I have to admit that my student loan debt has been consuming me lately, especially because at the beginning of February I started paying back my doctorate loans (in addition to loans I'm still paying on my B.A. and M.A. degrees). I am no financial expert and it is my natural instinct to run screaming AWAY from anything having to do with finances, money, budgets, etc. That being said, here's some advice I DO have to offer.
1. Recognize that your student loan debt is, largely, a result of the CHOICES you have made... Unlike, say, medical debt that might result from treating a terminal illness.
It's easy to feel sorry for yourself, to feel like you're being punished because of your decision to get an education. It's easy to feel resentment towards people who, because of large trust funds, ingenuity, different life circumstances, or different choices, are walking around with the same education that you have without any of the debt. If you are feeling any of these negative things, make the choice to stop. Switch your thinking. Focus on how amazingly lucky and privileged
you are to have been able to choose to get an education. Use your education to make the world a better, more positive place. And don't take that education for granted. Ever. If you, like me, are paying very large student loan payments every month, you are lucky that you have a monthly reminder of just what that education cost you. Don't waste the education that is, largely, a result of the choices you've made and the opportunities you've been given.
2. Pay your bills on time. Every month. And look into loan consolidation or federally-sponsored programs to help alleviate debt.
Again, I'm no expert here and so I won't offer much in the way of specifics. Loan consolidation has been a good way for me to alleviate at least a little of the monthly burden and not feel like I have to rush out and get some job I don't want just so that I can make my loan payments every month. It has also been a way for me to have some flexibility in terms of how I spend my time and which professional opportunities I choose to accept and which I choose to pass by.
3. Live a simpler life and do not accumulate additional debt.
Although I am not often proud of the amount of student debt I have accumulated, I am proud to say that I have paid off all my consumer debt. And I continue to take steps everyday to simplify my life so that I have more available money to go towards paying off my student loans. I want to be debt-free as soon as possible, and to do that I know I have to pay off my loans as quickly as possible. That becomes easier because I choose to drive a used car, clip coupons, save money on my grocery bill by eating lots of fruits and veggies, little processed food, and no animal products. Although the sole purpose of making these choices is NOT monetary, having extra money to pay off my student loans is a nice by-product of some of the conscious decisions I make.
I have a long way to go and am far from perfect, but I thought I'd share a few things that I have learned on my journey. There isn't a day that goes by that I regret the decisions I've made about my education. I know that a large part of my growth and development as a person is due to the educational opportunities I've had. And I don't want the amount of my student debt to diminish for me the value of my education. Ever.
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