Money Stories: Round 3a Darcy’s College Money Stories

First, I have to say that it is taking a commitment to both dredge up and draft all our money stories. There are way more than I ever realize, and reflecting on them I can see how they shaped my money habits and attitudes. We shared our childhood money memories in Round 1 and our coming of age stories in Round 2. Now it’s time to grow up and dig deep into the stories I’ve created in adulthood. 

All together, the stories are loooong, and we don’t expect you to real them all, but that’s not the point. The Lucky Bitch’s process of clearing money blocks is all about getting it all off your chest and then forgiving, especially yourself.

I started off by just writing the stories, and then went back and reflected about how these stories impact my life now.

Here goes Money Stories: Round 3a:

  • As mentioned already, Miel and I were more than ready to move away from the beautiful countryside of Southern Oregon. I was ready to use my graduation cash responsibly, but have some fun doing it.
  • Following in Miel’s footsteps, I was accepted as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, and packed my bags for a school year in Denmark. Having graduated with honors and holding a ticket to Copenhagen made me feel like I had won the lottery.
  • During my first year abroad, I have several money stories:
    • I vividly remember depositing my traveler’s checks to set up my Den Danske Bank account. The small local branch was on the main street of the small village where I was living, and I could check the balance or get out cash on my way to/from the train station (I went to school in Kalundborg on the west side of the main island, less than a two hour train ride from Copenhagen).
    • Out of necessity I was pretty frugal with my money, but I was also very aware that the experiences could only happen once. So, I made a point of spending on concert tickets instead of clothes, and keenly budgeting my bar tab.
    • The Danes live very comfortably, but not extravagantly. Everything is beautiful and artful, but also very simple. I loved how hyggeligt (cozy) my host family’s homes felt, and now I try to emulate that sense of meaning and personal aesthetic into my our home. Even when I become rich, I know my home will still look very much the same as it does now.
    • My first host family lived the most modestly of my three families, and I was intrigued by the fact that they had a weekly cleaning service. I had never known anyone who had a “maid.” As a working Mom I see the value of paying for a cleaning service, and even though we’ve cut it out of our budget as I start my business, I’m eager to be able to afford this luxury again.
    • I was fascinated by Denmark’s socialized system of government, where literally everyone has a real safety net. I now volunteer through Rotary to deliver Meals on Wheels for home bound elders and prepare/serve homeless men meals at the Bud Clark Commons. I would vote for more taxes if it helped create a safety net that is absent in American society.
    • Danes know how to travel well, and they made it priority. It helps to be given at least five weeks of vacation annually, but it’s also a matter of cultural attitude. Instead of pushing “kids” to apply to college, most parents encourage them to work for a year or so and then travel until the money runs up. Then go to college (which you earn through good grades not a savings fund). My effort to save both money and time off for a few years in order to return to Denmark with my family shows how much I prioritize travel (If it had been up to Hubby, we would have gone camping and remodeled the bathroom instead).
    • I remember when I returned a year later that one of my families had bought a new car. I naturally asked them what was wrong with the old car and they couldn’t understand my question. We thought for a moment that it was a language issue, and then realized that it was cultural one. Where I was raised you would only ever buy a new car if something was wrong with the old one (not to mention that almost no one I knew had ever bought a new car, and anyone who did was deemed foolish for having paid too much). We’ve bought two brand cars, both through Costco’s car sales program deal that was so good at the time that it simply didn’t pencil out to buy a slightly used car instead. But I do remember feeling like I would be judged for buying new.
  • Before returning to the States, I went through the college application process. I had already researched and applied to schools during my senior year, so it was a matter of going through the process again. I was both passionate about pursuing a degree environmental science and to get as from home as possible (I applied to schools in Alaska, Southern California, Florida, and Maine). This time around Miel was already going to a private college, Lewis & Clark (which she’ll talk about in her stories). After a lot of soul searching, I decided that I really wanted to go to College of the Atlantic in Maine. The school was very small and prestigious, admitting less than a hundred students. I had been accepted, and was excited about living and learning in such a beautiful place. Yet, when I called my Mom to share the news she flatly refused, since Miel’s private school tuition had proven to be far too expensive (she’ll share the details). My Mom basically told me that I had no choice but to go to a state college, and since Oregon State University was the only school with an Environmental Science program, this was my default. I was pissed and utterly crushed. It felt like I was being robbed of my potential because my family couldn’t afford college and I couldn’t trust that even student loans would get me a degree. So, I dutifully enrolled at Oregon State for my freshman year, even though it was my last choice. (I had also given up a “full ride” scholarship for a year’s tuition at Umpqua Community College, but I couldn’t bear to live with my parents and drive 45 minutes each way for college). Of all the money stories, this is probably the biggest one to forgive. While I’ve tried not to be resentful of Miel for going to her top choice private college, it was really my parents and grandparents who I felt had let me down by not being willing/able to support my studies.
