This guest post from Crystal is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes. Crystal writes about finding the balance between paying the bills, saving for the future, and budgeting for the fun stuff at the aptly-titled Budgeting in the Fun Stuff.

When people learn that I managed to avoid college loans, I’m often asked how that happened. It was a mixture of work, luck, and help.

Planning for College
For as long as I can remember, I knew I’d go to college. It was a given. I can’t remember my family overtly pushing me that way, but my grandparents and parents went to college, so I was going to go too.

My family is also open about money, so I always just seemed to know that college would be expensive. So, I started babysitting and pet-sitting when I was twelve years old so that I could save for those magical four years of college education.

I also planned to get a “real” job as soon as I turned sixteen. My plans changed, though, when we moved overseas. Because of my dad’s job, we lived in Holland for six months and Argentina for more than two years. I wasn’t old enough to get a work visa.

At that point, I assumed my parents would probably help pay for college. I also knew that I’d need to get a job as soon as we got back…but good plans sometimes just aren’t enough.

We moved back nine months before I was scheduled to start college, and I still had long-distance courses that I needed to finish before I could graduate from high school. I churned out those assignments, applied for scholarships like a crazy woman, and signed up for my first year. That is also when I applied for my first “real” job — as a help-desk attendant for the 24-hour assistance desk in my future dorm.

Putting the “Work” in Work-Study
Luckily, I received a few scholarships, including a very large Academic Achievement Award that covered a big part of my actual class expenses. But my parents covered my dorm room and food for that first year. I also worked at least 20 hours a week at the help desk and applied for other on-campus positions.

By my second year of college, I was engaged. (We met while I was working the help desk!) I was still trying to pay my own way through college, but I kept falling short about $1200 every semester. I was lived as cheaply as possible, splitting a room for $288 to save money, and even staying under $3 a day for food. But making $5.25 an hour just couldn’t cover everything my scholarships left behind.

I worked part-time in the Games Room on campus throughout my last three years in school. During my last year, I was a blackjack dealer for office parties (the legal kind of gambling in Texas, where the players could win raffle tickets for prizes). I also found a third job as a tax-office receptionist during my last semester. I took loans from my parents for whatever my scholarships and my paychecks couldn’t cover.

A Final Piece of Help
By the time I graduated from college (with honors), I was working Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at the tax office; Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5pm-1am at the Games Room on campus; and I was a blackjack dealer Friday and Saturday nights.

In short, I working almost 60 hours a week in three different jobs, commuting to campus every Tuesday and Thursday for my last twelve hours of classes, and ended up owing my parents a little more than $8000.

The week after graduation, we had our fantastic $3000 wedding. I had to give up my two main jobs, so I took the first salaried position I was offered. I’m still there.

A few months after all of that, my parents forgave my $8000 in loans as a late graduation present. I was really broke, but at least I didn’t have any loans. As I said in the beginning, having no student loans was a mixture of work, luck — and help. (I know I’m lucky to have received the help from my parents.)

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After more than a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are. Henceforth, unduly nasty comments on readers stories will be removed or edited.

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