Live, take on debt
It's here again — the best and worst time of year — summer. If you are like me, you love the weather, the extra time on your hands and the fact that there are no long-term assignments looming over you. But, unfortunately, many of us live in this paradoxical world where, as college students, we have three solid months to do what we want, but do not have the funds to make it happen.
Maybe you blew your savings on spring break, your 21st birthday bash in Atlantic City or even on your college education. So, by the time this hiatus from class rolls around you cannot even imagine how you are going to pay for gas. And you are probably going to spend your summer slaving away. But, instead of earning the cash to support your summer habits, all you are getting is a résumé-building internship experience.
My summers used to be about making all the money that I possibly could — while working as little as I possibly could — and then finding the best way to spend every cent of it. Now my main concern is how I am going to finance the Lady Gaga tickets that I lost my mind and splurged on and now have no way of paying for.
My brother's strategy, on the other hand, seems to be to hoard all the money he makes by getting my parents to pay for virtually everything he wants. While that frustrates and embarrasses me, since I rarely even dreamed of asking for money while I was making my own, I am still slightly jealous. He's clearly going to have more financial freedom once he gets to college than I did.
I highly doubt that college students build up credit card debt because companies are roping them in with free mugs or T-shirts, or because they think that they are playing with Monopoly money that does not need to be paid back. I know how my credit card works, but that doesn't mean I will be able to stop charging unnecessary purchases to it. Sometimes it just gets unbearable knowing that I have the time and the desire to do all sorts of things, but not the means.
Of course, I would not advise you ruin your credit for a spur-of-the-moment European cruise. But, I do not regret the $70 I spontaneously spent on Opening Day Yankees tickets the morning of the game. I did not have to grovel to a boss to get the day off or worry about wasting a sick day, and it almost seems pointless not to schedule Tuesday classes if you cannot decide last minute that you want to spend the day in the city, at the movies or doing any other activity that requires money.
George Bernard Shaw's famous saying, "Youth is wasted on the young," is surely right. It is not because we take things for granted or waste the best physical shape of our lives sitting on the couch. It is not because we make stupid mistakes and choices that set the tone for the rest of our lives. And it isn't even because we waste our talents by being completely unproductive. Instead it is because we waste our precious summers off from Rutgers, unable to afford meaningful, worthwhile, once-in-a-lifetime experiences while we still have the leisure time to do so.
Working your entire adult life to amass the money necessary just so you can do everything you wanted to do while you were in college once you retire sounds like a miserable existence. If I could, I would graduate and go straight into retirement. I would work when I got around to it.
Unfortunately, 26 percent interest rates have made an all work and no play lifestyle a necessity for all of us. Credit card companies' policies hardly differ from those of loan sharks willing to break your kneecaps when you are late on a payment. I'm not even sure, if given the choice, that I would consider a sky-high interest rate a more agreeable alternative to losing half my pinkie finger.
While it's surely impractical from a financial standpoint to rack up a mountain of credit card debt doing all the things you want to do now and paying them off later, it seems like something Shaw would have commended. So, even if you are spending this summer cultivating your résumé or trying to stick to a meager budget, don't forget to let loose every once in awhile, even if that means putting a charge on your credit card. After all, "nothing in life is free," and "you only live once."
Larissa Klein is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English and art history. Her column "Definition of Insanity" runs on alternate Mondays.