I bet I can make you uncomfortable with just two little words:
You’re feeling it, aren’t you? Am I getting your heart rate up?
What would you name this feeling? Anxiety? Bitterness, resentment? Fear?
Where would you locate it in your body—in your chest? In the back of your throat?
More importantly: what action does this feeling inspire?
For example: Does it paralyze you, so you’re unable to make meaningful progress in paying back your debt? Are you gritting your teeth as you send money to your student loan provider each month?
All money is energy, and when you’re excited about something, you put energy into it, and you find the money to support it.
Unfortunately, many people find it hard to generate energy around a student loan, because by the time they’re paying it back, the college-party is staler than the light-beer smell on a frat house floor.
But imagine if I said those two magic words, “student loans,” and your association or emotion was something else. Something like pride. You felt it welling up in your chest.
You could change your story to something like,
“I’m grateful I had the opportunity to go to college, and loans made that possible for me,” or even,
“I paid off my student loans years in advance.”
To change your story, you’ll need to build new habits and associations with those two little words. To rethink and reframe them in the context of your life.
Like a lot of financial practices, it starts with facing the facts:
- How much do you actually owe, and how much interest is it accruing?
- How often do you look at this number and take ownership of it?
- Can you break it down in different ways to better understand how much you owe?
For example, I really started to understand the impact of my student loans and my financial health when an advisor told me they “earned” interest at a rate of seven dollars a day.
I don’t see my student loans out here side-hustling with me. They are “earning” that money just sitting there, doing nothing, while I work. I started to notice how little I thought of spending seven dollars each day on something I could easily cut out. Meanwhile, my student loans were still growing all the time.
I understand how easy it is to think about your student loans with a kind of bitterness toward the system that made us feel so cornered into taking them out in the first place. If you need reasons to generate energy around your student loans, think about their value in a different way:
- What would your life be like without your higher education experience? Would you be earning the same amount you earn now?
- How often do you use what you learned in college—whether on the job, or in your life in general?
- Who did you have the chance to meet during that time? What value do they add to your life?
- Can you quantify the peace of mind that you will always have a college degree to fall back on (or, if you didn’t graduate, a college education to return to)?
When faced with something overwhelming like paying back a large debt, we often have two decisions, we either face it or run from it. You might have felt this way when you borrowed your loans in the first place: either borrow the money, or don’t go to college.
So don’t get caught in the same trap: there are more than two ways forward from here:
- Get rid of the idea that you have to pay back the loans all at once or it isn’t worth paying them at all. Set small but reachable goals to make extra payments, and keep track of your numbers so you feel good when you get them down. Reach to get under that next hundred or thousand.
- Get an app that designates savings towards a specific goal, and watch the numbers climb up each day. (Pro tip—don’t just title your goal “Pay Off Student Loan,” but instead call it something that motivates you to earn and save. How about “Financial Freedom Fund”?
- Follow members of the debt-free community on social media, there are tons of them, simply follow the hashtag #debtfree or #financialfreedom to keep your end-game in mind and your motivation high!
- Make a conscious effort to avoid shaming yourself when it come to your debt and how quickly you are paying it back. Watch your thoughts and remember that your education has a greater value than the quantity of your loans.
You can’t go back and shake the shoulders of that fresh-faced college kid who was somehow allowed to borrow all that money, but you can start feeling in control today. You might feel stuck at times, but there are many paths, and whichever one you choose to take forward, know that it’s entirely your own.