So, my car heater doesn’t work. For half of the year, that’s fine, but for the other half, it’s less fine. I live in an area where it’s common for the daily high to dance around freezing in the winter, which means that I spend a lot of time shivering when I have to drive somewhere. One may ask, “Why don’t you get a new car or fix yours?” The simple answer is this: I can’t afford either, and nobody in their right mind would give me a loan thanks to the massive pile of debt I acquired in order to go to college.
I’m not complaining. Seriously. But the truth is, that Lana (my car) is busted. The ceiling is full of mold from a sun roof that leaked before I bought it. The stereo is out. The cigarette lighter is broken. And, as I may have mentioned, I have no heat. That’s just life. Lana and I, we get by, and I love her fiercely.
Real Talk: Currently the yearly cost of attending my in-state, public university (including all fees, tuition, and room/board) is, $19,698*. However, a full-time worker making minimum wage will only take home $15,080* a year. It’s easy to do the math on this. (Beyond the fact that those numbers don’t add up, working full time while also going to college full time is a thing I could not have done, mad props to those who can.) College students can’t work their way through college the way they used to, but society still expects all high school graduates to further their education. There aren’t a lot of other options. But costs have inflated faster than wages, which means that your average college student is going to be taking out a pile of student loans. Like I did.**
Which brings us to… my life with school debt. This year I came to the realization that I can’t afford to both pay back my student loans, and live in my own apartment. I can do one or the other. So, this Christmas, I’m packing up, and I’m moving. My repayment, even after getting a reduction for income, is just over $600 a month, which just also happens to be $100 less than I pay in rent, and since the company who holds my loans only looks at income, and not what you spend monthly on bills, they don’t care that I can’t afford both. The budgeting solution is pretty clear: Ditch my home to pay the piper. As a mom, my pride is struggling with this one. I won’t have a place for my kids anymore, but their dad does, and I can hang with them at his place on the weekends. This is all real complicated stuff. Big choices. Hard choices. But it’s life, and as the American motto seems to be, “God helps those who help themselves,” I’m helping myself.
Again, I’m not complaining. I’ve managed to carve out a good life for myself, but I want the older-than-me people to understand what it’s actually like for those of us from my generation, and the next. Things are different than they were for you, and it wouldn’t hurt that much for you to try and understand. We really are doing our best. We may be living with our parents, but we aren’t doing it because we’re lazy, we’re doing it because we’re drowning.
There are countless articles on the internet about how millennials are ruining the economy. We don’t buy new cars, or homes, or the expensive cereal. We save rather than spend. We upcycle, and dumpster dive, and love a good second hand store. Here’s the thing, we would also love to be normal consumers, but we can’t stomach buying things on credit, and we don’t have a lot of extra cash. The last economic crash hit us straight in the solar plexus. We watched our parents lose their homes. Our degrees suddenly weren’t as valuable as they would have been five years earlier. Everything was suddenly not as valuable. Our friends went to war. We went to work as contractors for companies who wouldn’t hire us as full time employees to avoid paying us benefits. Then we got sick, or hurt, and, as we were largely uninsured, we added medical debt to the pile of student loans. We understand not having money on a very personal level, and we’re cautious.
So, to get back to where this started, my car heater doesn’t work. And, likely, it won’t ever work again. I’ll drive my ’98 Saturn into the ground, and then I’ll buy another car for the smallest amount of cash I can so as to not completely deplete the meager emergency fund I’ve saved up. For now I’ll avoid taking my kids anywhere in my car until it’s warm again, and I’ll keep a stash of hand warmers and scarves in my front seat. I’ll survive, and it will be okay! It’s always okay. But if you hear me whinging in a moment of weakness, try not to judge me too harshly. It’s real cold outside.
*Source: https://admissions.boisestate.edu/cost/, http://poverty.ucdavis.edu/faq/what-are-annual-earnings-full-time-minimum-wage-worker, additional source material: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_381.asp
** I’ll be the first one to tell you that I DEEPLY REGRET going to a private university. I didn’t understand money or debt when I was 18 the way I do now at the age of 31, and were I to do it over, I would have gone to a public school and come out of things with 1/8 of the debt I currently have. I was never counseled by an adult as to how this debt would affect my future, and was never told that I should look into other options. Instead, I was informed that my degree would easily pay for itself when I graduated, and that it would be more valuable than if I went to a public uni, or community college. Clearly, I now know all of that was a giant load, however, hindsight and all of that…