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Thursday, January 16, 2014

4 Necessary Evils for the College Freshman

Preparing for college can be a lot of fun. There are new roommates to connect with over social media, classes to register for, dorm rooms to decorate, and sometimes a new town or part of the country to explore. There are, however, other obligations that aren’t quite as enjoyable. Unfortunately, you can’t stay a kid forever. Moving out means becoming responsible for all of the “adult” problems that your parents used to deal with.

Welcome to college!

1. Finding Health Insurance
Most colleges require their students to have health insurance. Mine did, and I found that the cheapest, easiest option was to stay on my parents’ insurance policy. The health care reform bill passed in 2010 allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.

If staying with your parents’ plan isn’t an option, look into what your school offers. Most universities offer a student health insurance plan, though the benefits might be minimal. Some universities have discontinued their programs due to rising costs, however, and if that is the case you’ll have to find a personal plan.
If you have to get your own plan, make sure you do your research first. Don’t just sign up with the first company you come across on a Google search.

2. Car Care
You’ll most likely be living in campus dorms your first year, and you’ll need transportation. If you bring your own car (as opposed to hitching rides or using public transportation), be prepared for some extra expenses. When I brought my first car to school my freshman year (it was a beat-up old 1979 Nissan, and boy, did I love that truck!), I quickly discovered that there was a whole myriad of expenses I’d never had to worry about that were suddenly my responsibility.

Gas is expensive, and so are car payments and insurance. And don’t expect to get away without taking your car to get an oil change or other minor repairs over the course of a semester or two. Back home, you might have mechanic in North Vancouver or Houston that you like, but you’ll have to experiment with a few shops in your college town to find a mechanic you trust. Don’t just take your car to the convenient shop around the block; put in the effort to find a mechanic that will treat you well.

3. Eating Healthy

When I was growing up, dinner was always a perfect balance of all five food groups. My mom would dish out plates of broccoli, chicken, white rice, and canned pears, and it sure tasted good; I guarantee that I rarely thought about the nutritional benefits. I learned later that it tastes good to eat healthily because our bodies naturally crave that balanced, regulated diet.

Unfortunately, Ramen noodles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch aren’t going to cut it. Mom isn’t your personal chef anymore; now it’s your responsibility to put the right nutrients into your body. Eat vegetables every day (according to the American Heart Association, you should be eating 3-5 servings of vegetables daily depending on your calorie intake). Eat 4-5 servings of fruit and 3-6oz of lean meats per day, and limit the oils and sugars.

It’s easy to grab a Pop Tart on your way out the door, but don’t settle when it comes to your health. Feeding your body the right foods will give it the sustained energy it needs for those early mornings and late nights.

4. Being Financially Responsible

If you don’t already have a budget, it’s time to make one. It took me until my sophomore year to create one, and once I did my life was suddenly much easier. Being financially responsible isn’t easy, but having a budget written out (or typed up, for you computer-savvy generation) will ease your stress considerably.

Start by making a list of expenses. This could include car insurance, gas, food, clothing, rent, savings, and any other expenses that deduct from your bank account on a regular basis. How much do you spend in each of these categories? At the end of every month, are you breaking even or is your savings account slowly depleting? If it is, can you reasonably cut any of your expenses, even if it’s a sacrifice?

Consider starting an emergency fund. Even if you’re not investing your money yet (minimum wage college jobs can be a brutal on a budget; sometimes the most you can do is keep your head afloat, and that’s fine), you can still set aside a few dollars from every paycheck to keep for emergency car repairs, trips home, medical bills, or other emergencies.

College isn’t easy, but it’s worth it! Just be responsible. Cut the apron strings, be yourself, and make the most of your undergraduate years.

Melanie Hargrave is a wife and homemaker whose family is her pride and joy. In addition to spending time with her husband and daughters, she loves blogging for companies like Minit-Tune, being outdoors, and playing sports. 

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