I Threw Away Over $250 Last Quarter

college 3D
(Guest Post by Sarah L)

As a junior in college studying Business with a Finance concentration, and a double minor in Economics and Psychology, I’m pretty conscious of my spending habits. In fact, I prided myself on my budgeting skills and helping my friends develop conscious spending plans for themselves. That is, until my friend pointed out that my habit of skipping classes was costing me (or more accurately, my parents) hard earned money.

I go to a California State University that costs roughly $2,100 per quarter and is increasing by $70 every quarter! A full load is considered to be 4 classes, and the classes meet 20 times each throughout the quarter. That means that every class I skip or every class that’s furloughed (thank you California deficit) costs me $26.25!

Last quarter, 7 of my classes were canceled, and I skipped an additional 4 because I “just didn’t feel like going to class.” That’s $288.75 down the drain. What did I do instead? I wish I could say I used that time to study for my other classes or to get ahead of my workload, but sadly, I spent most of that time shopping or going out to coffee with my friends. Instead of using that time to add value in different areas of my life, I ended up spending more money on extraneous things.

It’s so easy to lose associations between an item, and the price paid to obtain it, when purchased in a lump sum. Especially with distance between the purchase date and the actual delivery of the item. I pay tuition 2-3 months before the quarter actually begins. The money has long since left my account and therefore is no longer a part of my mental accounting. It doesn’t feel like I ever had it, so classes start to feel less like a purchase and more like an optional activity that I could choose not to partake in with only a slight averse effect in my grades.

It’s only the beginning of a new quarter, but my perspective on classes has changed dramatically. Now, I leave $30 in cash on my nightstand for when I wake up tired and unmotivated to go to class. That way I can physically see the amount that I waste by not showing up. This act attributes a value to my education, based on how many classes I have that day. And I’m willing to bet that my attendance record this quarter is going to be much better than the last one!

Guest post by Sarah L. – a college student with immense passion for God, life, style, and personal finance. In that order. You can find her on her blog – Sarah Ming.

(Photo by smemon87)

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  1. Kevin @ Thousandaire.com January 26, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    Work smarter, not harder. If you can learn the same amount and get the same grade in 4 class sessions as you can in 16, then it would be stupid to attend the additional 12. If your grades and/or understanding of the material is suffering from missing classes, then I agree you are wasting money. If they aren’t, then going to class would be wasting time.

  2. Liz January 26, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    Tuition is a sunk cost. Not attending classes does not “cost” anything because you’re not paying by class – you’re paying for a semester and could attend all classes or none and the price wouldn’t change. There is, though, an opportunity cost associated with missing the class and therefore not advancing one’s knowledge. Both sunk costs and opportunity costs are covered heavily in those economics classes that are being skipped.

  3. Brandi January 26, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    It is a good way to help motivate yourself to get to class, but I have to agree with the above. If you don’t NEED to go to the class to continue to make the best grade possible, then time spent in lectures is wasted time.

    I was always the student who believed that if you could skip class all semester, show up only for tests and the final, and still come out on top, then you deserved all that extra time. Which if used properly can MAKE you extra money. If you have 3 classes you don’t need to attend, that’s 3 hours in your day you can either be studying so that you can work a job later in the day/evening OR just fill those 3 hours up with a job on campus or close to campus.

    You have already paid the money to attend the class. You can’t get it back. So make the best of your time and figure out what you need to pass classes :)

  4. Catherine January 26, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    I’ve never had to pay for tuition until now and that’s a good point you’re making – if I skip out of any learning the tuition provides, I’m throwing my own money away that I’m scraping to pay for the degree.


  5. Amanda January 26, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    You have $30 to leave on your nightstand? you are doing much better than I was in college. :-) Great blog.

  6. Lily January 26, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    I’m a little surprised at some of the comments so far. I agree with the OP — even if you pay by the semester, what you’re paying FOR is the opportunity to take the classes themselves. And yes, if you skip class, you are not making the most of what you paid for. Maybe a lot of this depends on individual backgrounds and what subject area the classes are in — for instance, if you are a math prodigy and you already know the material in class, it would make more sense why you might want to skip — but in my experience, it is the gradual accrual of knowledge from lectures (supplemented by reading) that becomes most beneficial to effective learning. If classes didn’t matter, or if students focused on simply “doing enough to get by” or grade-chasing instead of fully investing in their academic studies, then I’d say they were certainly not getting the full value out of their tuition money.

    Kudos to Sarah for changing her perspective!

  7. Cassie January 26, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    I love the idea of leaving that money on your night stand! That’s so clever, I wish I had thought about that when I was in school.

  8. Jenna January 26, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    Oh man! I wish I would have thought of that when I was in college! I just put my alarm clock on the other side of my room so I HAD to get up to turn off the annoying sound comes from it’s speakers. Worked pretty well for me.

  9. retirebyforty January 26, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    Now that I’m older, I wish I would have taken the time to learn more when I was in College. It was all a blur of trying to get good grades in exams. If I can go back, I would take 2-3 classes a quarter at the most and focus on learning and making contacts. :)

  10. Jennifer January 26, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    I wish I would have thought of this concept when I was in school!

