Tomorrow Begins Today

Today, I mailed off my last final exam and finished my undergraduate degree requirements. “Luckily,” I was able to finish through online correspondence courses with my university, something I’ve slowly been chipping away at for the last three years. Yes, that’s three years after my intended graduation date.

I put luckily in quotes, as my missing credits were basic, for the most part, items I skipped over, ignored, or courses i dropped out of, thinking that I would get to them later – or I wasn’t in the right “headspace” to deal with. You see, the Creative Writing emphasis also works for excuses.

There were so many more interesting things to pursue (that was always the criterion, what was most interesting): Girls. “Artistic self-improvement.” “Experience…” None of which could be found in an institution, I scoffed. All true (except the first; plenty of girls, few women.) Yes, I achieved this, and I achieved that. A self-sustaining writer in New York City, that’s an echelon. Still, I went the past three years with a stone on my head. A whisper hamstrung my every benchmark… You never graduated college…you fucking loser…

A good many of you received your college degree, or will, probably within the socially normative four years. You will, or did, feel good, and rightfully so.

Yet …you have student loans, unpaid credit cards, bills you’re ducking, credit report splotches…

Each black mark is a stone weighing you down. You may get a new job, a promotion, move to a new city, what have you. There will still that dangling modifier, that thing left undone.

You can finish it, or say fuck it. Either way, do what you need to do to seek a life without caveats. Don’t pay rent on your dreams. One great way to do this is get completely debt-free, and build up a 6-month emergency fund. Life takes money. Master of your financial destiny and a good chunk of your personal destiny falls into place.

Of course, now I have to work off all this weight I gained while blogging and conducting my distance learning courses. Everything has a cost. I consider it a loan borrowed for an appreciating asset, and am working it off, starting today. — BEN POPKEN

Math Problem: Best Paying Off Credit Card Method, Snowball or Orzman?
Getting Out of Credit Card Debt
Create an Emergency Fund
Is There Life After Debt?


Edit Your Comment

  1. seawallrunner says:

    congratulations Ben !!

  2. markymags says:

    Congrats Mr. Popken!

  3. TPIRman says:

    Congratulations, Ben!

    My advice for working off the extra pounds: Don’t join Crunch gym.

  4. ptkdude says:

    Congrats Ben! And don’t feel bad about it taking so long… it took me 16 years (and 6 attempts at Calculus before finally getting a B).

  5. JRuiz47 says:

    Congrats, Ben…I’m actually in your same boat (about 12-15 credits to go with only six being upper level courses).

  6. coreyander says:

    Congratulations! Hope your nagging self-doubt dissipates as you realize how little you were missing except a piece of paper.

  7. the cultural icon says:

    Congrats! It’s graduations and degrees all around!

  8. Coder4Life says:

    Congrats Ben!!! I just recently graduated and it feels great as well.

    Hopueflly you dont leave us here…

  9. ellery says:

    Congrats! I quit school to work, and now I’m doing well at work so I have little motivation to finish.. but I will finish if only for societies sake. First I need a private pilot license though ;-)

  10. brianfairbanks says:

    Ben neglected to mention he’s in the Attica State Prison For the Criminally Insane Correspondence course. Not so excited for him now, are ya?!

  11. saram says:

    Woo-hoo! Someone’s gone and gotten themselves an edumacation. It is an accomplishment, not only for your new jump in the NYT class determination system, but for you to have constructively dealt with something that was important for you.

    My tips for taking off the weight?
    a) don’t go to grad school
    b) bikram yoga. If you haven’t tried it at least once, I suggest it.

    Best wishes! Oh, and as Coder4Life said, don’t even think about leaving us.

  12. gizcongawk says:

    Congratulations Ben!

  13. bluwapadoo says:

    what are you saying????

  14. Motor_Head says:

    Congratulations. I went through nearly the same thing, started my career when I was 20 and in my 3rd year of college. Took a few years off, realized the “stone on my head”…finished at a different university a few years after that.

    Now, you will meet other people that have done the same thing and find them much more interesting and worldly than those people that finish in 4 or 5 years (in my experience).

  15. homerjay says:

    You forgot the best part! You’re supposed to give your bosses the royal screw-job — Either you get a 30% raise or you’re walkin’!

    Oh, and if you do get 30%, I want 10 for giving you the idea. :)

  16. Eric says:

    “Yet …you have student loans, unpaid credit cards, bills you’re ducking, credit report splotches…

    Each black mark is a stone weighing you down. You may get a new job, a promotion, move to a new city, what have you. There will still that dangling modifier, that thing left undone.”

