. MMM and I, unbeknownst to each other, went to college with no help from our family, and graduated without amassing a pile of debt. We met a few years ago, blended our two worlds to become Mr. and Mrs. MMM, and started on our path to financial independence, which we chronicle here for you fine people! Read all about our super awesome wedding on a shoestring here!
In light of this extremely positive, pat-on-the-back post, please know that we have probably each made more poor decisions than awesome ones – but today we focused on the awesome ones. :) Not to worry, we’ll be sure to post our past failures in a future post, or posts. *sigh*
What If You Already Have Massive College Debt?
It’s true that sometimes massive debt for higher education isn’t always avoidable. If you are in massive debt, the only way is up! You start where you start. It might be a good idea to take inventory of your situation, make a plan, and stop at nothing to reach your goals. Don’t beat yourself up about past decisions that resulted in debt.
***It’s possible the debt was actually worth it!***
I would never take back the decision to borrow $20k for the last two years of college. It was truly one of the best financial decisions I ever made.
Tell us your story. Have you taken on massive debt for something you regret? Better yet, have you taken on massive debt for something you don’t regret? Or, have you managed to avoid debt altogether?
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