5 Things I Can’t Do Because of Student Loans

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.

student loans

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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.

Save Money

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?

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  • http://theladyerrant.com/ Elle

    Ugh, I feel you. Without student loans to pay, I’d relax. I’m in this constant state of stress because of them. It’s not always bad, but it’s always present. And then I’d divide that money between a travel fun and a savings account and enjoy my life :)

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      Exactly! Like I’m always panicky about the amount of money I have to pay back, and what that huge amount of debt is doing to my credit, and how I’m ever going to be able to do this!

  • http://in-betweenlife.com Valerie

    I hate this so much and I hate that so many of us are affected by it but nothing is being done. If I didn’t have student loans to pay, I wouldn’t be worrying this much about finding a job. I’d probably settle for something part-time and stress-free so I have more time to do things I love- like write or volunteer. Honestly, if I didn’t have the huge burden of student loans and credit card bills to worry about, I’d probably be traveling right now, or at least living in a different part of the country just to get the experience.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      Exactly – I just feel like if you’re going to say that a college degree is basically a requirement for most jobs, then you should make it more reasonable to get one. Maybe not even free, because I understand an education is expensive, but there has to be something that 22 year olds aren’t starting their lives with $70,000 in debt and a job that can’t even sort of pay that.

  • http://thethingsiamcrazyfor.wordpress.com/ Camila

    I completely understand – I don’t have a huge debt because I only took up a loan for my masters abroad, but it is already stopping me, because I have to think of the fact that not only do I need money to survive, pay rent, etc. but also to repay this debt every month! I’ve just moved abroad again and my debt is such a pain in the a**.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      Exactly! It makes it difficult to do what I want to do, move where I want to move, because I have to take into account the rent-like payments I have to make every month.

  • Beks

    Without student loan debt, I wouldn’t be living with my parents, for one. I probably would travel and buy my own home. Right now, I’m just working to pay as much of it as I can, plus my car, so I can get to my job to be able to afford to pay my bills. It’s an ugly, vicious cycle.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      That’s one of the reasons I’m glad I never got my license – without a car, gas, inspections, insurance… that’s less I have to pay each month. I know what you mean though – because student loans are just on top of all the other bills that you have to pay.

  • http://www.businesslifeanddesign.com/ Jenn @ Business, Life & Design

    You’re probably not looking for advice, but one of the perks at my new company is access to a financial advisor and I learned so many things! For example, he says not to put extra down on my car, because if I invest that money, it’ll make more than the interest I’m paying on the car loan – which, depending on your interest rate, might prove true in your case as well, especially if you have a 401K with any kind of matching at your company. Another thing – first time home buyers can take a loan out of their 401K instead of from a bank, so that way there’s no interest and you’re only paying yourself back. Basically, it means you can put a lot more down on a home than you might think you can. If you don’t have a 401K and you want to save money for retirement, stick it in an IRA or something – savings funds are great for “emergency money” or a little bit of padding, but if you put that money somewhere where it can accrue more than the minimum interest, it might actually be a logical choice to save for retirement instead of paying your loans as fast as possible, as weird as that sounds.

    Student loans suck – my sister’s currently racking them up for medical school and it is scary how high that number is getting – but you might not be as limited as you think.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      I’m definitely trying to figure out how putting extra down works, like if I can chip off the principle, how much money would actually make a difference to the interest I’m paying, that sort of thing. And I didn’t know you could put money down on a house through your 401K. I’m not looking to buy a house yet obviously, but in the future that’ll be good to know! Thanks :)

      And I know – my brother is planning on law school. I can’t imagine the debt he’ll be coming out with!

  • Shybiker

    I sympathize. When I went to college, I had to borrow and it took me ten years to pay it back. At your age, that seems like forever. When the debt was finally paid, I felt so relieved — and so rich now that I could spend my money on something else.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      I’m banking on 15 – 20 years right now. 15 for the bank (because they’re completely inflexible and won’t let me take longer) and 20 for the state. I can’t wait for that day I finally pay it off – I swear I’m going to have a party!

  • http://www.elenastravelgram.com/ ElenasTravelgram

    The cost of education in US always shocked me. I mean yes, it’s a sort of a very long-term investment and if you pay 100K$ for a law school, you will easily earn 100$K+ a year…in 20 years?

    Education in my home country is free too. It’s not that good, but fine-ish to get a decent paid job (well, not as great-paid as in the US…) If you try hard and there are even chances of getting employed abroad or get enrolled to MA/PhD studies for free.

    P.S. Education in France is not free. BA costs €189,10 a year for nationals and foreigners. You just need to know French ;) MA – €261,10 a year, PhD – €396,10 year. Plus, if you want to get to private school (think law, medicine, engineering) fees start from 3.000€ a year.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      Exactly! I know that one day, it’ll be completely worth it because I know how much more a college grad makes than a high-school grad. But right now, with rent-like payments each month and a job that’s entry level so it doesn’t pay that much…

      And ooo thanks for telling me that! I read an article that said it was, and had heard it before – guess I shouldn’t believe everything I read – HA!

