I’ve mentioned before that I’m practically drowning in student loan debt, and am not at all happy about it. It’s the kind of thing nobody can really prepare you for, no matter how many Time Magazine articles or school assembly leaders tell you about it. Until you receive that first loan statement in the mail telling you that even if you spent every single dime you made on paying your student loans, you still wouldn’t be debt-free for four or five years, you can’t really understand how crushing a debt that large can be.
It’s not as though nobody tried to prepare me. The news, recent college graduates, my high-school counselor…they all talked about how much money college costs, and that paying for college entirely through student loans would leave me buried in debt until I was old enough to be sending my own kids off to college. But when you’re faced with a choice between staying at your dead-end job in the local pharmacy or signing your future potential income away for a college degree, you start to pack your bags and tell everyone that you know what it means to be over $50,000 in debt from the day you’re handed your diploma (even if the truth is, you have absolutely no idea what it’s like to make less than $30,000 a year post-taxes and owe nearly $100,000 grand to the bank and the state).
The fact though, is that for the next 15 to 20 years, I’ll have to weigh every important monetary decision – whether to move, where to buy a home, if I should get married, what job to accept – against how much money I still owe to the bank. That until I’m 43-years-old, I’ll be hardly able to save money because I’ll have to weigh the benefits of a savings account against the benefits of putting that extra money towards the interest I owe to a loan company that out-and-out refuses to take my income into consideration when calculating my monthly bill – because, in their words – “we don’t care how much money you make.”
The fact is that even though countries like Brazil, France, and Germany all offer free college educations to citizens there, America still charges more for an education at a state school than some people will make in a year (the national average is just under $40,000 for a four-year degree at a public college, and over $100,000 at a private university, making the overall average cost of a four-year education $70,000). And that doesn’t factor in students who will have to attend grad school, obtain their PhD, or work as an unpaid intern for years after they receive their diploma because a four-year degree alone can’t guarantee them a job.
So, as I watch all the things I could’ve done wash down the drain as I write another check to the loan company, here are five things I’d rather be doing with $70,000.
Travel the World
It sounds pretty cliche to sound that the first thing I’d do is go to Europe, but after one week in Ireland a couple years ago, I can say with absolute certainty that I would if I could. For all I learned in four years of college, I bet there’s so much more I could learn if I spent a year travelling, meeting people and hearing about their cultures, speaking their languages, and just exploring the world all around me.
Buy a Home
Right now, that’s years down the line. I’m only 23, single, and still working my first job completely unsure of where I’d like to spend the rest of my life living. But five or ten years from now, I’m going to have a better idea of where I’d like to live, and maybe even who I’d like to live with. With $70,000, I could move across the country and buy a home there.
Donate to Charity
Where I’m at in life right now, donating to charity is nowhere in my list of options. The $5 I donated to a firm-wide charity fund at work the other day is about as much as I can afford. I grew up with parents who each donated regularly to a couple of different charities, and that’s something I’d like to do myself now that I’m old enough.
Get Back on a Horse
From elementary through early high-school I loved horseback riding. Once a week, my mom or dad would drive me to a local stable where I’d take lessons in English riding. I participated in student-only horse-shows at my stable, went to summer camp with my best friend who also rode, and for a while I even convinced myself that I’d work with horses one day. In the last couple years of high-school, I started having problems with my hip that one doctor attributed to horseback riding. I learned later that the sport had nothing to do with it and I could go back to riding, but by then I was leaving for college and couldn’t afford the monthly dues to be a part of my university’s riding team. If I had the money, I’d find a local stable and start riding again tomorrow.
It sounds pretty ridiculous coming from a 23-year-old, but I’m at a point where I’m starting to realize how important it is to save money while you’re young. Right now, I barely have a savings account and I’m about to empty it out to pay student loans, but if I had the money I’d start putting part of every paycheck into a savings account so that I don’t have to wait until I’m 80 to retire.
So, now I want to know – what would you do without student loans to pay?