  • My Freshman year of college had a few money memories:
    • I remember watching a required video before signing the paperwork to take on student loans. While I took on the most debt for graduate school, I finished my education with $66k in college debt, plus interest.
    • Living in the dorm felt like highway robbery, especially the expensive cafeteria. So, when after just a few weeks of living there I was told by a soon-to-be Danish boyfriend that some Fulbright Scholars needed a fourth roommate, I quickly did the math and realized that I could save some real cash (enough to return to Denmark that June). I lived in a converted single car garage with ugly wood paneling, but I had more space and privacy. Plus, I enjoyed living with graduate students from Portugal, Columbia, and Canada.
    • This was my first year of buying groceries and cooking for myself. I rode my bike everywhere and didn’t own a car, so I typically went shopping with my roommates at some cheap grocery store on Sundays. I had never eaten prepackaged foods and was intrigued when my roommates bought Rice-a-roni. I discovered perogies from my Canadian friend. I learned how to eat on a budget and only ate out a couple times a week…as we do as a family now.
    • I had two part-time jobs my freshman year, I worked as a volleyball ref for the co-ed games at night and I worked as a tutor and learning center coordinator for an ESL program. Neither job earned me much money (They were subsidized through the financial aide system so the employer paid just a third of my wage, and the feds matched the rest). I took my responsibilities seriously and always showed up early and put in my full effort. I also felt proud that I managed to find jobs that actually put my skills to use and help me learn more on the job. It felt very satisfying to work through college. Sometimes I felt like I was trying to alleviate the guilt I felt about taking out college loans and was proving that I could get and hold a job. 
    • My freshman year was successful in many ways, but I felt awkward socially. OSU has a big Greek system, and I was/am the farthest from a sorority girl. I did my best to fit it (even ditched my tie-dyes and purple combat boots), but I was still a fish out of water. I was also desperately homesick for Denmark, and still dreamed in Danish. So, when I saw a poster in the library that said I could study in Copenhagen, I was overjoyed. It turned out that it meant that I would have to transfer to the University of Oregon, but I was more than game (especially since they had just started an Environmental Studies program).
    • As I thought about the option of moving to Eugene, I couldn’t help but think about the idea of living with my Father, Wally. I had actually never lived with him, but when we were starting high school he and his partner bought a small trailer to park outside his place so that we could have some private space when visiting. The trailer was tiny and had gotten run down though, so when my Mom found out that a friend was selling a travel trailer that she had lived in during her divorce, I was intrigued by the idea of saving rent money, especially since my year in Copenhagen was going to cost me much more.
  • I moved to Eugene for the remainder of college, enjoying another year in Denmark between. During my time in Eugene I didn’t own a car and road my bike everywhere. I remember people asking me how I could afford to go to Europe each summer and I showed them the math that if they either had once less pint at the pub or didn’t own a car that they could easily afford it. 
  • I remember having this conversation with my Father, Wally, who died with a passport application on his desk. Even on his meager income, he could have still traveled cheaply to Europe if he could have only believed it was possible and then had some discipline to save enough. Alas, he didn’t.
  • Speaking of Wally, I think my biggest money hang up comes from being told that I was “Just like Wally” by my mother. I was the spender, Miel was the saver. I earned what I felt I needed, but I wasn’t overly ambitious about money. After our babysitting gig ended, Miel was the first one to get a summer job. Then when I was preparing to head on exchange, she stockpiled a summer’s worth of cash from working long hours up at Crater Lake. Meanwhile, I got enough odd jobs to get by. I felt labeled even though in truth there was never any real basis for comparison, with either Wally or Miel. I am ready to be my own person and not compare myself to others, for better or worse.
