Plugging Away

Warning: Rant Ahead

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks fantasizing about what life will be like when my loans are paid off. I think about the little splurges I’ll  make. Getting an expensive hair cut … drinking Starbucks, just because … taking a weekend trip to see my family.

But between now and then, there’s a lot of just going through the motions, watching my dollars, and making those extra payments. There’s a lot of just waiting for the next paycheck and getting a little rush each time I hit a landmark. I’ve spent so much time thinking and planning about money lately that I’m honestly kind of sick of it. I want to be done, and I’m frustrated by the progress I can see right beyond my fingertips, just over the horizon.

I’d like to post a list here of ways I’m staying motivated, but today, it’s just not there. I haven’t slipped up on my budget, but I also feel a little bit of resentment toward the numbers. Why aren’t some of them bigger and others smaller? Why didn’t someone tell me flat out to find a different way to pay for college? Why didn’t someone insist I spend more time over summers working, getting part time jobs to supplement my internship incomes? Why didn’t someone sit me down and force me to look practically at the numbers? (Someone probably did all of these things and more, I just probably didn’t listen.) Who told an 18-year-old that it was practical to take out thousands of dollars in student loans for out-of-state tuition? What the hell was I thinking?

Last night I got sucked into a series of YouTube videos of people “Coming Out” about their student loan debt (search #outwithstudentdebt on YouTube). Although I wasn’t terribly sympathetic for some of them, I did feel a commonality with all of them–none of us knew what we were getting into. All of us were trying to make our lives better, to open doors and opportunities. And the way to do that was through student loans. It’s an “investment in your future.” They are “the way to better jobs.”

But what happens when that better life doesn’t pan out? When you don’t get a job in your major, or the job you do get doesn’t provide basic food/water/shelter in your area?

One trillion dollars in student loan debt.

I’m so lucky that mine is currently $12,100, give or take. That’s nothing compared to so many others.

What would I have done differently? I know I made the best decisions I could at the time with the information I had. But here it is:

  • Save more in high school. I bought so many clothes, so much fast food. I wish my parents, siblings or school counselor had sat down with me, realistically, and made a plan for my income during high school compared to tuition, books and room and board. Seeing the numbers then would have saved me huge sticker shock later one. But everyone is too scared to talk about money. No one wants to think about it.
  • Worked smarter in college. I worked a minimum wage job all through college because it gave me a chance to do homework when it wasn’t busy. That was fine, but by working smarter, I could have earned more per hour, worked more hours, and brought home a lot more money during each school year.
  • Worked part-time jobs during the summers. I had full-time internships each summer, and I spent a lot of time goofing off when I wasn’t working. Why didn’t I pick up a part-time gig around my full-time schedule?
  • Fought for more scholarships and financial aid from my school (and from outside sources too). I was offered a scholarship that looked great on paper–it gave me in-state tuition at an out-of-state school, a $10,000 value every year. So really it was no scholarship at all compared to in-state options. I love my alma mater, but I should have worked harder to get my base costs down. I should have gone to the financial aid office every single semester and asked about scholarships and grants. I should have more seriously considered going to an in-state public school that would have given me other scholarships as well.
  • Make a real budget. I sort of had a budget, but I didn’t think more than a semester ahead at any given point. Looking long term could have helped me avoid dipping into my emergency fund for non-emergencies.
  • Been more realistic after graduation. I took an internship right after college. Why didn’t I pick up a part-time job right away to get on my feet? I then took a job making what, I naively thought, would support me. It didn’t. When I moved to Fort Worth, I rented an apartment that was amazing and I loved it so much … except that it was way more than 25 percent of my take-home pay for rent. I wish I had opened my eyes and realized that I needed to clean up this mess.

If I had done these few things, I think I could be debt free or very close to debt free right now. And the world would be a very different place if I didn’t have student loans.

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