    Is it just me or is that just a little condescending to people who didn’t take 8 years to graduate? You graduated from college, you didn’t win a Nobel prize.

    In any case, I applaud your accomplishment and wish you the best of luck.

  17. SexCpotatoes says:

    The best nuclear physicist was self-taught. Everyone after that guy was just a glorified copy-cat, he did all the hard work.

    Enjoy your degree!

  18. JohnMc says:

    Popken, kudos. I am doing the samething only at the doctorate level.

    I would hazard, that in a few short years, online education will be the norm. The cost advantages are to great to ignore. Coupled with a faster paced domestic life, education on one’s schedule can only be done online.

    It is a wave of the future.

  19. gneissgrrl says:

    Congrats Ben! I don’t find your statements condescending at all…. there’s a social stigma that says “the higher level of institutional education you’ve completed, the more intelligent you are”… when humanity is really more complex than that. There are different flavors of intelligence and different measures of such. Declaring one thing to be a standard- whether it’s having a degree or not, or having debt or not- is hardly a true measure of anything.

  20. EastBayAnt says:

    Congrats, Ben!

  21. Secularsage says:

    I left journalism school five years ago and I’ve finally gone back to college at the age of 27, though I’ve switched majors to business. I don’t think anyone thought I would ever REALLY go back.

    Getting your degree finished can be tough, especially if your program takes longer than planned, so kudos!

    (And as for being distracted by “girls,” I’ve noticed that being married this go around makes things a tad bit easier…)

  22. acambras says:

    Congratulations, Ben!

  23. sfreeman says:

    Congratulations Ben. It took me 9 years to get my undergraduate degree, but I, like you, have very little college debt. It’s not a bad approach to education. In fact, I would recommend anyone in their early twenties to wait until they are 24 to attend college full-time. If you do, the government will help pick up the bill since your parents income will no longer be counted as part of your own.

    On a seperate note, I would caution slightly against taking this ‘zero-debt’ concept too far. Certainly this is good advice for the bulk of American consumers; however, it is a poor man’s mentality compared with effectively managing debt. Leveraging oneself financialy is the classic method for building wealth. For instance, paying down a 6% mortgage when you can invest your money at 10% is effectively throwing away a 4% return on your savings (to cite a simple example). I think your message to readers about reducing debt is generally correct and good, but it’s a simplified message. I would suggest that more savy readers take your financial management advice with a (small) grain of salt.

  24. King of the Wild Frontier says:


    Recommendation for weight loss: bicycle.

  25. RandomHookup says:

    Did I miss the memo where we can’t spell out “fuck” anymore? Getting more mainstream every day around here.

  26. ladycrumpet says:


    Perhaps now you’re at leisure for regular strolls across the Brooklyn Bridge?

  27. etinterrapax says:

    Congrats, Ben! I took 9 years to finish college myself, but I know I appreciated my education much more at 26 than I did at 17, when everything was free and I thought that was how it always would be.

    On the weight loss: make the most of living in New York, where walking about is feasible. It’s a painless way to get going on that. I maintained in an urban grad school, but I really gained when we moved to the stupid suburbs.

  28. qitaana says:

    Congratulations, Ben.

    From my first college credit to my undergraduate degree took me 16 years… you’re way ahead of me!

  29. elf6c says:

    Congrats. It took six years after high school for me to even start (thanks to Uncle Sam’s plans for me), but I did.

    7 years later I had a BS and JD. Still chipping away at the debt (its 2/3’s gone now).

    Put paying off my unsecured debt and paying off my car (only owe student loan and mortgage now) is even bigger for me. I have savings too. Makes sleeping at night a heck of a lot easier.

    To drop weight, take up a sport- you are much more likely to stick to working out if there is a reason you are working out. Having a goal event is a good thing- maybe a 10K race, a century bike ride, a sprint tri, something like that.

  30. Ben Popken says:

    Thanks for all the well-wishes! I have a bike and a gym card, now I need to use them more often.

    I would also love to join an indoor soccer team. (Not to get all Missed Encounters but maybe someone scrimmages down at Chelsea Piers and has an open slot? I played for 12 years up to JV in high school. My ball handling skills were never amazing but I was a good aggressive defender, usually played stopper.)

  31. silencedotcom says:

    Congratulations, Ben!!

    Now go out there and continue to kick some ass.

  32. whereismyrobot says:

    Congrats! I am in the same boat. In fact, I was supposed to graduate last semester and I failed one class. I thought “no big deal, I will take it in the summer.” A job that had been offered to me had been revoked because I didn’t have my Bachelors. So this one class cost me about $500 extra a month, all for one stupid freshman Math class I have to take.

