College gives you the basic fundamentals you’ll need for your future career. These provide you with resources for how to survive both college and your career. College does not, however, give you any idea on what the real world is actually like. It doesn’t give you resources for when you’re broke, starving or require government assistance. College gives you this idea that you’ll be set for life after graduation, but doesn’t have you think about the possibility of getting laid off, or if no jobs are available in your field.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to live in a well-off family. There were never worries about whether there would be dinner on the table or not being able to seek medical attention. Whenever my brothers and I needed assistance with finances, our parents were always able to chip in to get us by any problems we encountered. Since we were still required to learn the value of money by doing chores, we weren’t necessarily spoiled by any means.
Heading to college at the age of 18, I thought I had my whole future planned out. I was dating a military member who was planning on being a chiropractor, I was going to school for nursing and I even got a certified nurse assistant position to build my finances while I was in school. It all seemed perfect. Eventually, however, the relationship fell apart and I began questioning if I made the right decision choosing that school I went to. I made a bold decision to switch colleges to continue my studies, but ultimately withdrew from classes near the end of the year due to depression.
I thought having my own place would be great. But I was in for a culture shock once I had to pay bills. I supported my now ex-girlfriend and I through my job, but I didn’t have enough to feed us. Then she told me about the food assistance program (EBT Food Cards). My conception of food stamps was completely wrong growing up. Whenever I had thought of them in the past, I imagined the more poverty-stricken families from my hometown that had them. It was rarely mentioned with my group of friends, so I had no idea how common it was for people to use them.
Soon I moved us into a bigger apartment, thinking things were heading in a great direction. Shortly after moving though, my girlfriend and I broke up. I was completely devastated, and being diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder didn’t help with the situation. It was only a matter of time before I became completely broke and owed over $200 in debt. I was scared for where my life was heading.
As a child, I remember seeing the loan commercials where this lady avoided answering her phone due to debt, and it was once I was in debt that I realized how she would’ve truly felt. At that time, my parents had lost a great amount of their income and I couldn’t go to them with my money troubles. I got to the point where I just begged God to kill me so I wouldn’t have to deal with the 5 phone calls a day from the bank trying to get ahold of me.
Shortly after I was evicted from my apartment. My landlord was nice enough to break the contract for me, which bought me time to give him something for rent. I spent my nights crying, not fully sure where I was going to end up staying. I made poor decisions to numb the pain, but obviously, nothing stopped it. I was fortunate enough to have friends in town that opened up their doors for me while I built up my finances again.
During the eviction process, I was introduced to HUD – also known as Section 8: Housing Rental Assistance – by the friends I moved in with. Section 8 allows low-income families to be able to rent out certain apartments or homes while they only pay for part of the cost of living there based on the household income. The biggest issue with applying is that it can take 6 months to a year before you become approved, based on your need for housing. As well, because my parents’ income was becoming very limited and they couldn’t afford to pay my healthcare. My dad, who is an insurance salesman, explained to me that since I was living on my own, I was eligible for Title 19, aka Government Medical Insurance. I didn’t necessarily understand the guidelines or what this would mean for my medical costs, but I trusted my dad with the decision and applied.
College is a great tool for finding a career, but in the 2 and a half years that I attended school, none of these resources – food stamps, housing assistance or medical insurance – were mentioned to me. To this day, I am still in debt and am still struggling to pay my bills. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to face in my life, because I’ve forgotten how important the little things are. I’ve become more appreciative of showers with actual water pressure, the warmth of a house in the middle of winter and even eating actual food. If I had known about these resources far enough in advance, I might not have been as deeply in debt as I am.
Classrooms are a great place to learn workable skills that can possibly prevent you from debt and poverty. Knowing where to go in the event of emergency situations, however, can literally be the difference between eating or starving, living in a house or a cardboard box and even life or death.