I vividly remember sitting in a class senior year of high school and a woman came to talk to us about college and student loans. She was so nonchalant about taking on debt, comparing it to how no one scoffs at taking out a home loan. This was laughably before the housing market crash, but these are statements I will never get out of my ears.
I barely knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, still full of raging teenage hormones, but was somehow “responsible” enough to sign for six figures worth of student loan debt. This toxic industry was only reinforced by my parents outdated notion that since they paid their way through school, I should be able to as well. To clarify, I don’t think paying your own way through college is wrong or you should expect your parents to foot the bill, but my circumstances and my parents were incredibly different. Their statements only reinforced taking out loans in my mind. My college, which was also my parents’ alma mater, was only a few thousand a semester during their college years. When I was accepted it was a steep $40K a year and I received very limited financial assistance.
While no one was forcing me to sign on the dotted line, media had fed me idealistic images of beautiful college campuses and that this was the path you took if you were smart. I know this story is far from unique. I luckily had a great experience that I think of fondly and built a great network that got me a job right out of school.
When I graduated, I was overwhelmed by the debt. I was only making about $32K a year, and every step forward I took with raises I couldn’t help but have lifestyle creep. There are days I often reminisce about how I made my life work with considerably less. I became so desensitized to seeing a high number on my outstanding loan amount on my bank statement that I developed an unhealthy relationship with money.
A few years ago, I got a job that didn’t have corporate cards. It was the first time I took out a credit card. In my mind, I knew that I needed to only put work expenses on that card, but easier said than done. Because of my massive amount of debt, I had very little saved up for emergencies. Someone broke into my car and I needed my window fixed, that blue piece of plastic got swiped. I unexpectedly got the flu and had to go to urgent care, it got swiped. I was exhausted and was self soothing by shopping…well you see where this is going. I racked up a few more thousand dollars that I still chip away at.
There are days I still feel like a failure with money. I think about all the things I could have if I hadn’t taken out that credit card, or if I hadn’t gone to college. My mind swirls with the freedom my husband and I could experience if this debt didn’t exist. Now, I’m really working on being better with money, having a budget and cut back on frivolous spending.
We’re lucky that there are more people, especially women, talking about money (I personally love listening to Gaby Dunn or watching Aja Dang). When I feel really down on myself about money, I try to remind myself I’m not alone and so many of us were sold this bad deal. I know there will be an end eventually if I can just stay on track. In the meantime I will be working 60 hour weeks, freelancing and selling my clothes at Buffalo Exchange.