  • http://www.theartofwonderblog.com/ Jessica J-Marie

    I can’t even imagine the stress that you’re under. I chose not to go to college because I didn’t want to deal with the debt. And, honestly, I’m 100% satisfied with my choice. I don’t make tons of money at the job(s) I work now, but I make enough to live a good life & that’s alright with me.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      One of my best friends did the same thing, and she loves her job! I sometimes wonder if I could have done what I wanted without a degree, but I think most people in my field want to see a college degree which kind of limited me.

  • http://www.kaseyatthebat.com Kasey Decker

    I’ve actually considered going back to school full-time just so I don’t have to pay them for a couple of years.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      hahaha My mom suggested that! Getting my masters’ so I have a couple years, but I feel like then I’d just be even more in debt and not have a job.

  • http://snowintromso.com/ Van @ Snow in Tromso

    I would love to do all those things too and living in the most expensive country of Europe doesn’t exactly make things easier :D but just to clarify, sounds awesome that Germany has no study fees but I have still the same amount of debt as you do even though I did my undergrad studies there…..

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      Oo really? I just read an article that said it was free and I knew I’d heard it somewhere else before too so I didn’t realize there were other fees.. I’m sorry!

      • http://snowintromso.com/ Van @ Snow in Tromso

        It’s not free at every university, depends on the county you’re studying in and then even if they don’t have study fees at your uni, you still have to pay 200€ semester fees twice a year…. ;)

  • http://www.lifeunsweetened.com/ Rachel

    Amen, sister! I have over 50,000 left (started with around 70,000) and I’m only 25. You’re not alone :)

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      That’s what I’m at – $70,000. I can’t even imagine paying that much money off…

  • http://becomingadorrable.com/ Becca Dorr

    Ah, the one good thing about not having a college degree: no student loans! I think one thing to REALLY consider when deciding on colleges is what the student’s planned career is. For instance, someone planning on being a teacher with a teacher’s income should probably avoid an out of state tuition. But we do that thing where we follow our hearts sometimes…

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      I know! It sometimes makes me wonder if I could have done without one, but at the same time I loved college, and I feel like I learned so much there.

  • http://www.thechroniclesofchaos.com Mia Sutton

    I don’t have student loan debt, but I have other debt that is definitely keeping me from doing things that I love. We haven’t been on a family vacation in years, and it makes me sad that we can’t do those things for our boys. We also feel “trapped” in our jobs because we rely heavily on the income we make to pay back the debt we have. Sigh. I feel ya, girl.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      I’m sorry to hear that, but I definitely know where you’re coming from! Hopefully you’ll be able to get out of debt soon!

  • Apparently Ashley

    AMEN. I worked hard to get a bunch of scholarships and I still have an obscene amount of debt. I’m so jealous of the people who had mom and dad help out with their college tuition and living costs who are now living debt-free and enjoying their paychecks to the fullest. All we can do is set strict budgets and hope that a random Nigerian prince will send us an email about a million dollars he wants to give us.

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      Same! Especially because, the scholarships I was offered were at private colleges that still would have cost more than my public college did. I ended up picking the one school that didn’t offer me anything because it still cost less than everywhere else. I can’t imagine if I’d gone where I originally wanted to, especially since the bank I borrowed from gave me a target of paying off in 15 years and they fit the amount of money into that. I’d be paying at least $1,000 a month I think.
      And hahah you know, I think I have an email from a Nigerian Prince…maybe I should get back to him.

  • http://nomad-notebook.blogspot.co.uk/ Lizzy

    It’s pretty depressing, isn’t it. After graduating now with a Masters degree, the amount of debt I’ve racked up is huge even though I’ve had a part-time throughout the whole of my university education (which most of my friends didn’t). Without student loads i’d definitely pursue the career I want to (because at the moment that would be financially impossible,ironically, as in the end it would definitely mean I would have a high salary). I’m currently unable to pursue my PhD project as i’m classed as i’m an international student where the fees are double that of domestic students, so the university is unwilling to fund me. I’m hoping to get citizenship within the next year so that they are able to fund me for my project as there’s no way i’d be able to afford to every put $1 towards it. It still baffles me that some people never have to pay any of it back due to their parents paying- I can’t imagine how much their parents will have put towards their education. I do however, feel lucky in that I do not feel indebted to my parents in that way and that I was able to more or less stay pretty financially independent since I was 18.

    Lizzy from Nomad Notebook

    • http://www.sheisfierce.org/ Kiersten McMonagle

      Oh gosh, that sucks! I hope you’re able to do your PhD project soon! And I know – my parents want to help, and that will be great, but I just can’t imagine letting them pay the whole thing. I feel like, this is my debt and as much as it sucks to be paying it at least I know that I’ll have been the one to do it.

  • http://blog.lauriedefleuriot.com Laurie de Fleuriot

    I just finished paying off my student debt!!!!! Now, I went to school in Canada and worked during my studies so I only ended up with a $10k loan at the end… It still took me 4 years to pay down! Now I have a well-paying job and my husband and I own our home, but he has decided to go to university to get his undergrad. So here we are again, borrowing money from the bank.

    It breaks my heart to think of the amount of debt most American students accrue over 4 years. Our situation is not nearly that drastic, yet we both had to pick up part time jobs (in addition to my full-time income) in order to live the life we want.

    I look forward to reading about your journey – thanks for being so honest about your student loans! It’s refreshing.