Let’s Talk About Living with Student Loans
I have more student loan debt than I care to admit. But it was my decision, and I own it.
There’s been a lot of chatter in the news lately about student loan debt. With the total U.S. student loan debt reaching $1.75 million (mine included), the calls to forgive student loan debt have reached a crescendo—as if, if we scream it loud enough, the debt will just disappear into the ether. Removing the prospect of a presidential magic wand making it go away, the real question now is this: how do you save for the future, pay down your debt, and live fully?
I often read news articles detailing the hardship new graduates face when they struggle to pay down their loans and subsidize their lifestyles. I see a lot of finger-pointing toward a rigged system, corporations underpaying, or the predatory nature of lending. This isn’t to dismiss legitimate concerns of these institutions, but too often, I see a lack of personal agency. Behind some news articles, you find the subject of the article owns a Mercedes or rents an apartment that their social status dictates they should have but not the one their wallet demands. Take a step back.
Can you answer “yes” to these questions?
- I know exactly how much money I’ll have at the end of the month.
- I do not live paycheck to paycheck.
- I can pay my bills and still save for wish list items.
If you answered “no” to any of those questions, it’s time to look at your current lifestyle. There’s an emotional component to finance that we often overlook. For many of us, our relationship with money becomes a reflection of who we are as a person. No one proudly admits they spend $150 on brunch a month. And no one boasts about their tendency to avoid their bank accounts out of fear of what the balance will be. After college, I had a coming-to-Jesus moment when I decided that to live my life fully, I needed to be the one who dictated where each and every dollar went. Enter zero-based budgeting.
If you’re not familiar with it, zero-based budgeting requires you to assign each and every dollar of your paycheck to a job. By assigning each dollar, it exposes your spending habits and tallies all the dollars and cents that have a sneaking tendency to add up well beyond your expectation. You must decide, “Do I need to budget $100 on Uber rides? I’d rather apply it to something else more important.” There is a mental calculation and trade off that must occur for you to affirm how your money is spent. There are several apps you can find to assist with this, such as You Need a Budget (YNAB) and EveryDollar. Having done this myself for a while now, I have found significant savings that I use to apply toward next month’s bills, thus providing me a safe buffer should I run into emergency expenses. I cook meals at home, and now suddenly I have $150 to allocate how I want (hello, Hawaii fund!).
Here’s the point: budgeting every dollar sets you free. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s not. I’ve been able to tell every dollar what to do. I can set goals for myself, make trade-offs, and avoid incurring more debt. That constant fear of not knowing if I’ll make it to the next paycheck has vanished. It’s also worth noting that while it may feel difficult at first to adjust, your income is likely to increase as you pay down your loans. Luckily, your spending habits will stick even as you increase your wealth.
How do you save for the future, pay your debt, and live fully? You take control of your financial situation—warts and all.
Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.