some thoughts on debt

30 Mar

Like many people, I’ve gotten a little bit into the whole Pinterest thing. I don’t spend long periods of time pinning and repinning the entire internet, but it’s fun to poke around on it from time to time.

I recently saw a pin whose thumbnail declared in bright yellow letters, “How we got out of over $147,000 in debt.” As someone with three undergraduate student loans from an out-of-state university AND a loan from my grad school, this appealed to me. My debt is nowhere close to $147,000, thankfully, but what 20-something with any kind of debt doesn’t want a little advice on paying it off? And so I read the article. And then I got annoyed.

This isn’t the only article I’ve come across that has made the same kinds of claims, so I’m not going to link directly to it. But the basic ideas it promotes are these: You’re in charge of your debt! You have to make the choice not to be in debt anymore! Just don’t see borrowing money as an option anymore! Just send in money every chance you get!

The problem with this is that this particular article (and others like it) is clearly dealing with a couple who have pretty well-paying jobs. The time frame in which they paid off their debt is unclear (three years? five years? they don’t actually say), but they don’t seem to realize that $147,000 is kind of a lot of money unless, of course, you’re making a lot of money. I, for one, don’t make that kind of money, and I probably never will in my chosen profession, even when I’m teaching full time instead of just subbing. (I’m not complaining, truly; teaching is worth it. I’m just stating facts.)

Right now, getting out of debt isn’t a mental thing for me. I can’t just make a choice not to be in debt anymore, because I have to pay it off first. I pay more than the minimum, but it’s not like I can just eradicate it in a year’s time. Not that I don’t want to. And when I do get that real teaching job, I fully plan to live exactly the way I live now for a year or two and use the considerable amount of extra money I’ll be earning to pay off those loans as quickly as possible. I would much rather have the thousands of dollars that I pay in principal and interest each year to go towards a house or something else a little more tangible. I mean. Do these people who write these articles think that others actually enjoy being in debt?

I think I find it insulting when people claim it’s a mental battle and we just have to decide to put an end to it because I am doing the best I can. My car which I’ve only had for two years is fifteen years old, and I chose to go that route so that I wouldn’t have more debt. I use a credit card for its cash-back benefits, but I pay the balance in its entirety every month. I can’t really remember the last time I bought clothes that weren’t from a thrift store or the sale rack at Target. Nathan and I rarely go out to eat (it’s fortunate that we both know how to cook delicious, restaurant-quality food at home). Even when I was working at a job that gave me an hour-long lunch break every day, I packed my lunch EVERY DAY while I watched my coworkers wander in with Chipotle or Qdoba or other things I find delicious.

The point is that it’s not in my nature to spend unnecessary amounts of money. Most of my student loan debt was a result of my being 18 and wanting to get out of Louisiana before I really understood the weight of student loans, but there’s no sense dwelling on that. My college years were great and I still can’t picture me being a college student back home. But no one can tell the 27-year-old me that I’m not frugal enough or that I just need to decide to get out of debt. If you’re going to write an article about such things, at least include useful information, like how it’s best to pay off the loan with the highest interest rate first regardless of any of the balances.

Any other actually helpful advice on paying off debt?

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