Living the Dream While Paying the Cost
How to Still Live While Carrying the College Cost
The Cost of Chasing Our Dreams
Many come out of high school with goals for the future: Career aspirations, personal dreams, etc., and see the next logical step for those as college. For some people, they are first generation and aspire to go where their family hadn't been before; for others, like yours truly, were guided towards college as the chance for better jobs, more opportunities and the experience of a lifetime. I personally came from a woman who took the first-generation college description to the extreme: My mom earned six degrees, including her PhD., by the age of 45—talk about setting a high standard for the rest of us.
But the reality of the cost to take on that dream, new opportunities, and experiences is a steep one for many. According to Student Debt Relief (yes, this is a real website), a four year Bachelor's Degree at an out-of-state private college will average roughly $34,740 a year—BEFORE room and board, books, food, and the other daily things that we expect as young adults. Factor those in, and you're now looking at $46,950 per year. And nowadays, it seems like more and more jobs are requiring a Bachelor's Degree if you want a decent paying job.
Personally, I went a step further than even that: I did what some people do and bit the bullet to go back to school for their graduate degree right away rather than waiting. While I still standby the fact this was a good decision for my career and personal life, I will say it SUCKS for student loan payments now that I am graduated with my MBA. Even being lucky enough to gain a few athletic scholarships for undergrad AND finish a three year degree in three packed-full, back-to-back semesters, I still graduated my MBA with $103,231.75 in principle debt. For those lucky enough to have not dealt with debt or for those who need reminders, that is the amount you owe prior to any interest that will accrue while you are in school (for unsubsidized loans). To put it into perspective: I am just over two years out from my MBA graduation, paid off my loans monthly while I was in undergrad, and graduate class from the 30-hour job I was working, and I currently pay roughly $1,000 a month to my loans—if I'm paying the minimum payment—as much monthly as my husband pays for our mortgage, gas, and electric.
Living with Choices and Still Living Your Life
Now, I didn't mean to get all depressing but this is a fact that many people, young and old, deal with when they make the decision to go to school and receive a degree. I am here to say that there are ways to still live and enjoy life while you are paying off your debt because sometimes to pain of the debt is worth the long term payout of a career. I love my job and I am one of the lucky few that is working in the field I actually got my degree in and that pays for the work that I put in to get my degrees. I also married an amazing man who made the less normal choice of going through the trades program to become a journeyman electrician rather than gain a diploma—and he loves his job (and it doesn't that he's super helpful around the house so we don't have to hire out contracting work :D). We have a house, two dogs, and three cars, and all the bills that come along with them—and we still have been able to travel to the Bahamas, Italy, Ireland, the eastern coast of the USA, and have the wedding of our dreams on our budget. I'm sharing this to provide hope and a few tips on how to make the money you do have last a longer way and enjoy your life as you pay off the degree that got you there.
Tip #1: Do not rule out a trade as a career.
I had to throw this out there for those reading this and are still deciding their next steps (and for my husband). This is to remind you that college is not the right step for everyone. The trades in our country are booming and they need workers to fill the roles and get the jobs done. For those who are good with numbers, good with their hands, aren't great with studies, or just don't want a desk job, take a look at an apprenticeship or trade. It is a great career option for those who are passionate about it and are willing to put the work in!
Tip #2: Pay early, pay often, and most important, pay on time!
For those of us that still make that choice to continue our education that is financed by assisting loans, we have to adjust our budgets and lives around paying off those loans. What many people forget is that certain types of loans will still be gaining interest while you are going to school, even while you aren't required to pay on them. What I did—and recommend to anyone who can—is pay early. Make a small dent on the interest and principles for your loans by putting a small amount towards it each month; even if it is only $25, it makes a difference. Also getting in the habit while in school of making loan payments sets up good habits for life after deferment when monthly payments aren't an option anymore. Once you hit that phase, the most important thing to make sure you do is to pay on time! Why? Because late fees add up, interest rates suck, and your credit scores can affect your future risk when you go to apply for a credit card, mortgage, or other loans. No matter if you have to move to an income-driven payment model where they modify your payments towards your income level, or pay less and create a payment plan with the loan company: You have to pay something, and be proactive about it! Almost every loan I've seen allows for auto-payments (some even offer discounts for setting this up), as well as every loan is allowed to be paid on early. This leads to my last payment point: Pay often. If seeing that several hundred dollars pulled from your account once a month is killing you and your lifestyle, set up smaller payments throughout the month that will still allow you to be successful and pay your loans without completely draining your bank account until your next payday. Also, if you make extra money randomly, feel free to overpay and make extra payments on your loans. This allows you to cutoff that interest before it grows more and potentially decrease your principle!
Tip #3: Be creative about paying off your loans.
Everyone who has loans or debt of any kind will tell you it sucks because there is always the choice between paying off more of your loan or doing something fun and indulgent with leftover money. There are ways to do both! One of the recommendations I have is to open a cash-back credit card. Some loan services will allow you to pay your loans with a credit card; if so, make your loan payment on your card and then pay the credit card off with the funds you would have used to pay your loans. This does a few things for you: It allows you to build your credit history for your future; it allows you to earn cash-back on a payment that you were going to make anyways; and it allows you to make your monthly payment on your credit card while also paying off your monthly loan statement at the same time. (This may even allow you to keep a few dollars extra in your bank account!) These cash-back cards allow you to keep a few of the dollars that you are paying out and can allow you to almost save in a way—when you earn enough points, you can obtain gift cards, travel miles, or even extra cash by simply making payments you would have been making anyways. Warning: do not allow your credit card debt to get out of control if you go this route; the goal is to build your credit trust rather than double your debt. Make sure this is a credit card with no annual fee, auto-withdraw payments, and a local office that you can address issues with ASAP.
Another option is doing something you love or are good at on the side to assist with providing a secondary income that can completely be used to pay down on your loans!
Tip #4: Make sure you are still living your life (and within your means).
It is very easy for people to over- and under-indulge themselves while living their life, especially when we are younger. FOMO is real and social media is making it even more obvious to people about just how much they aren't doing that everyone else is. What people don't show in their Instagram shots and Facebook posts is how they pay for those experiences. The thing that is making us feel like we aren't doing enough is also the portal to doing more. We are living in the age of the Internet: Groupon lets us do Tough Mudders, concert tickets, and personalized gifts for 50 percent off; Amazon has two-day shipping for Prime members, Daily Deals that discounts some of their most popular products; Retail-Me-Not provides coupons on demand with the click of a button; Air BnB allows us to rent out our own or visit someone else's house for a quarter of the price for a hotel room on trips where we are out and about 90 percent of the time. The list of deals and discounts are endless but not used nearly as much as they could be. Don't be afraid to utilize these places to live a great life at a discounted rate; paying full price is ridiculously overrated in today's world while you are also making monthly loan payments. Also don't forget the simple things are always an option: Exploring your hometown is a fun day, cheap wine still tastes good, cooking dinner together is a great date night, parks are a kid's creative playground, and road trips still count as an adventure.
All this to say: Don't forget to pay your loans, but don't forget to live your life while you do so.