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How I Squandered My Inheritance at Age 18

 Lyn Roman
Courtesy Lyn Roman / LearnVest
By Lyn Roman, as told to Elyse Moody

My father died in a car accident when I was eight years old.

A decade later, when I graduated from high school, I found out he'd set up a trust fund for my education ... about $7,500.

I was really surprised because my family had never talked about paying for college. I'd had no idea the money was there. College was cheaper in 1991, so it should've been enough for two years of in-state tuition, as long as I lived at home.

And that's exactly what my father had intended. I was supposed to use the money to go to school near home at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

What I didn't realize is that I wasn't ready for college. I had no idea what I wanted to study when I was 18. I'd never talked to either of my parents about what I wanted to do when I grew up -- that just wasn't how my family was.

I'd also never had a job. Heck, I'd never even had an allowance.

Then, I got the entire $7,500.

Trouble From the Start

I paid for my first two semesters of school and books, got an on-campus job that paid a little more than minimum wage and registered for core classes. Basically, I took the minimum load of classes required.

I didn't read the syllabus for my classes closely enough to understand that attendance was part of my grade, and the classes were boring, so I only showed up for the tests. As a result, I flunked every single class because of my attendance (or lack thereof), even though I got A's and B's on all the tests. I was really disappointed. Second semester wasn't much better: This time, I showed up, but I didn't take the homework very seriously. All I can say in my defense is that I was 18 and didn't understand the importance of a college degree at all.

Meanwhile, I burned through the money I'd been given. After I paid my first tuition bill, I kept spending my inheritance. I put my meager paychecks into my checking account and then spent them immediately. I got a credit card, I shopped, I joined a sorority, and I went on spring break to Mexico. I didn't keep track of how much I was spending or what I was spending it on.

At one point, my uncle, who was the guardian of my trust, told me he'd noticed my spending habits. He cautioned me to be more careful. I was embarrassed because I felt like I'd disappointed him. So I started to be more careful with my money, but by then I had already spent so much that there wasn't enough left to pay for a second year of college.

And it didn't actually matter: My grades were so bad the university kicked me out.

Life as a College Dropout

I found out that I wouldn't be allowed to return for the fall semester or keep my on-campus job in the summer. I don't think I told my family about my bad grades -- I just told them I was out of money. I was upset, but I didn't know how I was going to pay for more classes, so I figured I just wouldn't go back to college. I applied at a temp agency and started doing secretarial work. But I quickly figured out I didn't want to keep doing that, because it didn't pay nearly enough!

After temping for July and August, I enrolled at a community college in Greenville. I still didn't know what I wanted to study, but the classes were much less expensive, and I could pay for them out of my salary. Thankfully, I didn't have to temp anymore. I landed a regular full-time job, as an office manager for a janitorial company. I went to class two to four nights a week, trying to figure out what I wanted to major in.

During that time, I also got married. My then-husband and I decided I needed to finish college. He hadn't completed his bachelor's degree, and he was finding it tough to get jobs he wanted without one, even though he had the right experience. So I made arrangements with my company to job share and go to school full time. But after two semesters, my boss said I either had to come back full time or quit.

That wasn't a hard decision: I was too close to finishing college and didn't even want to consider taking only night classes again. I put in my two weeks' notice.

By then, I'd discovered that working with computers came as second nature to me. I enrolled in the computer programming associate degree program and made friends with the department chair. When I told her about quitting my job, she offered me a new one, working in the computer lab. I finished my associate's degree in computer programming in May 1996, but I stayed for another 18 months to complete a microcomputer associate's degree. While I finished my second degree, I worked in the computer lab and taught some classes.

What Working My Way Up Has Taught Me

If there's one thing that I've learned in all these years spent getting degrees, it's that it's not always what you know -- networking is huge. In the end, I've gotten almost every job I've ever had through someone I know. The department chair who gave me my job in the computer lab and my teaching stints later recommended me for a position at a local pharmaceutical company whose manager she knew -- the manager had gone through the same community-college program I had.

