I’m just going to come right out and say it: I am grateful for my student loans.
I know it sounds insane, but hear me out. I read this article about the unexpected upside of student loan debt, where the author refers to paying off her student loans as “dying a slow death via Navient,” and I couldn’t agree more. I’m certainly not excited when I see the amount of interest that accrues daily, or by the prospect of beginning the repayment process after I graduate next spring. No matter which way you slice it, having a negative net worth because of student loans sucks.
So am I insane for still being grateful for my student loans?
Probably. But, similarly to the writer of that article, here’s why I am:
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I made the choice to pursue a higher education and with that came a hefty price tag. I knew that going into this, but I did it anyways because I figured it would be a *somewhat* short-term investment that would lead to long-term gain in the form of a higher salary over the course of my lifetime. But this was my very first personal experience with student loans, and being hit with such a massive amount of money that I have no choice but to repay was a wake-up call for me. I quickly realized if I didn’t get my spending habits in check, I’d be in debt for an unnecessarily long amount of time, and I don’t want that.
I’m grateful for my student loans for being that wake-up call reminding me that the time to become responsible with my finances is NOW.
So the way I see it I have a few different options when it comes to repaying my student loans:
1. Fake my own death.
2. Play by the rules of public service student loan forgiveness and pay the minimum on my loans for 10 years (or 120 on-time consecutive payments) until hopefully the government keeps up their end of the deal and forgives my remaining loan balance.
3. Hustle like hell now before repayment truly begins, bring in side income, build a savings, network like crazy to build connections, and set myself up for a good post-graduate job so I can try to pay off my loans ASAP after graduation, hopefully long before 2027.
I don’t know about you guys, but I prefer option number 3. The thought of a debt cloud hanging over my head for 10 years makes me nauseous. Option number 2 is doable, and I might still enroll in a public service loan forgiveness program if I get a job at a nonprofit hospital, but that still doesn’t mean I want to leave my debt where it is for that long in the hopes that the government will swoop in and take care of it. And well, option number 1… we won’t go down that road less traveled by.
So how does one put option number 3 into action right now, when they’re still a student?
That answer is honestly going to look different for everyone.
I get asked sometimes why I work so much, or why I “don’t go out.” Well, the truth is, I work so much because I do not want my only source of income to be my financial aid refund. That money is there to cushion the blow of the out-of-pocket costs of textbooks, groceries, and housing while I’m in graduate school, not fund my clothing shopping addiction or my weekly social outings. For those purposes, I prefer to spend my own money.
Tons of people work throughout their studies for guilt-free disposable income; as a pharmacy technician, I “sling pills to pay the bills.” I track my spending with Mint and use their budgeting tools to keep my spending in check. I’m learning to save and live within my means because I also pay myself first by direct depositing a piece of every paycheck into my savings first before any money hits my checking account, and I use the Digit app to further automate my savings. And in my free time, for additional side income, I also mystery shop, take surveys, and test websites. While school and work keep me busy, I’ve found that I can pretty easily work these extra things into my schedule on my own time, if and whenever I feel like it, without expending too much extra time or energy.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve found is that I sometimes find my priorities jumbled, like when I skip class to take an extra shift at work or to get ahead on writing blog posts or even do a couple side hustles. But isn’t the whole point of investing your time and money into going to more school to actually go to school?
It’s difficult sometimes to see it when the time investment into my studies won’t pay off financially as quickly or as directly as the time investment into my side hustles does. But it is important that I be present in my classes so that when I graduate and Navient comes knocking that I can honestly say that I feel prepared for the jobs I’m applying for because I learned enough in graduate school to warrant the price tag.
The point, fellow graduate student, is this: hang in there.
We could’ve settled for our Bachelor’s degree, but we didn’t, because we knew the grass really is greener on the other side. Many of the jobs we want at the very least prefer a Master’s degree if they don’t already require it. Continue to hold yourself to a standard as high as you did when you first enrolled in graduate school and you’ll get those jobs and be right on track to repay those loans ASAP.
- Take the time now, no matter where you are in your student loan accrual journey, to learn how to be more responsible with your money.
2. Figure out which repayment options you prefer.
3. Pretty much regardless of which option you choose, work like hell and delay gratification to get out of debt ASAP.