How I Squandered My Inheritance at Age 18

The author, on the train on a weekend trip to Munich.

The author, on the train on a weekend trip to Munich.

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.

  • cj3wilso

    Your parents should have discussed what you wanted to do with your life at a young age. I’m not surprised that a person handed money with no previous guidance spent it all! Especially at 18 years old. Good for you going back to school and getting into programming!

  • mara

    my fiance went through a similar situation. His family never talked to him about college but according to society that’s the next thing you do after high school. He got an inheritance then and went to college without any idea about what he wanted to do..the money funded books and tuition at first but also a fancy car, nice clothes, parties..etc..until he became a college drop out and had to take out the little money he put in mutual funds to get back on his feet.
    I think sometimes parents have the best intentions to leave money to their kids but money without communication and guidance flies fast!..when you already have financial discipline an inheritance is a bonus, more like a boost to your financial goals. However when it falls from the sky and you never had goals nor a clue in how to manage your income (no matter how tiny) you get the wrong idea that is is going to last more than it actually does…instead of a blessing is a curse but at the end it is a painful lesson of how to make the most of every opportunity.

  • B Joseph Smith

    No teacher guidance, no parental guidance, no peer or friend guidance? I am surprised you didnt know: you need to attend classes – that part is hard to believe. Congratulations on turning it around.

  • JenInBoston

    You *really* didn’t know you had to go to class? Come now, in my freshman classes we were all still raising our hands to go to the restroom. =) Well, good on you for righting your ship after a rocky start! I bet when you started paying for yourself, you also didn’t think it was so cool when professors showed up late to class…or even canceled class, right!? I started at a private liberal arts college, then transferred to a city university without dorms, where I and most students were supporting ourselves and paying for school etc. Night and day! At the first college, 90% of my study group reeked of weed and 1/2 of them had a “family emergency” every time Phish played a show within 200 miles. At the 2nd school, students would show up come hell or high water–even with young children in tow when local schools had closed for snow but the U. was open!

  • Angeli Wahlstedt

    The title is a little misleading — the major point of the story wasn’t about blowing your inheritance (let’s be honest — $7,500 really isn’t much, especially when you’re in college, and it would have eventually disappeared over time even if you’re careful).

  • Tania

    Kudos to you for finishing school while also working (it’s not an easy thing to do). I would like to add that many kids do not know what they want to do when they enter college. If you enter a four year program (versus a two year associates), the first two years are taken up with a variety of liberal arts courses and many don’t decide on their major or career path until a year or two in. Some know from the get go but not all do. I didn’t decide on my major until Sophmore year The thing that strikes me about your story is not that you didn’t know what you wanted to do at 18 (to me that is not unusual) or that no one guided you in what you should be doing but that because you received the money as a windfall your mom wasn’t paying the tuition bills or you weren’t working for it as you indicated. When you have to ask your parents for money while in school and you’re not from a wealthy family, it’s a bit harder to spend on stuff you shouldn’t than if you just have a “fund” you can keep dipping into to. The other thing is maybe your lack of work experience? I had worked at McDonalds in high school so I knew how hard some adults work to make a measly amount when they didn’t have vocational training or post secondary education and I didn’t want that for me. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I had to study.

    • modernmommy23

      Did you know that McDonalds now requires an applicant to have a bachelors degree in order to be hired? The job pool is too diluted with BA’s for them to have much value.

  • Lo Meina

    They probably didn’t tell you the money was there so that maybe you would, up until that point, work for your money instead of thinking, ‘Hey I have this money to rely on.’ We all make mistakes when we’re young. But not going to class?

  • GK

    As a smart kid, I always thought attendance requirements were stupid. On most topics, I had no problem doing all the work – reading, writing, tests, etc. – and getting an A – without attending class. I wish online courses had been available when I was in college (’89-’01). It’s just nice to have access to a prof if you got stuck on a concept or two.

  • penelopetrees

    HERE is what should have happened: The trust should have been set up for educational use ONLY until the recipient turns 25. That’s what my husband did for our daughter. Since she already had a bachelor’s degree when he passed away, she used her money to get her master’s degree in a field that has a shortage of qualified applicants — she got 2 job offers in one day, right out of the box. LET me add, however, she is prudent with money, has never done drugs, drink to excess, and would NEVER think of buying a $100 pair of jeans. She researches her purchases carefully and just never squanders money. She puts away 7% of her salary into the 401K her employer offers (they match a portion of it.) and tries to put $2000 in a ROTH IRA account each year. Not typical, I am sure, but she was brought up to know she should NEVER buy anything unless there is a real need for it.

  • modernmommy23

    My parents never talked to me about money or how to pay for college. They were dirt poor, my step-dad was into get-rich-quick schemes and I was told when I was 16 or 17 that I had had a college fund but they spent it on legal defenses for my step-dad. Yeah.
    I paid my own way to a MS degree (and yes, I used student loans to get through) but the only guidance they offered was forcing me to take a typing class – as in on a typewriter!
    I am glad you got your degree and found what you want to do in life.

  • US Citizen

    Yours is a great lesson for everyone. Nobody appreciates anything as much as something you’ve worked and sacrificed for yourself.

  • tstucker

    I think going to college right our of high school is a big mistake for a lot of people. I worked and found out what it was like to not have a degree, which gave me more appreciation for college, then I went. I got my by BS in 3 years because I went summers and then worked for 4 years, learning what I really needed to know, then went to grad school to fill in the gaps. Loved every minute of it, paid off my student loans on time and never looked back.

  • tstucker

    Oh, and I too had a small trust fund to go to college on, but that’s exactly what I used it for.

  • chris

    I am a 17 year old guy who is about to receive a big amount of inheritance when I am 18…my older siblings have blown through there inheritance… I want to avoid doing that, anyone who can offer some advice and could talk, please email me at