Five years ago when I graduated from college and started thinking about the future, I noticed that my friends seemed to fall into one of three camps:
1. Those who felt empowered by their lack of student debt to do anything they wanted.
2. Those who felt trapped by their student debt to get a job, any job, as quickly as possible.
3. Those who felt empowered to do anything they wanted — DESPITE their student debt.
Almost all my friends fit into one of these three categories. Today I’ll highlight true, real-life examples of each.
One friend (we’ll call her “Carol”) wanted to explore the world’s highest peaks. She loved winter sports: snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, and she wanted to see something different than the mountains in our collegiate backyard (we all lived in Colorado). Her father paid for her education, so she graduated with zero debt.
Another (we’ll call her “Kate”) also loved the outdoors. Rock-climbing, rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing — she was enamored with it all. But Kate came from a family that couldn’t or wouldn’t give her any money. She paid for rent and groceries through school working two jobs, but she borrowed tens of thousands to pay for tuition and books. She also owed $300 monthly payments on her Toyota pickup truck. She held zero interest in finance, but majored in accounting because she thought she could at least get a well-paying job in that field.
A third (we’ll call her “Sara”) loved learning languages and foreign cultures; she held several thousand in student loans but longed to see the world.
So what happened to these three?
Carol finished a double major with honors and had a wide array of career options open. Yet she felt no need to panic about money-making; all she needed to earn was her basic cost-of-living. But she did feel a certain pressure to do something “career-oriented,” something “grown-up” and “professional.” Despite not having any debt, she questioned the “respectability” of pursuing her dream of skiing the world’s mountains. She ultimately decided to follow the conventional track and apply for career-building jobs within her field.
Kate felt panicked about her level of student debt and car loans. The monthly payments added up to $500 between the two loans; in addition, she’d need another $1,000 per month, at least, to pay rent, utilities, groceries and other basic costs. After graduation, she took a job she hated just to pay the bills.
Sara had more loans than Kate did, and felt the pressures of impending “adulthood” as much as Carol did. But Sara kept a cool head. She knew she was in her twenties and without kids — and recognized this as the most free point of her life. Owing an extra few hundred bucks per month wouldn’t change that fact. So she started checking into fun, part-time jobs in Europe, where the Euro was outpacing the dollar. She discovered mutual friends of ours were earning the U.S. equivalent of $20 per hour tutoring in Madrid, and thought that would be a great way to experience her dream of living overseas while also paying off her loans.
She ended up not going that route, though. She ultimately decided to enter the Peace Corps, where she volunteers with low-income children in Romania. Her student loans are waived while she serves in the Corps, and at the end of her two-year term, she’ll receive a $6,000 lump-sum which she can use to resettle back in the U.S.
So who did it “best”?
The point here isn’t to encourage you to run off to Romania — the point is simply to acknowledge that everyone has a different dream, and a different set of circumstances, and with some creativity, everyone can make those dreams work.
Carol had no debt, yet she ultimately succumbed to the pressures society inflicted on her. She was free, and yet she acted as though she was burdened.
Kate had debt, and let it keep her down.
Sara had both debt and pressures, yet was confident in herself and was determined to find a way to do exactly what she dreamed of doing.
Who are the Carol’s, Kate’s and Sara’s in your life? How have they — and how have you — managed the pressure, both real and imagined, of debt, family, society, and a sense of duty?
This is a Guest Post from Paula Pant, the blogger at AffordAnything.org, the blog that believes “Yes, you CAN afford it!”