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A Breakdown Of My Biggest (& Most Embarrassing) Expenses From My College Years

Some of my most embarrassing spending happened during my college years. I think that was due largely to the fact that I didn’t really have many financial responsibilities or obligations during school, so I felt like my money was ~mine~ to be an asshole with. It also could have been due to the fact that my brain was still casually developing for the better part of my college career. Technically, I’ve only been out of college for a few months, so I could still be making terrible money decisions. However, with that expensive-as-hell piece of paper that says “Mary has a bachelor’s degree!!!” I also somehow began to get my shit together, and get a better handle on where my money is going. (This was also probably due to the fact that I started writing for TFD a little over a year ago, and have slowly gotten a lot better with my money since then, simply because I am thinking about it and writing about it every day.)

In any case, I feel like I owe it to you all — college students, post-grads, and otherwise — to admit my biggest and most embarrassing expenses from my college years. These aren’t just silly little expenses, like all the ones I made to impress boys who broke my heart, or expenses related to aspirational clothes-shopping (a hobby which I’ve engaged in for nearly my entire life). These are just the big ones — the ones that cost me a significant amount of money (and pride) and ultimately set the bar for how stupid I could possibly be in regard to my own personal finance. I am painfully aware of these mistakes now, and I think that is the reason why I never made a $400+ mistake after these three — here’s hoping I never do again.

These are the three biggest, most embarrassing expenses I had during college.

1. The semester I was too lazy to get financial aid.

I briefly mentioned this in a post a while ago, but I actually didn’t get financial aid for my second semester (which was the first semester after I transferred from the school I started at after high school). This was for one simple reason: I was a lazy piece of trash and didn’t follow through with getting all of the paperwork in on time. At the school I had transferred from, I was automatically sent a financial aid package with my application. When I transferred, I had to do all the paperwork again, and apparently, I wasn’t capable.

I complained all year to myself about how stupid it was that I wasn’t offered any financial aid, and had to take a loan out to pay for the semester. The next semester, realizing I had zero desire to put myself into further debt for a degree I still wasn’t even sure I wanted, I decided to look a little deeper into the FAFSA situation and realized that there was one necessary piece of paperwork that I hadn’t sent to my university — a transcript that they needed from the previous semester from the school I transferred from. Once I got it to them, my bill for the semester was cut down to — I shit you not — only $500. Can you believe I actually took out loans for a year of school before realizing that I could only be paying $500 per semester if I had just paid a little bit of attention and gotten the paperwork in? 

2. The expensive as hell class that I failed.

I took time off from school for a year between my sophomore and junior year of college, but what not many people know is that I did take one class during that time… and I failed it. When I “dropped out” and decided to take a year off from being a student to work, save money, and get my yoga teaching certification, I decided last minute to enroll in a French class.

Here’s the story: at my university (and many others, if I’m not mistaken), my course list for the first semester was given to me rather than me selecting the courses myself. I was put into a French class despite never having taken French before in high school, because my school had a foreign language requirement. I asked if I could be put into a Spanish class since I was familiar with the language, but there was simply no space, so my only options were to take French, or put off the requirement until later. I was dumb and decided to take it then, thus beginning my horrendous journey through the French language. I had to take two prerequisite French classes before the final level-3 class that would fulfill the requirement, and I struggled through them both during my sophomore year. After deciding to take a gap year between sophomore and junior year, I thought powering through and taking French to fulfill the requirement during my year off would be a good idea. Spoiler: it was not a good idea.

Since I was not a full-time student, my heart wasn’t in it at all. I was so happy to be working full-time and working towards my yoga certification that driving to campus for one stupid little French class felt like a chore, and a waste of time. I skipped the class regularly, rushed through the homework so I could practice yoga poses and pull extra hours at my job, and ultimately failed the class. It was the stupidest and laziest thing I’ve ever done, and it was one of the biggest wastes of money. As a part-time student taking only one class, I wasn’t eligible for financial aid — meaning I had to pay $1,000 out of pocket for the class. To this day, I cringe when I think about it.

There’s a happy ending: I applied for a grade replacement and ended up getting the F wiped from my record and replaced with the B I earned a few semesters later, which was good for my GPA — but my wallet definitely suffered. I paid a shit ton of money to take a class twice that I only passed and got credit for once. Yikes.

3. The $400 textbook that I lost.

Another French-class-failure: my very first French class required a ~very special~ textbook that was custom-made for the university (complete with the school’s name written on the cover), which cost a whopping $400. I didn’t exactly have $400 to spare as an 18-year-old, but I made it work (as college kids do), and treated the textbook like my literal child all semester, hoping to sell it to someone taking the course the following semester to recoup some of my money and get them a good deal on the expensive-af book (which, looking back, cost about the same as my rent does now — wtf).

You know how the rest of the story goes — a few weeks before the end of the semester, I lost the book. Now, not only did I have to borrow a classmate’s book to study for our final, but I also was unable to sell my textbook and make any money off of it. That was $400 pretty much wasted, considering the fact that the professor hardly even had us crack that goddamn book open all semester. (And also considering the fact that I still can’t speak a single damn word of French. Ugh.)

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at!

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  • Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon

    I think the most important piece of advice here is, do NOT take a class that “requires” a $400 textbook that you will never use. That part alone has “SCAM” written all over it.

    • Tara

      Or rent the damn book.

      Or Borrow Direct the damn book.

      • Mary Parisi

        Girl do you really think I would have purchased a $400 book if I had the option of renting it? It was a university-specific custom textbook that was required for the class — that’s how classes are sometimes!

        • Mary Harman

          Yep! Got some Mary-on-Mary support for this one. It was definitely a scam, but one I couldn’t get out of: I took a stats class where the textbook was written by my prof, and the homework questions were updated every couple years in the newest edition. It was impossible to work around unless you could split the cost with a buddy.

        • Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon

          The fact that you hardly used the textbook tells me that it wasn’t really necessary, but really a money-making move from the school. The whole expensive as hell textbook industry seems more like a scam that should be called out as such, and students and teachers who can afford to do so should really boycott it

        • Tara

          If there really were no other options then I’m seriously shocked that you managed to lose it. I would’ve padlocked that thing to my leg!

      • Kira90

        We would sometimes buy one expensive textbook for 3 people and take turns. Granted, it required some logistics, but fortunately there were people on the same floor in my dorm who were willing to participate.

    • Anon

      It’s pretty lame. Languages often have the more expensive textbooks. I usually try to keep the cost of books under $100 when I teach.

  • Taryn

    The textbook thing is the worst. I’m working towards my CPA right now, finishing up some education requirements, and it drives me nuts that I have a few textbooks that are several hundred dollars, but on top of that I have to buy a special access code to do the homework online because the class has partnered with the textbook company. I end up spending $400 for the book and the “access code” on top of tuition. It’s the absolute worst.

    • Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon

      In a land of frivolous lawsuits, the scam that is the textbook industry is one of the worst and worth suing