By Katherine Lewis

I did not know how little I understood about finances until my college best friend and I searched for an apartment for the first time. We visited apartment complexes and marveled at the beautiful amenities we would have access to if we simply signed a bonding lease of “only” $1,000 per month.

As the leasing office receptionist finished her tour, she mentioned that along with rent, we are financially responsible for internet, water, and electricity. “People pay for the internet?” my future roommate and I thought simultaneously.

Entering college, anything related to money was not a priority for me. I knew close to nothing about bills and money management. As teachers, my parents were not able to buy me everything I could ever want, but they made sure I was financially comfortable. They showed me by example how to responsibly handle money from a young age. Finances were never an overwhelming concern in my adolescence.

I entered college with a small savings account that I earned from my high school part-time job and quickly realized that I would need to set up a budget in order to make the funds last throughout the year. I sat down and divided the money among the months of the year. I allowed myself a certain amount for different categories such as clothes, food and necessities. I put the available spending money for the month in my checking account, and the rest was tucked away in savings.

This project came as a shock for me. Recognizing that this money was finite and that I must prioritize was undiscovered information for me. I was forced to decide what is worth splurging on and when I should save. My parents were a great help in my journey to understanding money. They led by example, showing me that saving is a necessary task, and that not everything I want is a need.

I have also begun to understand the concept of a 529 plan, which is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to help you pay for school. I am able to pay for college expenses through this savings plan. Due to Zell Miller, a state-sponsored scholarship program and other scholarships I have received, my school expenses are fairly low, but this plan has also paid for my housing, additional school fees, and a new laptop this fall.

I have had to learn what is worth spending my money on and what is not. Do I really need another throw pillow for my twin XL bed in my dorm, even though they fall off the bed every night? Would I rather spend that money on something more productive, like a gym membership? These are the questions I am constantly forced to ask myself in college, and the questions that have taught me to be significantly smarter with my money decisions.

I recognize how privileged I am to have leniency with money. I am thankful for my parents, who have not only helped me pay for so many things that I need and want but have also proven to me through example that money management is not impossible.

In the last year and a half, I have come a long way in my journey to understanding finances. I acknowledge that I have much to learn. Every day in college introduces me to a new challenge, but with each experience I gain more understanding.

Katherine Lewis is studying journalism at the University of Georgia. She is a 2020 Cox-SABEW Fellow, a training program in partnership with UGA’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership.