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Color of Money

Youth Is Fleeting, But Debt Isn't

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page F01

I had no idea I would touch off such a storm when I wrote that college students, who are racking up student loan debt that could take them two or three decades to pay off, can't afford to take spring break vacations.

Reader responses fell into two camps. In the far more financially responsible and conservative camp were those who agreed that being young isn't an excuse to spend unwisely.

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Then there was the camp that argued college students should throw financial caution to the wind because they're only young once.

Here's a sampling of what folks in the "don't spend what you don't have" corner had to say (some writers asked that I not use their names):

• "Far too many people feel like they 'need' to indulge themselves," wrote a Scotch Plains, N.J., mother of two college students who have not taken spring break vacations. "I guess it helps that I never went on lavish vacations myself. My children knew I was saving for more important things -- like their educations."

• Karla Weigold of Minneapolis said: " 'I want what I want when I want it' is the perfect phrase and description for too many spending habits these days."

• "While in college I went on spring break once or twice, and of course I couldn't afford it," wrote a captain in the Marine Corps. "I was one of those who piled on the credit card debt and student loans while holding down two jobs. And I paid for all the 'fun' I had over the next five years as my wife and I struggled to pay off our credit cards."

Now here's a sample of the comments from the "you're only young once" crowd:

• From a college student who has amassed "a reasonable amount of debt" from trips: "My parents are always behind me in my decisions to go abroad. This includes for leisure [and] academic purposes. They never had the opportunity to venture off to these locations, and they see it as an advantage for me to have the privilege of expanding my horizon."

• David W. Pearlman, a certified financial planner from Lauderhill, Fla., wrote: "I would ordinarily agree with paying off debt before going on vacation, but in this instance, I must take exception to your article. The four years after a young person graduates high school and is in college are a very special time. While nobody should spend money frivolously, when will [college students] have this type of fun again?"

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