Student Loan Money-Don’t Use It To Buy an Iguana

Yep, I bought one while living on student loans!
Yep, I bought one while living on student loans!

It’s back to school time again. Twenty million Americans attend college each year. Sixty percent of those students will borrow money to help cover expenses. As I’ve mentioned before, you need to decide if your college degree will be worth the money. If you are attending college for the sake of attending and have no clue what you want to do with your life, going into debt with student loan money is a bad idea.

If you know your college education is going to further your career or lifestyle, then there’s no shame in having student loans. However, students, you really need to think hard about how you are going to spend that student loan money. Spending student loan money for non-educational expenses will come back to haunt you someday.

Check Please!

It’s been a while since I’ve been in school, but the loan process worked like this. We had loan disbursement day where you went into a room with a school official who gave you a bill for your tuition and fees. That money got subtracted from your loan amount, and you were handed a check for the balance. This was supposed to pay for housing, books, and other expenses.

Other Expenses

It’s the other expenses that you can control. Take a look at some of my horrible examples to learn ways not to spend your student loan money. By and large, I didn’t ever borrow as much money as I was offered. I tried to decline unsubsidized loans when I could, but I do admit to using student loan money for some stupid reasons.

  • Gambling-When I went to optometry school, we were an hour away from Tunica, Mississippi, the seventh highest place for gambling revenue in the US. A bunch of students always made a Tunica trip right after student loan disbursement day. I think the most I ever lost was $100 at a time, but still, pretty dumb right?


  • Buying a Pet-During my third year of optometry school, I paid almost $300 for a dog. We won’t even talk about the iguana I thought I needed for some strange reason. This was before I learned the beauty of adoption, but even if it was free, there are tons of pet expenses to consider before actually getting one.


  • Retail Therapy– I can’t tell you how many times I went shopping after a stressful week or a big exam. I told myself deserved it, but I should have just gone for a walk.


  • Gym Membership– In optometry school, I always paid for a membership to Gold’s Gym, not because of their collection of free weights and the meat market atmosphere, but because they were open late. There was a perfectly good free gym at school, but it closed earlier than I wanted to work out. I thought I wouldn’t  have energy if I exercised in the morning. If I had adjusted my plans just a little, I could have saved a ton of money. Ironically, most of my workouts are before 7AM these days.


  • Entertainment-I can’t tell you how many concerts, dinners out, or other events I attended. My philosophy was work hard, play hard. I wish it had been work hard, save more.


I could go on and on. I didn’t need any of these things, and when you pay for something with student loan money, remember you are adding up to 8% interest on public loans and more for private ones. You will be paying for your stuff long after it’s been used up and discarded.

But You Only Live Once…..

Now, I’m not saying you have to be a total miser, sitting at home, eating ramen, thinking of ways to steal toilet paper from the school restrooms. Having a social life and experiencing new things should be a part of college. I would challenge you, however, to find ways to fund non-necessary expenses without using student loan money.

But I Have to Study!

Yes, if you are a student, keeping up your GPA to graduate is your full time job and the most important thing you can do, but do you really spend all of your spare time studying? I thought not.

I could have always had a part time job while in college, even if it was a crappy one. I thought that because I had scholarships, I didn’t need one. Even if you don’t want a regular scheduled position, there are tons of ways to earn money in college.

  • Seasonal retail jobs you could do over holiday break.
  • Work study
  • Be a lifeguard
  • Make money online
  • Clean offices-I had a friend who started bidding on commercial cleaning jobs for small offices. She ended up having to hire employees because she had too many jobs!
  • Babysit-My sister works part time and hires a college student to watch her kids. The sitter arranges her classes around the days when my sister works.

You’re college material. Come up with something.

If you take time spent from one or two days a week when you normally go out with friends, watch TV, or do keg stands, how much extra time would that give you? Look at however you use your down time and find a way to earn some extra cash. I bet you won’t need to use student loan money for non-education expenses.

Better yet, you could take a page from Emily’s book and invest your extra money to pay off the loans you do have to take. I bet if you work harder for that money than just signing your name for a student loan check, you might be less likely to spend it on stupid stuff.

What crazy things did you spend student loan money on? Looking back, would you do anything different with student loan money? Ever had a pet reptile?

