“Don’t be afraid to go into debt. Don’t be afraid to go deep into debt.”
That’s possibly the worst advice I’ve ever received, from my undergraduate college music professor.
I am an Xennial and went to college in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Tuition was really starting to go up. I remember being 17, in my Midwestern high school cafeteria during a getting-ready-for-college meeting, hearing a single sheet of paper slide across the table to me.
It was the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. There wasn’t much to it and I filled it out quickly. It really was nothing compared to the college application process itself. But I did understand it was a loan that would need to be repaid and thankfully I listened to the voice inside that told me to go to a cheap college.
I don’t know exactly how much I incurred in student loans by the time I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, but it was probably about $20,000. When I went on to graduate school at Florida State University, that first year I barely scraped by on savings from my summer job and the pittance I got as a graduate assistant.
My assistantship paid for my classes, but I still needed to pay for room and board, and I remember at one point I only had 67 cents in my bank account.
Entering my second year of grad school, I applied for student loans again, just to afford rent and food. I received $10,000 and it felt nice not to worry. But as I was finishing my master’s degree I realized if I was going to continue to earn my PhD, I’d need to keep getting those loans in order to live.
The jobs as a PhD in my field just didn’t seem like they would pay enough to justify going even deeper into debt, so I cut my losses, did not go on to get a doctorate, got whatever jobs I could and started making the $350 monthly payments on my $3,000 worth of student loans.
I lived a rather spartan lifestyle for years, and eventually a couple years after my husband and I got married, still living quite frugally, we were able to pay off my student debt.
Thankfully, he didn’t have any loans because he received a Bright Futures Scholarship.
So, I made some good decisions there and some bad ones. It was too easy to get those loans and my generation got a lot of bad advice, many of us being snookered by banks offering loan consolidations and whatnot.
It doesn’t bother me at all that millions of people are getting their loans forgiven when I lived in a basement and ate boxed pasta meals to pay down my loans.
I don’t think people looking to become educated members of society should be saddled with debt their whole lives because of a bad financial decision they made when they were 18.
I mean look at that haircut.
Denise Howard is a former Hoosier, now longtime Tallahassee resident, and proud mom of three.
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