I've eaten so much humble pie this year that I'm worried about imaginary cavities — and heaven knows I can't afford to even think about going to a dentist. In fact, by the time this is published, I will barely be able to afford a new toothbrush. This is my new reality. This is life with student loans.
Back in January, the first of my student loan payments came due, and the months since then have brought to light some of the more terrifying realities of adulthood. My budgeting software tells me I have a net worth of -$90,000. I can't even wrap my mind around what $9,000 looks like, much less 10 times that amount, much less having borrowed that much money with a few clicks on a university or government website.
How is this my life?
With bigger and scarier loan payments to be made every week, I often wake up feeling like I've hit rock bottom. But then I look at my budget and realize I could probably do without renewing that subscription to the magazine I never find time to read. Another payment comes due, there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth, and I cut out my budget for online movies and television shows. The next week, the monthly coffee dates get cancelled.
This cycle has repeated itself dozens of times, and so far, I've always found room in the budget to cut out "necessities" that probably should have been viewed as "luxuries" all along. Sure, it's embarrassing to call to cancel a string of hair appointments arranged by Past Rachel, she of the disposable income and the fabulous fringe, but the first few bites of humble pie aren't that terrible. In fact, it's nice to get a fresh perspective on one's spending habits and priorities.
But then I found myself needing to turn down plans with friends, decline invitations to weddings and other important events that warranted travel and gifts, and miss opportunities to spend time with family because I couldn't afford taking the time off of work. That's when I decided I didn't like humble pie anymore. (I also decided it really should be renamed to something icky like humble brussel sprouts or humble liver paté or humble stale donut.)
The lowest moment, the moment when I started allowing myself to get lost in melodramatic thoughts such as, "I cannot go on like this," was when I realized I couldn't buy a birthday gift for my dad. Looking up "free gift ideas for dad" on the Internet was not fun at all. Putting a festive bow on a print-out of the free days at the local museum was mortifying. Realizing I was disappointing myself with regard to one of my real priorities — family — was the worst part of the pie.
So I'm declaring myself at rock bottom, even if I'm not really there. I know I'm blessed to have a dad and a family and friends, and I know my health and the roof over my head and three meals a day shouldn't be taken for granted either. But one of the ways I enjoy showing affection for my loved ones is through financial generosity, and if there are things I can change that would allow me that privilege again — getting a second job, being smarter with coupons, selling my possessions, etc. — then, by golly, I will do them.
The Sweet Spot will highlight some of the sweet moments I'm learning to cherish — now that I have this new perspective — as well as my pursuit of my own financial "sweet spot," a place where I can comfortably cover my own needs and spoil my friends and family and maybe even splurge on a gourmet cupcake once in a while.
Now it's time to pull myself up by the bootstraps before these student loans rob me of my coins and my character (and my love of pie).