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Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, of course, writing. She is currently the editor-in-chief of


  1. Oh, I did my fair share of stupid things with my student loan money. From concerts, to travel to just plain crap I spent it on way too many things not education related. I just wish I could go back and shake my younger and much dumber self.

  2. Student loans seem to be a source of spending money for a bunch of college students. The only problem with that is, that iguana now comes with interest! I’ve gotta say, there’s a reason student loan debt is such a big issue for many and, it has to do with how they spent the loans when they got them. I did know one guy who took his extra money and invested it. He was earning more than the interest that was to be charged and, when he graduated, he paid off over 80% of his loans with the 40% or so that he saved. Now, that’s a good way to go! Thanks for the great read!

    1. I’m not sure I would have had the guts to do that, but I did have a classmate a few years behind me in optometry school who did that with her loan money. Her dad was really rich though and saw it as a no interest loan.

      1. Hey Kim, I wouldn’t have the guts for something like that either. Also, it’s always a surprise to me how wasteful the rich kids can be. It really is a shame. I’ve got a positive story about one though. A friend of mine was part of a rich family that owned a lot of car dealerships in Wisconsin. Not only was he the nicest person you could meet, he was incredibly frugal. I guess he was one of those good rich kids, the rich kids with guidance!

  3. While I did take out student loans, I never had the experience of getting a check. All my loans went to tuition and I used the money I earned doing workstudy for pocket money.

    I actually would NOT recommend a student investing money she had borrowed, even though that’s what I’ve done! Phrasing it that way make me realize its risk in a new way. We are in a different situation than the one you have described here – we are employed (i.e. have money coming in) and have plenty of other savings. We could still pay off the loans in full from other savings even if our investments tanked. We knew going in that we might lose principal (and we did, at first), but we wanted a learning experience.

    Then again, if the choice is between investing it and literally wasting it, go for the investment. But better to not take out all the money or put the balance into a cash-equivalent.

    1. I think I maybe didn’t explain myself well enough. I know you guys have the money to pay the loan back tomorrow, but are investing it for the extra cash, which I think is really smart. I think my point in this post is that you might be able to earn enough money from side income or working part time to pay back some of the loans before the interest hits. I wish I’d done that.

  4. Oh, do I remember those days! Not so much exactly what I spent the money on ( but I’m sure it wasn’t good) but just walking into that office and being handed that huge check. That was the first time I’d ever seen so much money! I’m guessing the mall was my first stop. I do remember having an exquisite wardrobe in those days. 🙂

    1. That is funny how my clothes were much nicer and stylish in my college years. I guess when you don’t have many responsibilities, that seem more important.

  5. I don’t remember getting an actual check deposited into my account, but I know my wife did. Therefore I don’t have a great answer for you, but I did play a lot of poker my freshman year of college. Thankfully I was on the winning side of that, though.

    1. You could have been right there in Tunica! I never really learned poker or table games other than blackjack, but I had some friends who won a few thousand on them.

  6. I went to university right down the road from the local casino. Every Monday I had a 4 hour break where I would normally go to the casino and gamble for 2 hours, then go have lunch, then go to the pub for the last bit before heading back to uni.

    VERY expensive times…

  7. I went to community college and never had to take out student loans. I also never finished but that’s a totally different story! 🙂 I still like the idea of bidding on commercial cleaning jobs and hiring them out. That sounds very lucrative!

    1. The commercial jobs were pretty sweet because the offices were never that dirty and no one was around when she was cleaning. I think that might have been the perfect job.

  8. So sad about the gambling trips. Here it is the same on payday the guys just drink it or blow it and the women are left with pennies to take them through the week. There should be an exam for students to see if they are capable of handling such big loans and until they understand APR, deferred periods and the like make the lender only pay tuition directly to the college so they learn how to live with less. Thanks for the mention!

  9. It’s not uncommon to hear students once they are finished their education talk about their debt. They reflect on their student loans and just where the money was spent. Time and time again many of them wish they had spent the money more wisely. I hope students take a hard look at personal finance and budget their way through school so when it’s done and over with they don’t have those regrets.

    1. I wish they had some sort of documentary about stupid ways to spend your loan money that was required before you could take out loans. I never really thought too much about it at the time, but certainly didn’t enjoy the last 13 years of paying them off.

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