By Diana Panuncial

My personal finance journey began my freshman year of college. I was working as a hotel receptionist and also as a barista in the small hotel cafe. I was making $8.50 an hour – pretty great for a job that was literally in my neighborhood. I had my own car, but within the year, it was totaled in an accident.

I was going to community college at the time. Luckily, I landed a full-ride tuition scholarship, so I only pretty much had to worry about gas money and spending money. I saved some when I could, but I hardly made much to save. After I crashed my car, my older siblings pitched in to buy me a new one, but it was in bad shape.  It gave me so much trouble that I spent over $2,500 of my own money on it, which was a lot to come up with from a part-time job. Needless to say, I cried a whole lot as a freshman and sophomore, when these car troubles persisted. I felt like I could never truly be free.

I transferred to the University of Missouri as a junior. I didn’t work for the two school years I spent here, but I made sure to save money over the summers. When I lived in the dorms, I didn’t need as much, but now that I live off-campus with my boyfriend, I need to make ends meet. I freelance here and there as a graphic designer, which keeps me afloat. I’ve also been awarded some scholarships, and took out extra on my loan to make sure I could afford my apartment when it was my turn to pay rent/bills.

I have never really been able to save much without something occurring that calls for me to spend it. Right now, since I have excess from loans saved up, I have a decent amount of money in my savings. I also haven’t been spending too much money in general. I prioritize groceries and treat myself every now and then, but even then, I still shop for bargains, which helps me. My mom, who is a notorious bargain hunter, raised me never to pay for anything full price.

I don’t have a credit card and have been taught never to get one! I’m still not sure about this. I know if I can certainly pay for something in cash or money that I have, then I will. But then I’m confused about, well how am I ever going to build good credit? My stepdad gave me the idea of starting a credit card and maybe just buying a pack of gum here and there, something small that I’m able to pay off, just so I can build credit. But my mom talked me out of that too.

I have a little over $53,000 in loans. It’s huge, but it’s not as bad as other numbers I’ve heard. It’s certainly helped me that I stayed home for a couple of years and attended community college. Like everyone else my age, I’m scared and feel a little unprepared when it comes to finances. But my family has always had my back and let me know that if I ever need their help, they’ll help me. (It’s just about me not being too stubborn to ask them.)

I’ve been very fortunate in that sense, but I’ve also learned how to not be so careless with money. I know I still have a lot to learn when it comes to personal finance.

Diana Panuncial is a graduating senior at the University of Missouri, majoring in journalism.