Money Stories: Round 3b – Miel’s College Money Stories

We have certainly realized through the process of reviewing our individual and collective money stories, how many there are and what an impact they have. We’ve already shared some of our initial money stories in Round 1 and Round 2, as well as Darcy’s stories in Round 3a, and now we have Round 3b for my own stories from college.

College Money Stories

  • My money lessons in college started very quickly. I had spent the summer working at Crater Lake Lodge and didn’t have access to my mail while I was there (before the days of email). I went off to Lewis & Clark College and started out my semester like most typical freshman. About a week after classes started I realized that there was actually a huge gap between what I was eligible for in loans and grants and what I owed. I think it was around $10k. I knew right away that this wasn’t an option. I started to consider back up plans, did I go to a community college, find a job until I could enroll somewhere, etc. Just after this news I got a call for an interview for the job I really wanted at College Outdoors, organizing and leading outdoor trips for fellow students. I told the nice guy that I really appreciated the offer, but that it turned out that I didn’t have enough money to continue with school and would have to drop out. The next thing I know, I have a call from Student Financial Aid Services. My would be boss had been so inspired by my application (where I told him all about growing up on a commune and camping from the early days) that he called them to find out if there was something they could do to help someone like me stay at LC. I was grateful but didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. The first question they asked as if anything in my family’s financial situation had changed in the last year. In fact my dad had fallen from a ladder while fixing the roof after our house had caught on fire and he hadn’t worked for the rest of the year. This change, as well as whatever else they were able to came up with, meant that there was a $3,000 gap. My maternal grandmother said she could help with a one time payment, but that I’d have to figure it out after that. It was my ticket to ride, and I took it and ran.
  • I promptly got two jobs, one at College Outdoors and the other taking pictures of kids at the mall, working about 35 hours a week, plus a commute to one of the jobs, and saved enough to pay for the next semester. My grades suffered, but I learned how to manage the multiple jobs and got into a groove of working for a semester to pay for the next semester.
  • With the hours I worked I didn’t have much of a social life to speak of. I had three roommates at the time (including one from Croatia – while the war was happening there- and the other from Germany). None of them worked and all got an allowance from their parents. Occasionally they would complain that I had more money than them (which I had worked for and wasn’t at liberty to spend).
  • Later in college, after my grandparents had sold their piece of farm land, while they continued to live with a great depression mentality. We would years later inherit what would in part become the Olivia Beach Camp Cabins (which will be a whole other story). I asked my paternal grandmother for help with my tuition. Her response was that if I didn’t have money to pay for school then I should quit.
  • My first year of doing my taxes I did a miscalculation, because I didn’t think it was feasible to get that much money back, and was delighted to find a hefty tax return when I got back from a trip to Europe (where I was looking forward to coming back with not much left). It would turn out that I made more in that summer than I would for some time, since I has been working 60 hours a week at Crater Lake Lodge.
  • In my sophomore year of college I did a semester in Australia, and with the exchange rate as it was, it was a very frugal trip. I definitely recall only the occasional beer to save money and count my pennies. At the end of the semester I squeezed my pennies enough to go on a once in a lifetime ten day outback trip with a professor of ours. It cost $1000 for 10 days ($1k of our pooled funds was spent on gas alone for the 5,000 kilometer trip through the outback). It was worth every penny and I’m certain I didn’t miss out on anything else that I had to sacrifice for it. I returned back from that trip with zero money and started saving back up for the next semester.
  • In my junior year of college I did a semester in Ecuador and recall having a $20 bill typically last a week or two. I would stand in line at the cambios behind traditionally dressed peasant women who would lift up their skirts to reveal rolls of cash and I would diligently cash my $20 each week. I felt equally good for both of us, happy to be living off of my $20 a week and happy for them to have money coming from their families.
  • At the end of my semester in Ecuador I traveled with a dear friend up to Colombia and then down through Peru and Bolivia. We did the trip by land and logged 187 hours by bus, including five overnighters in the three week period. We spent just under $200 for the three week trip. We stayed in the cheapest places we could find, typically under $3. I recall arriving tired into La Paz and searching for probably two hours to find a place we could afford. We found a place with these amazingly comfortable looking beds, but the price was $20/night, so we had to move on. Looking back part of me wishes I could splurge on myself back then, but back then I was equally proud to have stuck to our tight budget.
  • After the semester in Ecuador I returned to Fiji for the summer. I had fallen madly in love with a hot Fijian guy the summer before and traveled around the world to get my tropical fix. The romance was short lived but the life lessons have stuck with me. It was 1998 and I bought my first purchase on the internet, nervously hitting buy on a ticket to Fiji with most of the money I had at that time (I think around $800). I left to Fiji with $300 in my pocket, for three months. When I arrived in Fiji we went to purchase food to bring to the outer island of Waya Lailai. Being my frugal self, I thought I would buy a bit and be on my way. In the end I spent $100, on a huge bag of sugar, flour, tea, tinned milk, and other staples. I was a bit nervous to spend that much of my money right off the bat, but figured it would last me through the summer. In the end the good were pretty much used island style and within a week we were out of almost everything. Darcy came to visit and we spent another $50 on a huge village party for our 21st Birthday, complete with luau style pig roast and incredible fish. It was worth it. When several weeks later the chief called a taboo on fishing, pickings were pretty slim. We ate nothing but plain boiled kasava (a tasteless tuber) for 11 days straight. It was my first time really being out there on my own, literally in the middle of the South Pacific, and my safety net was slim. I managed to make it through, even if a few pounds lighter.
  • By my senior year it felt like I had mastered my finances. I managed to get in as a Resident Assistant in the dorms, which in comparison to paying out of pocket for living expenses was a huge boon. I recall being challenged with how expensive things were, not feeling like I could buy a magazine when I could have lived on that for a day. Fellow students complained about dorm food and I couldn’t help but feel that they were spoiled and didn’t have a clue about how the rest of the world lived. Needless to say I was pretty happy to have signed up for the Peace Corps and was headed off in the fall to live in Ghana for the next two years.
  • I felt like I was doing pretty well financially and considered going back to Finland for a long overdue (and ironically still overdue) trip back to visit my host families and friends. I penciled out the post graduation trip and was about ready to buy the ticket, but decided in the end to save my money. A friend had planned to join me as well. When I decided not to go, she decided she would go to Spain for a month instead. Her parents were fine with her going to Finland with me, but weren’t too excited about her traveling alone to Spain (where she had been before in high school). In the end they offered to pay my plane ticket and hotels, and I would pay for my living expenses, if I joined her in going to Spain. This was of course an offer that I couldn’t say no to. It was my first whiff of traveling on the dime of someone else, and I was hooked.
  • I was initially going to do an internship in Washington, DC, since as an International Affairs major I always picked myself there (here). I was all set to do it, but when I penciled out how much it would cost me to do the internship for the summer, I realized I was actually much better off heading back to Oregon and enjoying a summer not working for the first time in my life. I enjoyed time with family and it was definitely worth it.
During my college years the main things that stand out for me is:

  1. You have to support yourself in this world
  2. Saving money can get you places in the world
  3. Working hard will get you where you want to be

I imagine exploring my current money stories will be most interesting of all, but it does help to reflect on what experiences have influenced my financial perspective.



~*~*~*~*~*~ Sustainable Family Finances The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

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