  • Overall I feel like I did a pretty good job at managing my money through college…to support my travel bug. I saved enough in my freshman year to return Denmark for three weeks, then saved enough my sophomore year to travel to Fiji for three weeks (to meet Miel who had fallen madly in love with a hot Fijian on her way back from Australia and fantasized about him for a whole year before returning. I was equally glad that the courtship ended and that I experienced paradise). Then I promptly returned to Denmark for a full school year (so in total, I was in Denmark for six summers in row…not a bad run!) Between trips I remember visiting with our Grandmother, who was by then was a millionaire in net worth, but she had never traveled outside the country. She always wanted to travel to Europe, and we talked about going on a bus tour while I was living there. I remember feeling awkward as I gushed about all the amazing experiences I was having, feeling guilty and wondering what she thought of me. To my surprise, she said “I’ve learned one thing from you…I should have traveled when I was young enough!” By then she was in her mid-80s and not confident enough to leave her comforts of home.
  • And, yes, I realize now that I could have taken out fewer student loans, but I felt like taking out the standard amount and then saving/managing it well allowed me to really experience my college years, plus I really lived for travel in those years.
  • When I returned for my senior year of college, I was excited to return to my job at the UO Outdoor Program. I had met virtually all my friends there, and my identity was wrapped up in my work there (plus I had been promised the coveted position of Environmental Coordinator). It turned out that there was a glitch with my financial aide, and I wasn’t eligible for a work/study job (where the employer only needs to pay a third of your wage). So, for a moment I thought I was out of job. Yet, in my first year at the OP I had worked my ass off as a fundraiser and brought in lots of loot and funds to the program. Even though they could have hired three students for the same price as paying me, they decided to offer me the position anyway. I realized then that you create your own value and you need to show what you’re worth.
  • As college came close to an end, I started to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. I had decided during my freshman year that I wanted to go to graduate school, and set a goal of completing my Master’s before I had kids. I saw that my roommates were smart, but not necessarily any smarter than me, and that all it really took was commitment and a willingness to continue to learn. So, I researched schools, and decided to approach my Grandpa Ellis about helping pay tuition. I knew that he was in a position to afford it, if he chose to help. I remember coming up with a whole script/pitch and putting my whole heart on the line sharing my biggest dreams and desire to make the world a better place. But instead of getting out his checkbook, my Grandpa simply laughed and told me all the reasons why I didn’t need a college education to be successful. It was pretty darn crushing, and I decided to postpone graduate school until I had a few year’s of work experience. 
  • On the other hand, my Grandmother had always told us that we needed to get an education so in case we were to divorce (which is on the rise!) we’d be able to support our family. She felt badly that Grandpa had denied my request, yet, she obviously wasn’t the one who controlled the purse strings.
  • I’m not one to give up on my dreams, and once I decided to postpone further education, I set my sites on landing a job. I remember going to California to visit family for Christmas break, and they all asked me derisively “What are you going to do with an Environmental Studies/International Studies degree?” I bravely told them that I was going to find a non-profit job fighting climate change in Portland. They practically laughed, but by a week after graduation I had landed a job doing just that (after interviewing for two jobs in Seattle and two in Portland). It showed me that crazy dreams can come true, but that you need to know what you want and be bold enough to ask for it. On top of landing the job, I was really proud that I negotiated the same salary as the woman who had left the job who had earned her Master’s already (I argued that since it was already budgeted, there was no reason to pay me less for the same job).
  • I met “Hubby” just before Thanksgiving during my last year of college. Like everyone, our money stories began just after we met. I soon learned that he came from an upper middle class family, but was pretty broke himself. I remember treating him to a really nice Italian dinner for his 30th birthday. He couldn’t afford the $200 for a week long camping trip to Utah for spring break, which included gas and food. I didn’t want to go by myself, and would have felt bad to leave him in rainy Eugene (back then the NW rain got to him). After that he started calling me his Sugar Mama. 
  • I continued to happily bicycle everywhere through college, but in my last year I was offered my older sister’s car for free, so I decided to accept it. I only ended up driving it every few weeks, and after having to replace the muffler, I decided to give it up when I moved to Portland. Plus, Kevin had a car we could share. 

Wow, these money stories really do add up…next we’ll share Miel’s college and early adult stories…then we’ll return to my stories of money and marriage.

What did you experience and learn about money during college?
How did they shape your current money story?

Darcy

~*~*~*~*~*~ 
Sustainable Family Finances 
Growing abundance while living down-to-Earth

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