I’m a 19 year-old Italian university student. After starting to read TFD this past year, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by the amount of financial terms used regularly, and amazed about how much work one has to put into reaching financial stability in adulthood. And obviously, as I’m sure many other readers have, I felt the irresistible compulsion to start being more conscious and responsible about money.
The first step was educating myself. Besides reading articles here on TFD, I started to ask my mother questions. For example: What are the different types of credit cards? How do taxes work? When do I start to pay them?
The second step was taking action. Where should I start? “Make yourself a budget” was the answer I was always given. Fine, I’ll do that! I watched Lauren’s video on how to make a budget in Excel or a similar program, since Mint is not available in my country. I got all the basics, and I was ready to make one myself. First step: write down all sources of income and how much you earn per month. Easy, right?
Except, I didn’t have any income. That’s when I realized my situation was completely different from the ones I’d been reading about.
TFD talks a lot about students, how to make college cheaper, etc., and it analyzes the situation in the U.S. very well. I’ve found it enriching to read about how college works in another country, about student loans and even more. But when it came down to face my situation, I found my experience in Italy to be completely different from others’ experiences in the United States.
No student loans. In Italy, most students choose public universities, and the payment for their education is through taxes.
No campus. The concept of living on campus is not that common here. If you want to go to the University of Florence, but you live in Naples, you move to Florence. A university can sometimes help you through a housing office, but otherwise, you look for affordable flats in the city and get a minimum of three housemates. In most cases, your parents pay the rent and utilities.
Commuting. However, not all families can afford such a thing. Therefore, the only remaining option is to stick to a university near home, and commute every day by train to get to class. This is the choice I made because a) is a lot more affordable than the other option, and b) luckily, my dream university was one near me. So I commute most days of the week, one hour and 15 minutes to get there, one hour and 15 minutes to come home. My parents pay for my transportation.
Five years of high school, and possibly five years of university. In Italy, there are five years of high school, and you graduate at 19. At university, most Bachelor’s degree programs last three years. After that, a considerable amount of people go on for a Master’s degree, which lasts two years. So you get to the job hunt when you’re about 23, or 25, if you decide to take on a Master’s degree.
The part-time job. Then again, a considerable amount of university students get part-time jobs waiting tables or tutoring younger students.
After reading some articles on TFD, I understood I’m part of an extremely privileged way of getting an education. No one is going to bother me in my adulthood because of student loans, because I don’t have any. Moreover, my parents pay for every single thing in my life. That started sounding really childish to me, especially after reading about the diverse experiences of other people.
I still wanted to get better with money, learn about it, and build discipline I’ll certainly need in the future. Therefore, I closed the excel file I mentioned at the beginning, and started making another list. Not steps this time, but goals.
1. Getting a part-time job
My first goal was to get a job. I would suggest it to every single student, even if you don’t necessarily need money, and your parents already pay everything for you. I actually started tutoring a student this very week, and earned money for the first time in my life.
2. Checking the money box
As a student living dependent on my parents, I don’t have a bank account of any kind. But I do have a money box, so that’s what I worked with. I had just gotten back from the tutoring job when I took all of the money I had, both in the money box and in my wallet, and counted how much it was. There were roughly 700€ ($752.85 USD), all coming from either childhood savings or money my relatives gave me on my 18th birthday. Then, I divided it into three categories: savings for personal investments, earnings, and my weekly budget.
Most of the money (600€, or $645.30) went to savings for personal investments. Specifically, I want to save for abroad experiences and opportunities. I’m going to London in February, and I’d really like to participate in a Model United Nations during my years at university. In the earnings’ category, I’m going to put the money I’m going to earn through all the part-time jobs I’m going to do in these years. All that was leftover went to the “weekly budget” category.
3. Monitoring where my money goes
Even if my parents still pay for pretty much everything, I do some spending on my own. I have to buy lunch when I’m at university all day long, I buy gifts for my friends at Christmas, and I go out on the weekends. My goal is to gain consciousness of that money: knowing how much I have, how much I spend on a normal week, and what I spend it on.
4. Writing my C.V.
Besides the part-time jobs that I can do during the school year, there are some other things I could do full-time in the summer months. However, in order to apply for those, I need to get a proper C.V. (or resume) ready.
These may be baby steps, and my situation might still be too similar to when I was eight in terms of financial responsibilities. But if you don’t take the first step, you certainly won’t get to the second, and I’m glad to start learning while I’m still a student. Learning to budget, save and invest can be done with small amounts of money as well as big. I’m learning that even if you’re a student, or you don’t have any income, you should still start today.
Miriam is a university student currently majoring in Philosophy, International Studies and Economics at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.
Image via Unsplash