By Sheena Williams
Killeen Daily Herald
It's something Michael Tackett is dreading but he knows it's inevitable: When he visits his parents in Wisconsin for spring break, he's going to have to endure the finance talk.
The Central Texas College student sighed as he described how he almost escaped the uneasy conversation on Christmas break. But two days before he was to return to Texas, he turned his eyes away from the TV for just a minute and watched in horror as his father revealed a binder filled with page after page of predicted budget calculations for Tackett's expenses.
He sees another awkward heart-to-heart in his near future, but Tackett nervously laughed it off Thursday afternoon in the boisterous cafeteria of the college as he explained that the economic slump has weighed heavily on his family.
Tackett's parents moved to Wisconsin because his father is in the military; yet they weren't able to sell their house before they left. So for a year, his parents had to pay two mortgages while Tackett began his college education.
"They would call me – and my parents are very hush-hush about that kind of stuff – but it got to the point where they said, 'Hey, we can't help you out as much as we thought. We can pay for school,' which is a blessing, a huge blessing," Tackett said. "But when it came to gas, the phone bill and insurance-wise they were like 'You need to try to step up and do something.'"
So Tackett did. He began working at the college's cafeteria as a dishwasher – his first job. He admitted it was a bit awkward in the beginning, but he really enjoys working and the financial independence that is saving money for him and his parents.
Allen Pontious also is in the business of saving money and he's very thankful to have a girlfriend who understands the frugal meaning behind "Let's just rent a movie."
The CTC student, who is studying vocational nursing, also is getting help from his family, but admitted that no one can ever be too careful during a recession.
"I've learned to not want a lot of material things. I keep myself from people who have so many things," Pontious said. "Some people say that it would be a good thing to hang out with them because that makes you aspire for more things, and that's certainly a good argument, but I just can't hang out with those people because they're always picking up the bill at happy hour or something like that. And I have to abstain from that kind of lifestyle and just focus on what I need to do right now."
Pontious already has a bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts, but said it was difficult finding employment for the initial career he had chosen and, in the end, he was left with a $20,000 debt that felt like he was "getting my midlife crisis out of the way early."
Pontious hasn't taken out any loans for the program he's in now, but Robert Reed has for his studies in biology at CTC. Reed currently is "shredding through" his military Montgomery G.I. Bill and now sees his new loan as an evolving number that may build as he plans on attending medical and graduate's school. Reed isn't receiving monetary support from his family and he is relying on grants to help him succeed in attaining the education that will lead to his dreams.
"I wonder, as the national debt gets bigger and bigger and the economy – I don't know what exactly is going on with it –but when do they start cutting education benefits?" Reed said. "I know something's going to be cut somewhere and you don't know what it's going to be.
"The idea of getting out of school and shifting to the work force is going to be a major transition, and then that's the time where I'm already going to be trying to figure things out and getting a job and stuff. But, that's when all the debt is going to dump on me all of a sudden."
Fun, Frugal College Tips
Trying to maintain a cool lifestyle while cutting the costs? Here are some tips from three Central Texas College students who not only were willing to share their money-saving advice, but happily live by the creed.
$1 Red Box DVD: These red kiosks offer the latest movie titles with a swipe of a card. Turn them back in on time and the savings will rack up.
Sonic's new $1 Menu: Michael Tackett discovered this gem of a menu and has been a fan ever since.
Carpool: Want to take a trip to Austin but don't have the transportation money? Grab some friends for the road trip so you can share the cost of gas. Savings + good times is the best way to go anywhere.
Ramen Noodles: They are the packaged creations that generation after generation of college students have heated to perfection, and Tackett admitted that ramen was all he ate his first semester. He won't eat another packet but they're still a tasty way to save money.
Buy/Sell School Books Online: Alan Pontious noted that if he needed the books, then someone else probably needs them too after he's done with them. So he takes advantage of the mercantile spirit of e-Bay and Amazon.com to charge in his investment.
Dollar Store: "Heaven," Pontious said. Absolute nirvana is the way he describes the store that has just about everything for around a dollar. He won't be buying any dollar store clothes but he takes advantage of their cleaning supplies and snacks.
Microwave cuisine: Robert Reed enjoys watching his roommate's culinary spirit unleashed with a pot and a microwave. Reed said that these tools are all that's needed to poach eggs, make spaghetti and many other microwaveable delicacies.
Bake a pizza: Want to order a pizza? Why, when it costs less to buy a premade one at the superstore? Reed said that the switch saves money and baking it at home is just as easy as waiting for one to be delivered.