  11. Ellen January 26, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    Great job on this post. It’s nice to see someone your age actually concerned about the cost of their education and the impact it will have on your future (as opposed to the growing number of students with ridiculously high student loans). But I’m rather surprised at some of the comments concerning class attendance as a waste of time. Personaly, I never look at it that way, whether I know the material or not. There is always an opportunity to learn something new (whether it will be on a test or not ), or to meet someone who can be useful in the future. And really, what’s the chance of us staying home to make money or do something useful. On the days I want to skip, it’s because I’m lazy or not prepared.

    That aside, I think the more important issue here is your classes were cancelled 7 times! This is not money you’re wasting (yes Liz I know it’s a sunk cost) but is being wasted for you by your Profs (not counting the time wasted)! I would be sure to note these cancellations on your semester appraisals. As students, we often forget WE are the customers. In this situation, you are not receiving everything you purchased. We wouldn’t take that from Macy’s or Target and we shouldn’t take it from our colleges and universities either.

  12. Sarah January 27, 2011 at 3:33 AM

    Thanks for all your thoughts, guys!
    @Kevin, I somewhat agree, except that 99% of the population can’t do that. There’s always something to take from the professor or class discussions that contribute to greater understanding of the material, unless you’re the foremost expert in that field. And coming from an extremely success-driven family (not to be stereotypical, but my parents are stereotypical Asian parents) there’s ALWAYS room for improvement, unless I have an A+ in a class. I’m not really concerned with doing the minimum amount (well, at least for most of my classes haha) to scrape by with a decent GPA. I find my classes interesting; it’s the workload that makes me not want to go.

    @Liz, Even though it’s a sunk cost, I (well my parents) still had to pay for it. And if I’m paying $2,100 every three months I want to make sure I am getting the most for my money. I’m trying to spend money consciously, and I can’t do that without learning the value of it. Intrinsically, money doesn’t have any value, except for the utility it can bring me in terms of consumption of goods. But if I buy a new TV for $500 and never use it, does it bring me any utility? Maybe a little just to be able to say that I own it, but utility comes with functionality, right? That’s my take on it, anyways :)

    @Brandi, I’m happy to report that this quarter has brought about some changes! Even though I still feel unmotivated to go to class (mostly because I hate having more work piled on me), I’ve still been going to them! Also, I work 4 jobs and am heavily involved in two clubs on campus. Whenever I have free time (strange concept; I used to be familiar with it…), I spend it studying, working or sometimes even enjoying my youth, lol.

    @Catherine, glad you found it helpful :)

    @Amanda, thanks! :) my hustling pays off haha

    @Lily, preach it, sistah!

    @Cassie, there’s still ways to apply it to your life! Can you think of anything you’ve had to pay upfront for that you don’t often use? Are you using your gym membership that you pay a monthly fee for? Etc…

    @Jenna, haha yup I’ve done that before, too! Rude awakening, but it gets the job done!

    @retirebyforty, completely, one hundred percent agree. I was just complaining to my roommate tonight about how I wish school would be more about learning than GPA. For the bulk of my classes, the material is very interesting and I can find applications to my life all over. But all the tests and papers just make me stressed out and therefore resentful of my classes.

    @Jennifer, read my response to @Cassie’s comment :)

    @Ellen, I loved how you put it-”there is always an opportunity to learn something new….on the days I want to skip, it’s because I’m lazy or not prepared.” That’s exactly how I feel. The workload gets me so stressed out (I mean hey, working 4 jobs and being involved in two clubs does not leave me with very much free time), I feel constantly unprepared or just so over being stressed out, I want to flake out on all my obligations, be it class or work or ministry stuff and just go to the beach and chill. And yes, I am an unfortunate victim of the CalState school system, but I also spend a lot of time outside class researching topics that interest me (psychology, marketing, finance) so at least I kind of compensate for it.

    and thanks J for letting me share my story :)

  13. Olivia January 27, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    I’m very grateful that my parents are paying for my college education so, similar to Sarah, I feel as though I would be doing them a disservice to not attend my classes. That, and the fact that my mom took the liberty of making the same calculation for my brother and I based on the tuition at our respective colleges. :)

  14. J. Money January 30, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    Thanks again Sarah!! And for responding back to everyone – you’re awesome :) Smart too – I agree w/ everyone who said the nightstand money was a good idea. I might do it myself for other things!

    @retirebyforty — You are so RIGHT on that. If I had to go back and do it over I’d SO network more and eek as much out of it as I can. All I had to do was wake up at 10 instead of 12 every day and I’d be fine! haha… I wouldn’t have changed the partying though – you need that to reward yourself ;)

  15. Nicole February 3, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    I would not at all want to discourage a student from attending class…
    That $30 is a sunk cost! It really shouldn’t be included in your decision-making. What matters is the marginal benefit you get from attending class. And that marginal benefit would be enormous even if you were on a full scholarship.

  16. Sarah February 8, 2011 at 3:31 AM

    Haha all you economists. Yes, I realize that tuition is a sunk cost. I also realize that mental accounting is not an accurate way to budget.

    However, both concepts affect our (well apparently just my) psyche and how we perceive how urgent it is for us to save. So instead of working on thinking about them in terms of proper economic theory, why not just harness the power of the psychological effects of it for good? :)

  17. J. Money February 8, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    I’m with you on that one Sarah — whatever helps us save is GOOD! Rock it out, girl.