Money Tips from a First-Generation College Student

My money advice for first-generation students like me

I was raised in a low-income, Mexican household where the thought of spending money on anything that wasn’t covering the cost of food, shelter, clothing etc. didn’t seem like a good investment or a priority to live a safe and secure life. College always sounded expensive, and it felt unattainable for me because no one in my family had graduated from a university.

I was terrified to graduate high school; I didn’t know how life would be after graduation, let alone how to navigate college. Not only was the thought of learning a new academic system scary but figuring out how to pay for it almost stopped me from enrolling in the first place.

Dealing with guilt at college

Once I heard about community college and how it would be a much more affordable route, the thought of pursuing higher education didn’t seem as frightening anymore. Hearing “affordable” felt safe. My parents gave me what they could, but I still had to work while attending school full-time to pay bills.

As I was navigating academia and figuring out how to fund my life, I started to overwhelm and guilt-trip myself. I knew I was working hard, and quite frankly, my body felt it too. I would find myself feeling guilty for spending money on things I needed for my well-being, like buying food to maintain a healthy diet or participating in creative hobbies and fun experiences that weren’t related to school. Self-care and wellness practices did not exist for me because I felt like I couldn’t afford them. I believed that I had to hold on to every penny I earned until it was time to pay for the necessities like food, gas, and books. I wasn’t taking care of myself emotionally…and for a long time it caused me to have a negative relationship with money. 

My advice for other first-generation students

Based on my personal experiences, here’s advice I want to share to help you think about money as a tool:

  • Organize yourself and create a budget that will work for you
  • It’s okay to spend on the little things every now and then that will make your day, like an iced coffee or your favorite bagel
  • Use your summers to work and build your savings
  • Track your expenses
  • Give yourself positive money affirmations

Although I am passionate about higher education, there is no degree that is worth more than your mental state. You deserve to take care of you as you continue to pursue your college education.

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