I have an embarrassing confession to make: my student loans are out of control. I’m talking ASTRONOMICAL. Like, if I had to start paying them back today, the payment would be higher than my rent. (Yes, I know there are income-based repayment options. Yes, I will take full advantage of those when I’m no longer a full time grad student.) I’m ashamed of this fact mostly because I willfully, defiantly accepted loans above my actual financial need over the last 8 years because I bought into the idea that “student loan debt is good debt” when the truth is, student loan debt is evil, insidious, and overwhelming. The numbers are ugly. And if I could go back in time and kick Past Me’s ass, I would do so. I would tell that girl to go get a temp job or a serving job and buy some red bull. And I would make her read this article from The Professor Is In, which explains in detail why her beliefs about student loans were flawed. In short, Dr. Karen Kelsky says you should only go to grad school if:
- You do not have substantial debt from your undergraduate degree, that is to say, debt above $15,000-$20,000.
- You are offered a full funding package that includes tuition waiver, all fees, and a stipend.
- You take out absolutely no new debt to undertake the degree. This means that you must either be prepared to live on a stipend of approximately $15,000-$20,000 a year, have a partner/spouse/family member who can augment that stipend, or work a second job to augment the stipend yourself.
At the beginning of my graduate school experience, the first bullet applied to me, but the second two didn’t. Ooops.
Anyway, you get the picture. I made some bad financial decisions, and I’m beginning to pay for them now. I’ll be literally paying for them in ten months, but at the moment, I’m paying by doing what I should have done all along: living within my means.
For the first time since 1999, I didn’t fill out a FAFSA. I’ve gone cold turkey on financial aid.
I haven’t sat down yet to crunch the numbers, but I’m fairly certain that, between my stipend and my awesome boyfriend paying half the rent and utilities, I’ll get by in relative comfort. I don’t own a car, and transportation for the semester will cost me around $200 (I pay $140 for a transit pass at the beginning of each semester; the rest will be occasional taxi or metra rides). I live rather simply, with my biggest “optional” expense being my cell phone. I put “optional” in quotes because, well, there might be cheaper ways to get cell service, but I’d have to pay to terminate my contract. And maybe I could live without my smartphone and data plan, but that’s one luxury I’m holding on to until I’m absolutely destitute. Having the internet in my pocket is the best thing that’s ever happened to me (okay, maybe not the very best, but close).
The problem is food. Another embarrassing confession: I’m an emotional eater. It’s tough to stick to a food budget when you self medicate with sour candy and crab rangoon. Now, I know that following my food budget will be good for me in the long run. I’ll probably lose a few pounds (I call it the poverty diet (though I’m not actually living in poverty, I don’t think)) and lower my cholesterol in the process of relearning to live within my means, but it’s going to be tough. I texted Benny this morning and said, “I’m at Starbucks. Do I have to take this out of my $20 budget?” (Duh, of course I do. But since there’s no milk in the apartment, what am I supposed to do? (Answer: walk to the store for milk instead of walking to Starbucks for a Venti Iced Coffee with milk.) Plus, most of my social life is getting lunch/coffee/a drink/dinner with friends. And that doesn’t fit into $20 a week, now, does it? Yep, I’ll get by. I’ve been poor before. I know how to say no, or how to get by on $2 a day for lunch in the cafeteria (some days you forget to pack your lunch, even when you’re broke), and I know lots of filling, healthy recipes that cost a couple bucks with plenty of leftovers (thanks to growing up on a fixed income with parents who were born during the depression). Anyway, I’m hungry. And it’s time to go to the grocery store to see what I can round up with the $16 left in this week’s food budget.