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. In grad and undergrad, any other leftover money I got I needed so badly for rent or what have you that I never thought to spend it frivolously. Except for one semester–the one I went abroad. I took out an $8,000 loan that I probably easily could have cut $2,000 off because I did spend a lot of money frivolously. But I was in the Netherlands! So yes, I regret having that additional $8,000 loan, but it was an awesome semester abroad and I can’t complain about that.

    1. That’s what I’m talking about. In optometry school, I could have borrowed twice what I did. All you had to do was go ask for more money. It was in the form of unsubsidized loans, but who’s counting.

  2. It’s really that excess amount that causes problems. At that age, who wouldn’t spend the money? A lot of kids haven’t been taught how to budget or make good money decisions. They were only told “no” and weren’t always given the best reasons as to why. This is their first taste of freedom and a chance to make-up for all those times they thought they were deprived. I made money mistakes in college too and the sad part is so many kids don’t even realize they are making mistakes until it’s too late.

  3. I was lucky enough to get through school without taking out any loans, much respect to those that have worked hard to pay off their loans, not an easy task. I know for a fact that I would have owned 4 iguanas if I had student loan money to blow. I was not real financially smart when in college.

    1. No, if you’d had one, you would have never bought another. Mine was the devil incarnate. That lizard bit me a million times before I finally gave it away.

  4. It’s amazing to me that financial institutions ever started granted people such high sums of money at one of the most irresponsible times in their young adult life without any major restrictions or strings attached as to what the money can and can’t be used for. Even the government makes these kinds of stipulations in their prepaid programs and on some 529 college plan pay outs. I guess that’s why our generation is incurring as much debt as it is from student loans.

    1. No kidding. You should have to submit some sort of plan as to how you are using your money and that’s all you get. No money for shopping or reptiles!

  5. Where were these posts when I was in college?? As a matter of fact, where was the internet?? I used my loans to pay rent and my meal plan, etc. To think that 20 years later I am (finally) almost paid off…my food ended up costing quite a bit!

  6. I was frugal even back in school…but I know people who used student loan money that was intended for tuition go towards a car and spring break vacations. Their mindset was that they were living for today and that once they had a job, they could pay it off in the future.

    1. That is a terrible mindset, but one that almost all my fellow students had. We’ll get a good job and pay it all back in no time. What you don’t realize is that you will want to buy a home and lifestyle inflation will come at at warp speed. It’s hard to say no. I wish I had been able to realize that at the time.

  7. I don’t remember using my student loan money for anything other than school bills and textbooks. I had a campus job that helped me cover most of my other expenditures. And yes…years ago I babysat a pet iguana in my classroom for several years. Thing got pretty big before it retired to a student’s home.

    1. Mine was huge by the time I gave it away. Not cute at all. He bit me and lashed his tail at me anytime I tried to clean his cage. Evil, evil lizard. I guess he missed his home in Central America or wherever the pirates stole him from.

  8. I was fortunate enough not to have student loans, but my big spending was sorority type stuff and eating out. I ate out more as a broke college student than I do now. I think there are so many online type ways to make money now as a college student that I’m actually a little jealous we didn’t have that back in “my day.” I mean no one even had a personal computer back then, we had to walk to the computer lab and use DOS commands (not kidding!). And it was a super small town which meant a lot of us were competing for the same waitressing jobs. That being said, college was also cheaper back then.

    1. One of my first college class assignments was to send an email! There were tons of jobs where I went to college. It was the Bill Clinton years when everything was booming. I’m sad to say I rarely took advantage except during the summers.

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