Make good decisions now or pay later

Published 8:30 pm Monday, January 12, 2009

High school seniors don’t make the best audience for a lesson on frugality. A date for the prom must be found, a tux or dress acquired, graduation requirements must be met and there has probably been no reason yet to learn how to stretch a dollar. For those that will attend college, applications to different institutions must be filed, a place to live must be found and college orientations must be attended. On top of all that, college freshmen usually enjoy celebrating their newfound freedom from their parents and making friends that will last for the next four (or five or six) years.

Nevertheless, these students in the coming months will make some of the most important financial decisions of their lives, no matter how prepared they are.

I wasn’t prepared, and most that plan to attend college probably aren’t. Those whose parents have provided a fund for tuition are the fortunate ones. Everyone else must decide how he or she will pay.

I filled out a FAFSA, received a grant, a scholarship and some loans, and didn’t pay a penny out of pocket for my first few years. The university even cut me out a check to begin each semester. Some of that money was spent wisely; some was not. I just knew I didn’t have to pay to go to school.

Reality hits after graduation: loans must be repaid. Sallie Mae now gets a nice portion of my earnings each month.

What I pay is worth what I took from college, but, in hindsight, I should have paid more attention to my financial situation. Local high school students—and anyone else interested—have a chance to make college financing a priority now instead of when it’s too late. Jemison High School will host a financial aid workshop at 6 p.m. on Jan. 15 with an advisor from Auburn University.

If you are going to college, you should attend. The FAFSA is a nice start, but it’s not the end-all. Grants and scholarships are usually available through an institution’s different colleges and even through local organizations.

If you’re going to college, you should discover all your options before planning a method of payment. No one is going to care about your finances if you don’t. And if you don’t, you’ll pay for it one day.