Spending Money — One of Many Things I Learned in College…

What I Learned from Spending Money in College

Recently, I’ve been cleaning house—both literally and figuratively. But more specifically, sifting through closets and shelves and basement containers. Trying to make sense of some of the clutter taking up space in my house.

I’ve lived here for all of five years. But for some reason, it feels like stuff has been accumulating for decades. So I figured it was time to clear out some clutter, to eliminate the excessive objects overwhelming my living quarters. And really, to assess items of actual value to keep long term while minimizing things taking up space.

And since it just so happened, I’d already been splitting up some of my household’s personal property; it seemed appropriate to clear out some other clutter during this process as well. After pulling several large plastic containers out of my basement crawl space, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

They contained older-than-old photo albums. Shoe boxes of mementos. Cookie tins full of Polaroids. Photo collages on cardboard, captioned with magazine cutouts. (I am such a product of the ’90s)

What Does This Have to Do With Spending Money in College?

In one of the said boxes, I found an old college journal. It must’ve been from some required English composition class. And it was super interesting to read some of my daily thoughts from roughly 27 years back. With that, I also gained quite a bit of insight into my nineteen-year-old self.

On the one hand, I see aspects of my current self in the writing of my younger days. On the other hand, I want to grab that girl by the shoulders and shake her until the marbles in her brain fall into alignment. Like, “C’mon, girlfriend! You can do better than that! Use the brain that I know is inside that pretty little head of yours! You’re smart — stop trying to hide it! Who cares what people think??”

The Idea

My overall plan is to review the entries in this composition book and reflect upon them today. Is hindsight 20/20? Why, of course, it is! It’s also quite fun to see where my mind was at so long ago, and if any of my opinions have changed since I’ve, like, matured and stuff.

So here is one entry that I find highly appropriate to this blog. At times it waxes a bit poetic (as many of the entries do, for some strange reason. Guess I had a flair for the dramatic back in the day). But at its core, this entry is all about my struggles with spending money in college.

Apropos, no??

Below, you can see a photo of the actual journal entry from my composition book. But here is what was written in the notebook in its entirety:

“12/13/93 —

I spend money so freely; one would think I have it.

The answer to Freud’s *****-envy — put a credit card in the eager hand of a woman. The sense of power, the elation, the purpose in life is revealed to me! Spend all you can. Do it now! For at month’s end, the tears are sure to flow. No eating for a week. But the new sweater sure was worth it. Wasn’t it? I buy battery-operated, hand-held sewing machines. I buy an acrylic paintbrush, but no acrylic paints. I buy a pair of flashy earrings that catch my eye for a split second. I buy.”

Spending Money in College - Regrets and Memories
Spending Money in College – Memories, Regrets and Learnings

 

Examining the Evidence

Here are a few points from this piece that immediately jump out at me:

  • The overall theme is that in college, I spent money when I should not have. There’s an acknowledgement there — knowing I shouldn’t be buying this stuff but doing it anyway.

 

  • Reference to Sigmund Freud — I have no freakin’ idea where that came from! I have never, ever taken a psychology course in high school or college. I have never studied Freudian theories, psychoanalysis, psychopathology, or anything of the sort. Honestly, I think I was just a young punk trying to sound “grown-up” and attempting to elicit a shocking reaction from my professor and classmates. Real mature, Rose.

* Side note: That reference about putting a credit card in the hand of a woman. *sigh* It’s like we don’t have enough issues trying to promote gender equality. So here I am, perpetuating the stereotype myself. I know, I know — this was the early 90’s, so I wasn’t quite as “woke” when it comes to feminism. But just the fact that I wrote this statement is cringe-worthy for me to read.

  • The tongue-in-cheek statements, poking fun at myself, look at how frivolous I am with money—sort of a self-deprecating way of pointing out the obvious. I know I buy stupid things. But while in college, I somehow am unable to stop the spending.

 

  • The items listed out on the bottom: sewing machine, paintbrush, earrings. Impulse buys? Just a bunch of crap? I wonder if I was buying to buy or if there was intention behind it. For instance, did I buy the sewing machine because I had taken a costume design class as part of my Theater major (at the time)? Were the earrings purchased to go with a dress for one of my sorority formals? And how important were these items to justify not eating for a week? (Which I’m sure was a massive exaggeration).

