College students may go into debt, but they should do it with a clear understanding of the return on their investment.
I enjoy your articles, and I'd like to share a few thoughts on your column Spend Your Way to Success? You commented on a story written by a University of Michigan student who felt she had to go into credit-card debt to maintain a certain image and eventually and get a good job.
I liked your article on the whole because it's good to remind young people that they can't spend themselves to success. But I felt that you glossed over the very real prospect of college students having to choose between opportunity and living debt free.
At big, competitive colleges and universities, those who "have" also have more opportunities and a leg up on success. I worked through college, and was fortunate that I was able to beg, borrow and claw my way through a semester abroad, a good internship, and now into a good company.
But after a discount airfare here, a suit and tie there, and the other expenses that come with seizing opportunity, I ran up almost $5,000 in debt after four years.
The point is that students should figure out a way of measuring their return on investment and generate a plan for spending. If landing an internship means purchasing an affordable car to get there, how does the benefit of the internship weigh against a car payment and upkeep? Can you justify spending $50 to treat one of your mentors to lunch?
Your points are well taken. There's a big difference between what I would call strategic spending -- buying the interview suit or treating your mentor to lunch -- versus rationalizing your credit-card debt by telling (kidding) yourself that every dinner and new outfit is vital to your future success.
In fact, you want to keep your credit line available for times when you really need it, so that you're not still paying for meals you ate two years before and clothes that are out of style.
You seem to have learned that lesson. And with your new job, I'm sure you'll be able to pay off that $5,000 credit-card debt before you know it. Unfortunately, not every young person is brought up with your kind of money smarts (see the letter below).
I just read Financial Milestones for Kids, and I wish my parents had seen something like this while I was growing up.
I was given the worst possible financial training. When I was little I received an allowance, but once I got to high school my dad just gave me money when I needed it. He didn't allow me to have a job. He gave me a gasoline card and a credit card when I went to college (without a firm lecture on the dangers of credit).
Thanks to you and Kiplinger, I'm learning how to raise my kids with much better financial awareness than I had.