At what age did you become an adult?
I think I became an adult when I left home to go to college at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in August 1993. I was eighteen years old at the time and though I still had a lot to learn about life and maturity, it was the first time I was responsible for myself. My parents generously paid for my tuition, room and board, so the only expenses I had were social and extracurricular. They didn’t allow me to have a paid job, other than babysitting, until the summer before I left for college, as during high school they wanted me to focus on my studies and extracurricular activities. My parents encouraged me to save most of what I earned that summer and to use that when I got to college. I managed to save about $1,500 and was proud of myself for doing so.
That first semester at U of I, I joined a sorority and spent more money than I had intended. In fact I spent all of the money that I had saved the previous summer. I used a lot of my money to buy things like favors (including a plethora of screen printed t-shirts) and pictures from the sorority social functions I participated in. I didn’t realize how fast I was going through it. I had never had that level of freedom to try to manage and spend my own money, especially so much of it, like that.
I was embarrassed and went to my parents to explain what had happened, hoping they might offer to help me out. They felt bad for me and were understandably frustrated at my lack of responsibility. My parents didn’t want me to have a job while I was in college; they preferred I be able to focus completely on my studies and extra-curricular activities. However, when they found out what I had done, my parents told me that I would have to find a job to cover my social expenses for the second semester. I was overwhelmed by the prospect, but knew what I had to do.
I ended up getting a job on campus and working at a local pizza place for two hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, during the lunchtime rush. I made about $20 for the six hours or work I did each week and over the course of the semester took home about $300. Somehow I made it work. I spent 1/5th as much money as I did the previous semester, because that was all the money I had. It was a great lesson for me as a young adult to learn about responsibility and saving the money that I worked to earn. I was forced to prioritize what to spend my money on and bought a lot less t-shirts and pictures from my sorority events that semester.
The following summer I worked hard at my job and saved my money again. I was able to do a better job managing my money for the rest of my college experience and never needed to get a job during the school year again, which allowed me to focus on my studies and extracurricular activities, as my parents wanted me to.
I realize that I was lucky to have parents who worked hard themselves to be able to pay for most of my college expenses. My husband and I hope to be able to do the same for our children someday. But I do appreciate where my parents drew the line when it came to supporting me financially once I left for college. It was an important lesson for me to learn as I adapted to college life and young adulthood.
To this day I still find it difficult to save money at times, but I understand why it is important to do and find living on a budget to be a practical way to help my family and me to live within our means. Though there are many other instances in my life which I can look back on that have contributed to my becoming an adult, this was one of the first and most important experiences which shaped my future as it relates to money management and spending responsibly.
At what age did you become an adult?
Kathy Benson is a bereaved and blessed mom, writer and group fitness instructor trying to live mindfully and find joy in the journey after dealing with secondary infertility and loss for five years. She lives in Chicago, Illinois with her husband and two living children.