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Do it on purpose
I went through college majors like they were pieces of Bazooka gum. Is that even a respectable simile? By said questionable simile I refer to the fact I went through them and my interest in them quickly. My first major was Chemical Engineering. Sounds impressive, right? Well, that was the #1 reason why I selected it; I was hoping scholarship committees and the university would find it impressive and throw some money at my education (they didn’t but it’s okay). Sometimes the truth is embarrassing. To redeem myself slightly, my high school enjoyment of math and the sciences, as well as an interest in future earning potential did factor into the decision as well - it wasn’t all strategic.
The next declared major I remember having was Exercise Science. This was after exploring Computer Science for a thrilling 2 weeks and deciding it wasn’t for me - although, now that I’m in the technical world and have web development in my past I regret not giving it a better chance. Anywho. Exercise Science didn’t last too long because it didn’t have any ready employment application. Given this statement you’re going to laugh when you find out what I ended up graduating in but that’s still a few majors away. Athletic Training took the place of Exercise Science for a while as the more practical, employable version of it until I confronted the fact I wasn’t all that interested in sports-sidelines medicine. No offense to those whose thing it is!
It was around this time that I took my first Humanities class and my soul was illuminated. That might be exaggerating a little bit since I’d enjoyed all the things I’d studied previously, but really there was something about Dr. Green’s Humanities 101 that captured me. Architecture, art thru the ages, music, literature...I loved it all. I also liked a cute guy, Justin, but he didn’t like me. Ah well, that’s neither here nor there. Anway, Humanities would have been my degree, if not for the fact that I was discovering it as a Junior and the fluent-in-another-language requirement seemed like it would really set me back. [Lessons I could’ve learned at the time: do hard things! Some things are worth taking a few extra months to pursue!] I found a similarly stimulating, more narrow version of this degree in American Studies and it was in this that I finally graduated. It has to be crystal-clear by now what my long-term plan was, but in case it remains vague - I was headed toward physician assistant school.
Okay. You still with me? I hope my memoir above hasn’t totally put you to sleep, or that you can at least wake up enough for the moral. Yes, that’s right, THE MORAL. The moral to this story and to life is that it is better to “do it on purpose.” College can be an awesome time for discovery but said discovery period can set you up for long-term success if you’re on-purpose about it and the basics of life. I wasn’t really on-purpose about either. Yes, I did have my plan to go to PA school and eliminated some majors because of some real-life, future reasons, but I could’ve been quite a bit more purposeful. You know, things like figuring out how to get more than the minimum science prerequisites under my belt, chasing down internships or minors that might increase my employability (or rather, establish it:), consulting with professors about employment or research opportunities, etcetera. And I especially could have been on-purpose with my money.
I did a lot of money things right. I worked at least 20 hours per week during each college semester. I worked in the summers, sometimes more lucratively or productively than others. Jobs included carpet cleaning in the married student dorms (my friend Reina hooked me up with this incredible, back-breaking “opportunity” where the pay was a whopping $8/hour + 1.5x for overtime), working at a daycare with eighteen 2 year olds, collecting insects (for biological weed control - this was one of the more lucrative jobs), packing up my aunt’s house in preparation for their move, manning the grills at Jerry’s Burgers, and even selling plasma. My respectable campus jobs included working at the Textbook Information Desk (definitely the job that yielded the most number of dates as every single guy on campus had to come thru the Textbook Department). I worked for the Continuing Education department and my favorite, the BYU Budget Office. I paid my own rent and utilities, bought my own groceries, and funded my own fun.
However, during this time I also took on a Discover credit card and at least a couple store credit cards (I think one of them was even Mervyn’s which is extra sad) and got comfortable making payments. I even took out a personal loan because I hadn’t managed my student loans/income well enough to have my tuition payment for one Winter semester. And lest you think I was flushing money down the toilet, literally or figuratively, I wasn’t. When I think back on college I think of so many good things: super great friends, EMT classes, ridiculous and often adventures like getting our guy friends arrested in Heber, doing the Grunion Run, going to Krispy Kreme at 2:00am for donuts just because...why not?! But I also remember feeling stressed about money all the time. Some of that might have been inevitable because during college you are occupying several potential income-producing hours with learning which is awesome, but I know some or a lot of it was avoidable.
Okay, so now is where I get to the point. Phew you say?! Amen! In retrospect, I can see that I was paying for the necessities (and a few extras) of living first, just hoping to have enough left to cover tuition and other fixed, must-be-paid expenses. This lackadaisical* approach was further complicated by the fact that, for even the necessities of life, I didn’t really have a spending plan. But why would I have had one? If I didn’t have a goal for the fixed, large expenses like tuition and saving up for a car, if I didn’t even set down on paper what I needed to have by when, why should I bother to set forth a plan for the smaller parts of my spending (groceries, entertainment, fuel, etc.)? When I would make a half-hearted attempt at a budget, it didn’t include the long-view and usually was heavy on the, ah, unrealistic expectations (i.e. “Groceries for February” = $20). Those unrealistic expectations lasted for maybe a few glorious days, then disintegrated into resignation and putting more and more expenses (like half-dozen Krispy Kreme. All for me. My friends each had their own half-dozens) on the ol’ credit card. My money didn’t have a purpose, other than to get me through (or mostly through) each month and to each paycheck. The result is that, sadly, I was limited in the number of PA schools I could apply to, where I could move after college, and in general what options I felt free to pursue.
So do yourself a favor. If you’re in school, choose your schooling on-purpose and have a plan for how you are going to minimize its cost and maximize your investment. If you’re out of school, have a plan for what you practically want to achieve in life. And for crying out loud, please get your spending on-purpose. Set your big, fixed “rocks” (dreams, house down payments, investing in a career-advancing educational program, etc) down on paper along with the accompanying amounts, then figure out how you are going to achieve them. What’s left over is yours to form a spending plan with, and if it’s not much at all, get on-purpose with finding some additional, legal, forms of earning income to make up the difference. It’s honestly exciting what people do when they need to; I do know from first-hand experience that the feeling of satisfaction from prioritizing your exciting future over some waste in the present is even better than the feeling you get after eating half-dozen Krispy Kreme donuts (or like, way better). You got this.
*I’ll have you know I spelled that correctly ON THE FIRST TIME. And then Googled it to make sure:)
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