By Hiroaki Kono, University of Missouri

I want to break a stereotype about college students and finance.

“You don’t need to care about money if you receive a grant-type scholarship.”

No. That is NOT true.

As a master’s student at the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, I receive a scholarship from an organization based on where I am from, Japan.

The scholarship covers all the tuition for the two years. Besides, the agency sends me around $1,000 every month. Furthermore, it is a grant. It means you do not have to repay.

Sounds amazing? Not so much.

The housing fee is $625 per month. Then a monthly utility fee is about $80, and one laundry costs $2.5. The sum is already nearly 75% of my scholarship. That 75% does not include food at all. We must eat every day, and I guess eating is the only joyful moment for stressed college students.

If I do grocery shopping once a week to get food that I will cook at home, when a month ends, I have almost no money in my hands. No traveling, no movies, no restaurants. Still, I helplessly see $1,000 gone every month.

A website of College Board, a not-for-profit organization, shows that 75% of full-time college students in the U.S. receive either grant or loan-based scholarships. An article from the U.S. News & World Report said 58% of students graduated from American colleges from 2012-2018. Experts who oversee a college’s finance and enrollment say the financial struggle is the most common reason for dropping out of college.

My story of money flying away shows that anyone – a person sitting next to you in class or you will have to choose to drop out even if there is a motivation to study.

What makes dropping out of college tricky is the long-lasting effect.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there was a gap of $461 in median weekly earnings in 2017 between those who have a bachelor’s degree and people whose educational attainment is a high school diploma.

Again, $461 is the gap in weekly earnings. It becomes more than $1,600 in a month and more than $20,000 in a year. The data suggest that dropping out does not mean the relief from the burden of paying tuition, but an entrance of new, and life-long financial struggles.

If you are a college student, my advice is to graduate. The work to obtain an undergraduate or a graduate degree pays off after you graduate.

Then, what should we do to “hang in there,” surviving stresses from class assignments, roommates, long day with study and a part-time job, and unstable financial conditions?

The solution I have come up with is very simple, check your bank account every day. If you spend money, your balance decreases. If you do not care about your spending, well, money does not have an auto-stop function.

If we, college students, are too helpless to change the current society that costs nearly $1,000 of money to live with little enjoyment, what we need to do is to care about how we spend money as the first step to revise your money usage. Whether or not you receive financial aids, it can be too late when realizing that you are in financial struggles. If you think you are not in financial struggles, but in a tight budget, check your bank account right now and plan future spending.

Making a financial plan is an investment in your future, and you can invest without paying a penny!

Hiroaki Kono is a student at University of Missouri.