College Connect: Check your balance, kids


By MacKinley Lutes-Adlhoch

“- $347,” read my checking account balance on the screen of my phone, glaring in the Phoenix sun. I stopped in my tracks walking home from work. “What’s wrong?” my friend asked. “I think something is wrong with my bank account. It’s fine, I’ll figure it out,” I said.

When I got back to my dorm room, frazzled and in disbelief, I called my bank to see what the mistake could be. I certainly could not have overdrawn my account by that much. Five minutes on the phone answered my questions: It was not a mistake, I had messed up.

My mom had warned me throughout my childhood of this exact scenario, and explained time and again that it can so easily be avoided.

“That’s a really frustrating way to lose your money,” she would say. “You have to pay a $35 fee every time you overdraw, so make sure you always know how much is in your account.”

When I set up this bank account only a year earlier, I knew I would never be someone who overdrew her account. I had listened to my mom drone on about overdraft fees for years, and I wasn’t stupid — right?

Apparently, I might have been. Or, probably more accurately, it’s easier to overdraw your account than I thought, especially when you avoid checking your balance in fear of depleted funds (how ironic).

So here I was, $347 of imaginary money down the drain, and I was disappointed in myself. I was 18, nine months into my freshman year of college, and I had spent hundreds of dollars that I didn’t have on things I didn’t need.

I’m not generally a big spender, but somehow I dug myself into a financial hole and was completely blindsided by my own mistakes. My own not wanting to check my bank account led me down a scary path of misinformed spending.

I expected a lecture from my mom. But I didn’t get one.

“I did that too when I first got a debit card,” she said, to my surprise. “Everyone does it at some point, it’s no big deal.”

What I thought was perhaps the end of the world ended up being a right of passage, supposedly. Overdrawing your account, I learned, was just a misstep that everyone takes. As young people, we miscalculate our money, we spend what we don’t have, and we never check our account balances, because sometimes it’s nice to not know our financial situation. Ignorance is bliss — especially when it comes to the financial stability of a college student.

It turns out, we all make the same money mistakes. We all learn through trial and error, and we all overspend or overdraw at some point. While parents spend hours of our adolescence warning us against mistakes like the one I made, these lectures can only help so much when we are faced with being real adults with real financial responsibilities. Screw ups are inevitable, afterall.

So I learned that we are never alone in our mistakes. I learned that what seems like the end of the world is probably not that big of a deal at all. I learned that we all mismanage our money when we’re young. But most importantly, I learned to check my account balance more often.

MacKinley Lutes-Adlhoch is a student at Arizona State University.


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