When I was a college student on a limited income, I learned quickly how to live on a tight budget. It involved finding free activities on the weekends, lots of ramen, and a strict policy on not buying new clothes more than a few times a year.
Little did I know that would be great practice for the post-graduate hustle, when student loans would take up a significant chunk of my monthly budget.
Learning to live on a budget is one of the things that’s almost a guaranteed take-away from having to manage debt. But there are two more surprising things I learned from the experience.
I learned how to talk about money
Talking about money is still considered a faux pas in many circles. It can make a lot of people uncomfortable because there is so much we, as a culture, associate with money—self-worth, success, and happiness, for instance.
I haven’t always been comfortable talking about money, either. Years ago, as a recent graduate who was burdened by the weight of student loan debt, I felt a lot of shame about not being able to tackle my finances. When I wasn’t able to make my monthly payment, I never even wanted to call the loan company to get back on track.
Talking about it made it real, and I realized that’s what I needed to get myself out of that mess.
I began talking to other people about it, too—about how much I was earning, how much I was saving and how much was going into paying off the debt I had racked up. This led to hundreds of conversations with friends and acquaintances who were in similar positions.
As I got closer to being debt-free, I began to share my financial milestones.
Now, I’m a firm believer that talking about money can make you smarter about money. Not just about how to manage savings or budget but more so about how to use the knowledge we learn from these conversations to be confident about our financial goals—whether it’s a raise or a vacation.
I learned that being debt-free is incredibly important to me
It became easier to stay motivated on paying down my debt once I set a deadline for myself and started tracking my progress. Paying off my student loans became just one of my financial goals.
I had a lot of plans for a debt-free me. Once I became debt-free, I would be able to start putting my extra money into a savings account that would help me quit my job and live out of the country for a bit. (At that point, I was working a corporate job that I didn’t love.)
Paying off my loans would give the financial freedom to pursue a life I wanted—one that involved freelance writing and travel.
Six months after paying off my student loan debt, I quit my job, moved to Mexico, and became a full-time freelance writer, just like I planned.
These days, I’m back in Texas and living a hard but fulfilling life as a freelancer.
Loans were a symbol of being tied down to a job I didn’t love, and being debt-free was a symbol of pursuing what I wanted to do. But my debt was a useful tool in helping me understand the life I wanted to live.