Three years ago, I knew very little about money. The dangerous thing about that time is that I thought I knew quite a bit about money. I’d read one book, picked up on the idea of index funds and establishing a good credit score, but I didn’t know enough to prevent my impending financial meltdown. I was working my way through a college education that would prove to be too expensive to sustain.
Two and half years ago, I was falling into my financial crisis. My credit card was maxed out and one of my student loans had hit its limit – it wouldn’t be renewable the next term of school, so I would have to figure out a way to replace that $3,000 per year. I was just starting to read personal finance blogs and realize how little I truly knew about money… and about myself. A month later, just after the end of the fall term, I dropped out of school.
Two years ago, I was starting to piece things back together. I’d started this site, kept reading, kept learning. I had a freelance job to pay the bills, including the student loans that were about to come out of their grace period. I met with an advisor at school to talk about coming back and switching majors to something less expensive (and more fitting for me) than Film. I set my sights on going back to school in the fall. I was making slow, but steady, progress on my credit card debt.
A year and a half ago, I was finishing up my first term back at school. My emotional life was a mess (boys are trouble!), but I was finally putting my financial life under my belt. Slow progress on my credit card, but I actually had an emergency fund in place to keep me from relying on my credit card too much. I got a new credit card to transfer the balance and save myself money in interest, and to improve my credit score. I haven’t paid credit card interest since. I put the blog on strike. I made the Dean’s List.
A year ago, I’d had minor setbacks (car repairs) but was still making steady progress. I was attacking the credit card debt full force, to make sure that the balance would be gone before the introductory 0% rate on my balance transfer expired. I was looking for summer jobs that would be both good for me and make more money to put toward my credit card. I made the Dean’s List again.
Six months ago, my credit card balance was paid off. I was stashing money in savings to prepare for graduation and to reach goals I hadn’t even thought about before. I was paying for my textbooks out of pocket, instead of rolling them into my student loans. I made the Dean’s List again, and took out my last batch of student loans for my last term of school.
Now, I’ve graduated. My savings are beefed up, although not to where I’d hoped they’d be. But I’m also making more money freelancing than I thought I would when I set my savings goal, so my low savings balance is offset a bit for the time being. I’m careful about my money, but I indulge a bit more than I did during the “dark times.” Most of all, I can hardly believe how much things have improved since then.
I never thought I’d make the Dean’s List every term after I returned to school. I never thought my credit card debt would be paid off, especially not before graduation. I never thought I’d have as much as I do in savings. I never thought that learning how to control my finances would have such an impact, making improvements in nearly every facet of my life.
Sometimes I wonder, how much better things might have been if I’d done all this a year earlier than I did. Or even earlier than that – what if I’d gotten smart at 17, before I even started college? I’ll never know for sure. But the Chinese have a proverb for this:
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”