I graduated college debt free. No, I did not win the lottery, nor do I come from an affluent family. I come from a very middle class family, who unfortunately, didn't have the extra cash to put back money into a college fund. But, all my life I have had budgeting and planning drilled into my head. The summer before I went off to college, I knew I had to come up with some sort of plan if I didn't want to be in a huge amount of debt after I graduated.
So I talked with my Dad and we came up with a plan on how to tackle college without worrying about money. I think the key to graduating without debt is to not only have a plan in place beforehand, but sticking to it. My plan focused on three main points: living costs, class costs, and finding a job.
Living costs while in school can be just as much if not more than tuition. After talking with guidance counselors, other students and my parents, I found several ways to cut back on living costs. The first and probably most substantial way to cut back on living costs was my decision to not live on campus. Campus housing is way overpriced. I ended up finding a decent apartment , within walking distance to campus, for less than half the price of living on campus. I also cut back on living costs by doing my own grocery shopping instead of buying the meal plans. Another great way I cut back on living expenses was by attending campus events. There were always events going on, and often times they offered cheap or free food.
Cutting back on class costs was a bit trickier than cutting back on living costs. I applied for scholarships and grants. I was offered one scholarship and a few grants, which definitely help, but did not make that huge of a dent in my tuition costs. Another area where I saved a ton of money was book buying. Instead of getting my books at the college book store, I ordered them online . Most of the time I got my books at half the price , and I was even able to sell them back to the college book store at the end of the quarter and turn a profit.
The third and final area of my plan dealt with finding a job. The first job I found was in manufacturing. I started this job as soon as I started going to college. I was able to save up a huge amount of money while working manufacturing because I worked several hours overtime a week. About a year before I graduated I applied, was offered, and accepted an intern in my field. The intern was paid and it gave me tons of valuable experience as well as contacts for the future. As graduation was nearing, the company I interned at actually offered me a full-time position upon graduation.
All of my planning and hard work is what allowed me to pay off my $12,000 in loans, entirely, two weeks before I walked in graduation. For me, the decisions I made about living and jobs, are what I truly believed allowed me to earn enough money to be able to pay off all of my debt before graduation. It was very liberating to be able to graduate with no debt and a great job. It felt even better knowing that my decisions are what made it all possible.
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