- Pay your loans while you're in school - if there's one thing that I would without a doubt go back and change, this would be it. It would have been so simple to pay even just a little bit on my stafford loans while I was in college, and it would have saved me quite a bit in interest. I don't dwell on it, because what would be the point, but every now and then I read or hear about someone much smarter than me doing just that. If not paying while you're in school, at least paying while you're in your 6 month grace period could make a big difference!
- Don't take more than you need - I took out loans my first year living off campus to cover my housing expenses, only to realize that I was earning enough in my part time job to pay a large chunk of my rent. That extra money ended up sitting in my savings account depreciating, and now I'm paying interest on loans that I didn't necessarily need.
- Think long and hard about what you study - I know. I know. I know this is covered by every single person telling you how to get the most out of college. I got a degree in theatre. I knew going into it that it wasn't a lucrative option, but I did it anyway. It's not something I regret, but if I were to go back? Maybe I'd add a double major in something a bit more practical, or even taken some summer classes or electives that would beef up the "skills" portion of my resume.
- Consider where you choose to go, as well - Going to a private liberal arts college is not something I regret or would change. At all. My financial picture would be different had I gone somewhere else, but so would my entire life and worldview. That's not to say that financially it was the wisest decision, and frankly at the time, all I knew was that this was my dream school and I was going to make it work. I'm glad I did, but that doesn't mean it was smart.
These are little things. And you'll read them on any list of finance tips for high school seniors or college students. I think sometimes we see things like this, but because we've seen them so often, we ignore them and move on, they become like white noise while we search for ways to earn more and pay faster so we can spend more.
Like I said, I can't change any of this for myself, but if you're early enough along in your student loan journey to be able to consider these things, don't tune it out.
What would you change about your past financial self? If you had access to a time machine, would you use it? I probably wouldn't - I'd be too scared of changing everything that I'm so happy with now!
Later this week, I'll focus on the positive.