MoneyKey’s Key Thinkers Scholarship is designed to reward post-secondary students for their academic achievements. We asked “What does financial responsibility mean to you and what steps should students take to plan their budget?” and received hundreds of submissions. Below is the winning essay from the Winter 2017 Scholarship recipient Amy Carothers:
Entering college, I knew what I was in for.
$6,000 was the amount not covered by my scholarship and loans.
$6,000 was the difference my parents couldn’t cover.
$6,000, or $1,500 a year, was what I had to save by myself. It was daunting, but, as my mother reminded me, not impossible, as long as I was diligent regarding my finances. From the start, there were two ways for me to view this situation. I could see financial responsibility as a burden that, over the course of four years, would add up to a lot of Friday nights doing nothing and a lot of makeup I couldn’t buy. However, as a seventeen-year-old freshman, I decided I wouldn’t look at it this way. To me, financial responsibility was a way of securing my future freedoms. The first step was budgeting.
The school year lasts nine months. To save $1,500 in that time, I would need to save a little under $200 a month. At that time, I was in the process of being hired at a community center offering me $500/month, more money than I’d ever seen in my life. However, there was an hour-long commute. I calculated that my gas costs each month would be around $300, leaving me only $200 to both live on and save. Although incredibly nervous, I gathered up the courage to negotiate my salary for $600/month, something I had never done before. They accepted. Just like that, I had my first budget. $300 for gas, $200 for savings, $100 for living costs. Despite my excellent pay, I resigned after freshman year. My car was too unreliable for the commute.
Nevertheless, the experience was invaluable. It’s mind-boggling to me how impossible my savings goals seemed until I actually sat down and calculated them out. Seeing the numbers printed in black ink, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I always knew that a budget would keep my finances in order. I never knew that a budget would keep my mental health in order, too. Whenever stress about my financial future overwhelms me, I can open my budget and breathe a sigh of relief: I can do it. Numbers don’t lie. Freshman year, I saved $2000. It’s fortunate that I surpassed my goal. Things were about to get much harder. Sophomore year, I obtained a minimum-wage tutoring job, a minimum-wage piano teaching job at the community theatre, and a job as an organist at several local churches. Working three jobs, I still made less than I had before. However, these jobs were local. My $300/month gas costs were cut to perhaps $100/month. My church job paid around $170/month, so I made a deal with myself: that check went straight into savings untouched, and at the end of every month, I’d empty whatever I hadn’t spent into savings as well.
Easy! Not so much. In the course of the sophomore year, three of my car’s tires blew out, its brakes failed, and its alternator died. My run of bad luck seemed never-ending. Over and over, I had only pennies left by the end of the month and was only capable of saving about that much, too. I added a fourth job to my plate: freelance artist. Other unforeseen circumstances have shaken my budget as well. Car troubles cost me $800, but I won a $1,000 scholarship. My school charged me an unforeseen $900, but a story I wrote was purchased by a printing press for $500. I’d love if everything always went smoothly, but this is how things are in real life. Sometimes I worry about whether I’m going to meet my savings goals, but it would be MUCH more stressful to ignore them and realize in my last semester that I had come up short.
So, if I could convey just one message to my friends—none of whom, as far as I am aware, have savings accounts—it would be this: don’t be afraid of budgeting, and don’t be afraid of finances. Make a budget. Be flexible. The relief, accomplishment, and the pride you’ll feel makes it all worth it. Meanwhile, I’m almost halfway through junior year, and I’ve saved $3,500. Right on track.
A Florida native who grew up among the orange groves, Amy is pursuing majors in English and Theatre and a minor in Philosophy at Morningside College in Iowa.