    Learn from my mistakes kids.

  33. _Puck says:

    Ben, don’t feel bad for not finishing within a societally appropriate time frame. For some, it is unrealistic to take 180 credit hours within 4 years unless you have someone floating your education and thus do not need a job, have no other obligations or responsibilities, or don’t drink.

    It took me five years to get an associate degree but then I finished up a bachelor’s in additional years. Life gets in the way sometime.

    Anyways, congratulations.

  34. SimonGodOfHairdos says:

    Congratulations Ben! It doesn’t matter when you finish, as long as the timing worked for your personal situation. I’m 30, and after many starts and stops, I should finally finish up my undergraduate degree this December. There’s nothing wrong with graduating on your own terms, I feel I’ve gotten more out of college as an adult learner than I did as a teenager.

  35. anatak says:

    Don’t sweat the “4-year” crap, Ben. Some of us just go at our own pace. Anyways, you’ve done very well for yourself. Completing your degree, becoming debt-free, doing what you love (I assume). These are big accomplishments, especially becoming debt-free. You can’t leverage financial freedom, and you can’t discount what it enables.

    Inspiring work.

  36. MikeWas says:

    I was wondering how you could not find girls in college. Thank you for explaining yourself and staving off endless jokes at your expense.

  37. cnc1019 says:

    @_Puck: My accounting BS with a minor was only scheduled for 121 hours and that was the 2002 catalog at UT @ Austin.

    I got lucky on the money thing as my parents paid for most of mine as long as I finished in 4 years (I paid living expenses and general spending money). Fiance on the other hand has about 15k in student loans (she just graduated) so I get to deal with that (and a wedding that we will spend no more than 6k on). Thankfully I’ve been working for a year and have a decent amount of savings built up as well as a CD that has been building since birth.

  38. pestie says:

    Hell, I dropped out of high school, then took 6 years to get a 2-year community college degree! But I did so without incurring any debt. I never even had a credit card until well after I had my first full-time, real-world job. And even then it was just because I couldn’t get a cell phone due to my total lack of credit history. So I got a $500-limit card from a credit union. Yes, I’m just that awesome.

  39. Chicago7 says:

    Just graduating college puts you in the Middle Class!!!

    Hahaha! Congratulations!

  40. higginsrj says:

    Great that you finished your degree, but the condescending financial advice is pretty weak. Suggest you stick to blogging and leave the advice to those with more worldly experience.

  41. sporesdeezeez says:

    To join the chorus, congratulations, Ben.

    As far as the financial advice, I’d like to make like a Supreme Court justice and concur in part and dissent in part, latecomer though I am.

    A 6-month emergency fund is a great thing to have. I sleep a lot easier with one. I’d recommend anyone do it – you can “borrow” against it, interest-free, in times of need (or to make that last minute IRA contribution in April), and you don’t have to take too much shit from your bosses because you’re not really THAT beholden to them.

    Living debt-free, though, and this is where the Dave Ramsey crew gets all nasty with me, is not a straightforward proposition. “Grow up,” they say in typical condescension, “and be patient.” Without going into all the reasons – reasons which Dave’s fans would impugn because I lack Dave’s “expertise” and therefore must be pulling it out of my ass – I am sure that most college loans, spent at accredited institutions with reasonable tuition, have a strong ROI and pay for themselves in the long run, despite the finance charges. Plus, I don’t have time to “grow up” before I finish college. That’s the point – college is where you learn, sure, but it’s also where you grow up.

    Credit card debt is shit, though, I agree on that. I just don’t understand why anybody would criticize student loans.

  42. Dervish says:

    Congrats on getting your degree. College is tough work. Screw the “piece of paper,” it’s all about showing prospective employers that you can commit to something for 4 to 8 to whatever years. And, I suppose, learning the stuff you’ll need for your future career is important too.

    With that said, though, I agree that some of the financial advice sounds a little condescending. I went to a really good college and graduated nearly debt free. First, I worked my ass off to pursue and qualify for scholarships. Second (and I know this is lucky), I had some financial help from my parents because I DID work my ass off and committed to finishing in four years with a difficult course load.

    Online education is a great innovation, but it doesn’t work for everyone. I learn much better in a face-to-face lecture environment, and as a science major, lab portions were a critical part of learning and internalizing the material.

    Thanks to my degree I have a well-paying job that I really enjoy, and I can pay off the loans I do have instead of ducking them.