Can You Have A Life If You Have Student Loan Debt?
I am one of many college graduates who struggle with college debt. I paid for my college education and housing for my five-year college stint with loans, both private and public – not really knowing the difference at the time and not giving much thought to how it would impact my future.
Now here I am five years out of college, trying to build a life for myself all while tackling these sometimes crippling and definitely stress-inducing student loan bills each month. I never imagined myself struggling so much to pay my bills. It may have been a little naïve on my part, considering how much “borrowing” I did. But, I like to think I am not alone in this battle and want to share a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way to maintain my sanity and happiness while still tackling my student loans.
Planning for a social life
Budget $30 a week to spend on spontaneous meet-ups like dinner and drinks with friends. I never use the entire $30 I set aside, so I put the leftover money from the week in an envelope to use for other activities that might require a little more like sporting events or a fitness class or road trips.
Planning a weekly grocery list
Set a specific limit. Don’t let yourself go over your limit, even by a dollar – this may require using your phone calculator. Plan out your meals for the week and write down what you will need to make those meals and stick to that list. Going to the supermarket without a list makes grocery shopping a free-for-all, and it adds up fast. Check out coupons and sales. I have three grocery stores in my area, and the best deals determines where I will be going for the week.
Planning for a holiday
The holidays are always reliable because they always show up at the same time every year. Holidays are also usually pretty traditional, so you know exactly what you’ll need or want to celebrate – food, presents, decorations. Start saving early, take a little out each pay period, and set it aside in a holiday fund. Shop deals. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are much more accessible now that you can shop online and snag presents for Christmas without facing the horrendous crowds. Also remember DIY options. You can find a tutorial for just about everything now – so if you see a cute decoration or even a gift you – see if you can find a way to make it yourself for less. I decorated our house with $1 items and recycled materials last year and received many compliments!
Planning a future
Sometimes I wonder how I will face big life moments like having a baby or getting married or challenges like losing a job. The key here is to save, save, save. And it sounds so easy. Save money; put it aside for when you might need it. But living paycheck-to-paycheck rarely leaves me any room to really save. For me, using a different bank for my savings account has really helped. I used to have my checking and savings in the same bank. So, when I’d go to pay bills, I’d see what little money I had sitting in savings and quickly transfer it back to my checking account. Now my savings account is at an entirely different bank, and I only access it to make a deposit every pay period.
Be sure to keep an eye on your credit score and make responsible decisions to protect it. Remember, you will want to buy a nicer car or even a house someday; bad credit will hold you back far longer than the student loan debt. Don't forget that there are forbearance and deferral opportunities available when you graduate that will buy you some time. However, that bought time is not provided to you as an excuse to continue spending beyond your means.
And don’t get discouraged. Even if you only feel comfortable putting away $5 at a time, it will add up as long as you are persistent in putting that $5 away every week or even every paycheck. This is just a start; paying off your debt will take time. When a big life moment comes, if you popped the question or you found out you’re going to have a baby or something equally as exciting, you’ll already have a foundation to build on so you can look forward to big life changes instead of having to worry about them.