I landed that job. My new boss recommended I complete a bachelor's degree in management to help me advance in my career working with computers in the pharmaceutical industry. She told me about a 14-month program at Mount Olive College, which cost about $11,000 at the time. I enrolled and I was spending about $600 a month on tuition out of my paycheck without taking out any student loans. But I wasn't saving anything, and I was putting everything I wanted on my credit card. Only a few months from turning 26 and while working full time, I earned my bachelor's degree in May 1999.

That was the first graduation ceremony where I walked across the stage to get my diploma, and I was proud. My uncle was also there, and I think he was even more excited for me than I was.

In the end, I'd finally committed to college because I'd paid for it. Ironic, isn't it? I found I put so much more effort into the classes that I paid for myself than I ever put into the ones that were paid for. When my tuition was coming out of my pocket, I went to school every day, did my homework and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.

Today, college is a huge expense, and many parents wrestle with how much to give their kids to get there. Is my story a cautionary tale? I'm not sure. But it is amazing to me how much you focus when you pay for something yourself. Maybe that's not true for everyone, but for me, it was a big motivator.

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I'm glad your spoiled butt is broke. You are too stupid to have money given to you....Go to work and earn it !

June 01 2013 at 7:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Big deal. My niece was in a simular situation, only she came in to $250,000. She paid of the mortgages of her parents and grandparints. (the only good thing she did) Then went on a party binge giving the money to friends and picking up the tab on party after party. Not one dime went to her future. Not a penny was spent on education. A lot of it went up her nose. In six months she was broke. Her life pretty much went down hill from there.

THAT story out trumps this one every time.

May 24 2013 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have an agreement with my daughter who just finished her second year of college. I told her I won't pay for any credit hours below a "B" and she will have to pay me back for those credits if that happens. She currently has a 3.6 average -- no grades below a B, and I couldn't be happier or more proud!

May 24 2013 at 8:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

this is a story....?


May 24 2013 at 6:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rdz69's comment

It is a blog entry, YSF.

May 24 2013 at 9:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I know this was a time back but I worked my way thru college with three jobs most of them were working at a hotel where I had plenty of study time . But back then things were cheaper it seems that the goverment got in the picture to heip kids go to college and the price went thru the roof. Same with housing clinton go a bill thru to help people own house and the housing market crashed and bush got blamed for it granted he sign the bill also. And one more thing some of you people are real a holes quit judging a person on thier looks there are plenty of rich good looking and skinny people that have done the same thing blew more money then she had you can pick on her for being stupid but looks are part what you were born with not many skinny people kids grow up to be fat or vise versa look at my hero oprah if it wasn't for lipo she would be fat also Oh I'm sorry it was those great diets she made money on that she pushed that made he the twig she is

May 23 2013 at 6:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for sharing your story. I have friends and relatives that bail their kids out of everything. It doesn't teach them anything about doing it on their own...they don't have a clue about the value of $$ or hard work! Makes me wonder what will happen to them when their parents are gone.

May 23 2013 at 6:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

She ate it all up. fast-food,snacks, junk food, stuffing her face ,,look at her ! Swamp Pig...

May 23 2013 at 6:15 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

I paid my own way through college, every time. My parents could have afforded it, but didn't feel it was their job. As I got older, I could see their point. It was very obvious which kids were doing it themselves and which ones were there on mommy and daddy's dime. There was one point when one college I was going to wanted the student body to vote to upgrade the video game center. Uh no. This wasn't even a residental college. Why do we need a video game center when we are struggling to pay for tuition and books? I don't think most kids are ready to go right out of HS. It would not hurt them to work for a year before, not just hang around, but work. And if parents want to do their kids a favor, they shouldn't pay their entire college bill. If you insist on helping, help, but make them to most of the work. It will pay off big time in the end.

May 23 2013 at 5:40 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Why can't this happen to Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, or Lindsay Lohan? I'd LOVE to see them lose it all, and then have to do physical labor for the rest of their lives.

May 23 2013 at 5:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Finally someone admits that it is better to pay ones own way. Student loans are ruining many young people. The money is spent on spring breaks, new cars, and nice apertments. and nice clothes.

May 23 2013 at 5:07 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply