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The Best Time to Start Thinking About Money

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.”

11 responses to “The Best Time to Start Thinking About Money”

  1. Baker @ ManVsDebt

    You should be really proud of yourself. Rather than thinking about how your life would of been if you would of adapted these practices a year sooner, think of it the other way. Imagine how much worse it would have been a year or two later. By that line of thinking you can be extremely proud of all you’ve accomplished!

  2. Adis

    Yay! *claps and cheers* You have accomplished something good and I wholeheartedly second Baker’s comment on being proud of yourself!
    I’m really happy to have found your blog and reading about your experiences becoming more financially savvy. It’s educational and entertaining!
    Now I’ll go back to lurking and reading your entries when they’re posted…

  3. Tracie

    I was lucky and have all my student debts paid off but my sister wasn’t and her untimely death made all of us realize that you can’t just keep putting things off. Some things need attention because it just isn’t you that it affects. She left three children and over thousands of dollars in student loans and other debts. Hind sight is 20/20 but today is a good day to put things in order. Congrats on your achievements and keep up the good work.

  4. Mark @ Time to Buy Invest in Stocks Market

    There is no time like the present to get things in order. The past is gone but the present and future are full of possibilities.

  5. Roger

    That’s a wonderful and inspiring story, Stephanie. You are an inspiration, and you definitely have quite a bit of success of which to be proud. Congrats on all your accomplishments! (And nice proverb, by the way.)

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  8. Jordan Rivers

    You said you were majoring in film before, what did you change to? Do you miss film? We’re you wanting to produce/direct/write? I just read this today, so please forgive me if it is common knowledge.

    I’ve made four films and never recommend film school to anyone. If you have that kind of money – use it to make a film. Best teacher in the world. It’s hard of course, but then that is what love is all about, right?

    But if you are happy doing what you are doing now, then it won’t be a problem for you. I’m a woman too and always try to encourage others of our sex to stick with it. But only if they are as crazy as I am. Fact is, I raised two sons while pursing a film and screen writing career.

    However, I applaud you for getting your finances together. Especially right now with everything financial going to h-ll in a hand basket. A great credit rating will serve you better than an unsold film setting on the shelf!

  9. Juan Pocai

    I do believe all the concepts you have presented to your post. They are very convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are very short for starters. May you please lengthen them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.