What I Learned

What did I take away from reading this entry about spending money in college? Reading this journal entry, I made so many years ago; I can see patterns and similarities to issues I have faced over the years. My impulse to make purchases without a whole lot of thought involved. Buying things that are not necessary but fill some momentary need.

Whether it’s boredom, insecurity, or peer pressure, the guilt felt after buying something frivolous. Knowing I should be better with my money management, but still defiantly spending money that shouldn’t be spent. I can identify with this 19-year-old version of myself, who spends money on trinkets and knick-knacks and future imaginary hobbies that never quite come to pass.

I attended a pretty expensive college (mostly on scholarships and financial aid)When I graduated in 1996, my student loans totaled roughly $10,000, nowhere near the amount of student loan debt most college graduates face today.

But my peers had trust funds, BMWs, and cushy executive positions waiting for them when they graduated. Because “Daddy” owned a company but wanted them to get a proper education first. I was insecure and desperately wanted to fit in. And, in many ways, that insecurity still lingers inside of me to this day.

What I Wish I’d Learned

How I wish this story would have affected my future money mindset. If I could go back in time and have a conversation with my 19-year-old self, I’d have several things to say—one of them being the importance of staying true to oneself and the benefit of individuality. 

Life is too short to pretend to be someone you are not. Instead, embrace your creativity and your own set of circumstances. Why try to be french vanilla or butter pecan when you can be rainbow sherbet or peanut butter fudge?

As I look at myself today, with my flashy-patterned prescription eyeglasses and my hot pink highlights, I know I never would’ve been bold enough to sport such a look in the past. After all, my main objective back then was to blend in with the crowd.

But if only I’d dared to step out, lean into my discomfort — I may have emerged on the other side of those four years as a more confident person. And with that being said, maybe I would’ve been more secure in my money management. Because when you focus more on meaningful experiences and personal relationships, you have less need to accumulate material possessions.

How to Use Going Forward — Summary

What I learned about myself that I could use to make improvements in the future. This writing prompt brought to light a few things:

  • My issues with money and spending go further back than I even realized. While it’s somewhat of a relief to realize this isn’t just a habit I picked up randomly, it also makes clear this problem still requires work in the future. Just because I am no longer in debt doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing from here on out. I’ll need to work hard to reverse the spending mindset so I don’t fall into a similar money pit in the future.

 

  • Denial has perpetuated my spending habit over the years. Even back when I wrote this piece, I acknowledge I shouldn’t be spending money in college that I didn’t have, yet I am doing it anyway. It is a pattern I’ve continued to see throughout the years. Having a maxed-out credit card, then somehow obtaining another one so we could pay for baseball gear, or back to school clothes, or a vacation. It’s not enough to own your faults — in addition, you need to act on improving them.

 

  • Creativity has always been a part of my life. I used to have a flair for the dramatic and even a slightly poetic side. Somewhere along my path, I seemed to lose that aspect of my life. However, over these past few years, I’ve rediscovered my love of writing through this blog. While it’s been a bit of stop-and-go lately, I believe there’s a benefit for me to continue doing this. Not just for my own emotional well-being but also in the hope I might help others struggling in similar situations.

 

  • Also, it’s good to have a few hobbies. Whether it’s writing, sewing, chocolate-making or Sudoku solving. Okay, so maybe I never did learn how to use a sewing machine or paint with acrylics. And I pretty much never wear earrings anymore. But finding a way to exercise your creative mind makes life more enjoyable. Plus, you might find some friends who enjoy doing the same things.

Memories of Spending Money in College

And now, back to you guys — 

  • Have you ever kept a journal? Did you ever go back after a few years to read the entries? Did you learn anything about yourself from doing that?
  • Do you believe we can change, or are we forever destined to be the same people we were growing up?
  • Do you have any examples of mistakes you made in the past that you were able to correct and avoid replicating going forward?

Hit me up in the comments!

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