Here are some stories from various Financial Aid staff about their experiences with finance: good, and... not so good.
"I had a great childhood, but growing up in my house, money was never discussed. Back then, it was considered impolite to ask your parents about their annual household income, but boy did my siblings and I try to find out in various covert ways. We'd place every magazine survey that requested "annual household income" — from "Good Housekeeping" to "Guns & Ammo" — in front of my parents. They always answered every question, but cagily deflected the shadowy income response.
"As a kid, while you don't understand the finer details of money, you pick up on the minutiae, such as: 'How many times do we have to eat spaghetti during the week/month,' 'Do they scrimp and save for the perks, such as family vacations and snowmachines;' or, 'Is there an increase in parental crabbiness/yelling on bill-paying-day of the month?' Despite having a comfortable life while growing up, I didn't realize how insecure this lack of knowledge made me feel about money until I began to direct my own education and career as a young adult. I didn't know how to budget or much about my credit score, except that having a bad one (whatever that meant) would rain the fires of parental disappointment down upon me. Frankly, now that I'm a grown-up and I finally found out how much money my parents made way back when… I really feel like they could have raised my $1/a week allowance a substantial amount without breaking the bank.
"All jokes aside, I fully endorse open communication with regard to financial literacy. While the topic may seem immense and intimidating, I love that the Office of Student Financial Assistance is doing everything we can to initiate a fun and engaging conversation within the University community."
– Carrie Burford, Program Manager; Scholarship Coordinator
"When I was in college, I made every financial mistake a typical college student could make: I took longer than necessary to graduate, I borrowed more student loans than I really needed to, and I didn't budget. Meanwhile, I had a friend in college that was very conservative with her money. She relied on public transportation (free for students!) and always headed home when the rest of us were going out to restaurants, happy hour, concerts, etc. At the time, I thought she was missing out.
"What I failed to understand was that although we were using student loans to pay for college and working part-time jobs, I was taking out more loans and relying on credit to supplement a life-style I really couldn't afford. I confused wants with needs. As a result, my friend was able to pay off her loans only a year after graduating. She then spent the next two years traveling around Europe and Latin America, while I postponed a Master's degree and passed up an amazing internship to accept the first job that allowed me to pay my bills. It turns out that I was the one missing out!
"The best part of my current job is being able to prevent UAA students from making the same mistakes I made. Here's my advice: create a budget and stick to it. College is the best investment you can make, but if you have to borrow student loans, only borrow what you absolutely need. Embrace the 'poor college student' stereotype for as long as you're a student. Understand that we live in a society that pressures us into wanting the newest, the biggest, the best, the most expensive… everything! Resist indulging on non-essentials until you can pay cash for them. Living modestly now will allow you financial freedoms later, so you can live the life you've always dreamed of."
– Sonya Stein, Director
"If I knew then what I know now… I would have been able to avoid a lot of interest accrual, collections fees, and stress in my younger years. I always tried to keep up on my credit card payments while going to college. However one year, after never having many bills before, I got flustered with a sheer flood of them. I didn't know what to do and got stressed. For a few months I started trying not to open them or look at the e-mails in hopes they would go away. Obviously that didn't work.
"I started getting collections notices, which just added to my stress. Finally I couldn't handle it and slowly opened them all, and added it up. I realized two important things. 1) I could have paid all of these bills with my income and student loans, and 2) I was overspending on going out, clothes, shopping, and food. I needed a budget.
"Getting help, I paid off everything I could. I called the places I still owed money and told them my situation, and that I could pay them back over time. It amazed me how nice they were. Nearly all of them were willing to work with me, and get me out of the black hole I'd let myself fall into. Also, I created a budget in Excel that outlined everything from the first day of the month to the last: when bills were due, how much "spending money" I had, etc.
"To this day my budget spreadsheet still works for me, and I know I can call my creditor or my student loan servicer if a situation comes up where I might have trouble paying. Being proactive instead of reactive is the key. Most companies just want you to work with them, and they are usually flexible when life happens"
– Jamie Krushensky, former UAA Financial Aid Technician
"I thought I was being a super-efficient incoming freshman by completing every step on the financial aid check list. However, by completing every step, I actually accidentally took out a $1500 loan. Imagine my shock since I already had my schooling paid for with several scholarships and grants! I learned to read the fine print when it comes to MPNs and Entrance Counseling."
– Reba M West, VA Certifying Technician
"When I first made a budget, I had no idea what I was doing. I only used estimated
costs, I took all sorts of shortcuts, and I used wishful thinking instead of careful
planning. I had nothing in there for iTunes purchases, internet bills, monthly subscriptions,
health costs, car maintenance, etc. And I approximated things like rent and gas, instead
of finding out the real cost. It was the budget I wanted, not the budget I had.
When I finally had some friends and family look at it — and especially when I got involved with Financial Literacy at UAA — I finally realized how many things go into budgeting, and how important it is to create a budget to make safe, smart financial decisions in the real world. I feel much more prepared for the unexpected, and in much greater control of my finances. It's scary making your first budget, I think. Especially when deep down you have a nagging suspicion that you have (or will soon have) more money going out than coming in. But you can only really fix that once you make a detailed budget. Trust me, it's worth it."
– Wolfgang Olsson, UAA Alumni and former UAA Financial Aid Student Employee