Last year, I wrote my first blog for The Huffington Post about my complete and utter exhaustion with stressing out over my student loans.
And for good reason. According to a WebMD survey, more than 70% of Americans list money as a top stressor in their lives. We worry about affording a home one day or affording the home we currently have. We worry about finding a career that will bring fortune and stability to our households. We contemplate if we will ever have enough to fully fund our retirement accounts. And, of course, we worry about paying off or, at least, significantly paying down student loan debt.
The stories of people making massive changes to their already humble lifestyles to pay on a loan that produced minimum results in the job department is not only a slap in the face, but it almost feels like society lied to us. We were told since preschool that the path of a great life is a great education. That if we got the good grades, we could go to the good schools and make the good money.
But at the end of the day, your debt is still a legal promise you have to keep. Unlike getting mad over your new fling not calling you back after promising they would, a debt is legally binding, regardless of your loathe. You can choose to allow that dark cloud of misery linger over your head or you can choose another route.
I personally chose another route. I decided to make it a point not to worry about my massive student loan price tag. I decided against living like a hobbit, surviving off of bologna, rice, and water, or trading in my Altima for a used Pacer, or moving out of my lovely condo and calling a classic Volkswagen Vanagon my new abode. I decided against changing many things in my life for my debt.
And after a year of reflection, I'm glad I did. Because I still don't give a damn about my student loans.
You see, I learned that it was not the debt as much as it was the attitude towards my debt that was causing me grief. I didn't have this same stankatude towards the debt I still owe on my car or on several credit cards and personal loans. Even if I hate my car or house, I'm obligated to pay those, too. So why the funk over my student loans?
Changing my attitude about debt changed everything. I'm no longer afraid or ashamed of it. I no longer allow it to control how I think about finances. I focused more on money, debt management, and other shit that simply made me happy and promoted goodness in my life.
And believe it or not, learning not to stress over my debt actually helped me pay off some debt and still have a damn life. I've paid two student loans off since my initial blog. And I didn't lose my mind or live like a nomad for it. Allow me to show you how my newly acquired attitude changed my focused in a year for the better about student loan debt.
I focused on something that would improve my working skills
I stopped looking for jobs for the sole purpose of making more money to pay off debt and I started to look for work that would bring home the bacon and keep me happy. When I found myself finding one but not the other too many times, I decided to hone my skills from home. Freelance writing brought in a nice chunk of change to fund my retirement, pay off other bills, and, of course, improve my skill and passion for writing. I've found better paying clients since taking my writing seriously and more importantly, I found myself getting better and better at it. Hence, the gigs started paying better and better. I also promised myself I would polish up my Spanish, too. In that whole testimony I just ratted off, you noticed I made no mention about focusing on student loans, right?
I focused on something that would improve my money habits
I only went back to school to provide a better life for my kids. So to those who call me selfish, self-centered, and all that other garbage over student loans, keep it to yourself. Now, several years later, I want to be in the position to give my kids the opportunity to have some financial relief for when they start college, if they choose that route. I really dug the concept of debt snowballing by Dave Ramsey. It was exactly what I needed to pay off nearly $6,000 in small student loans, credit cards and personal debt in less than a year. To date, I've paid off over $10,000 in debt in less than two years! That plan also has me on track to pay of nearly $20,000 in student loan debt by late 2019. And now that I have a disciplined plan that works, why waste anymore energy worrying about student loan debt?
I focused on what IS right in my life
I live in a lovely neighborhood and have a wonderful landlord who keeps my rent more than affordable. And being that the average rent in my city is well over $1000, that's hundreds that I keep in my pocket. My kids make excellent grades and one is enrolled in an advanced program, giving them the opportunity to take special field trips, one less activity I have to spend my money on. I'm grateful for a support system to rely on for when mommy wants to have a night out or when she needs to travel for work. Oh, and my credit score is over 750, the best its been in years. All of these things (and many others) are fiscally right in my life right now, and they trump spending time tripping about student loans.
I focused on living my damn life
Yep. I sure did spend money on an occasional Ruth Chris steak. I sure did take my kids out for breakfast quite a bit. I sure did occasionally splurge on shit I didn't need. I sure did NOT become a coupon freak (sorry, too much work for me!) I sure did take trips and got out to the movies and planned a Bahama cruise and a trip to Spain. Yep, I sure did live my damn life.
I focused on decluttering shit
I officially was Trump-Clinton'ed out earlier this year and killed my cable. Then, I noticed I wasn't using half the crap on my cell phone plan so I slashed that in half. I changed my habits around my home as well. I do lot of work and writing at night. So in between breaks, I put in a load of clothes or run the dishwasher. I noticed these things cut my bills tremendously so I kept the discipline ever since. After finding so many cute things for my kids and myself, I only shop at thrift stores. When I go on dates, I meet up at simple places so I don't have to dip too far in wallet if I find myself paying my own way. I solicit car repairs, home repairs, and all other repairs my uppity ass doesn't want to do to coworkers or Facebook friends in exchange for favors before getting reemed in parts and labor at a shop. Writing this right now, I'm scanning my bedroom for other stuff I can declutter. This year, I definitely taught myself that less is more, mentally and literally. I saved money and sanity in the process.
If you find yourself at your wits end with your student loans, don't be. Debt is not the end all be all. Too many of us are allowing debt to have its way with our lives and it's truly heartbreaking to me when the best fix to debt is your attitude. Changing habits, getting sharper with debt management, appreciating the goodness around you and REFUSING to stop living your life and allow debt to rip you apart is how to pay off your student loans with your sanity and wallet in check.
At least, that's what I learned in a year.