The Scourge of Debt

I can hear the man as he steps up to the mic, tapping it a few times to collect the attention of his audience. We are all ears.

“Ms. Caitlin Heller, your college loans now total over $60,000.”

He pauses and looks at me, for effect.

“That’s SIXTY THOUSAND DOLLARS!”

He repeats this last part with evil, sanctimonious delight. I am pretty sure my heart is palpitating. I am, after all, my own whipping boy. And a damn good one, at that.

Unfortunately, my ability to take the whip won’t pay the bills.

How I got here is no different from anyone else. I signed my own passage to this point, happily deluded into thinking that my four years at NYU would automatically result in a six-figure salary and I would drift into early retirement, living out my twilit days on the porch of my three-story home overlooking the ocean somewhere in the South Pacific.

The emphasis in that story should be on the word, “delusion.”

Which isn’t to say this utopia doesn’t exist somewhere in my future. It just doesn’t exist NOW. And unfortunately, NOW is when my creditors would like to be paid.

And so I join the rank and file of just about every other American out there on this planet. I’m no different from anyone else. Saying that I live in debt is a redundant statement. We all do. Might as well accept it and move on.

Trouble is, I’ve glimpsed that utopian dream. I want that house on the beach. I want my twilight, my garden, a glass of wine on my porch, ocean spray tickling my nose. And I’m not going to get it by living in debt.

I’ve got no sugar daddy. No rich relative to come to my rescue. No family inheritance on the horizon. And I don’t play the lotto. So I guess that leaves me and me alone to stop cracking the whip and start rolling up my sleeves for some good, old-fashioned hard work.

First things first. Stop accumulating debt. I’ve successfully been doing that with my credit card, and have reduced that debt by nearly 60% since January of this year. I have no plans to take out another student loan while I get my teaching degree. (I have no idea how I will make tuition payments, but that is a whole other issue, filed under, “GET A JOB.”) The first rule of treating a deep wound is, STOP THE BLEEDING. And so I have.

The next part is a bit fuzzy. My tendency is to want to pay off all my debts NOW. Screw eating. I don’t need food. I need to be debt-free. Shoes are overrated. So what if my feet get wet and I catch pneumonia? THERE ARE DEBTS TO BE PAID.

I probably need to change that thinking a bit.

I’ll probably have to have some strict record of what I am actually spending my money on, figure out the difference between what I need and what I want, and then set up a budget for myself accordingly. I should probably lay out a plan to pay off my debt, and it should probably fit in with my budget somehow, meaning I don’t forsake something like electricity in my home for something like that bottle of vodka that I drank in one sitting during my senior year of college.

It doesn’t seem fair, this improving my life bit. I mean. I’m eating healthy, working out, and losing weight. I sleep a full eight hours every night. I’m following my dreams and going back to school so I can have a career I care about. I’m taking control of my finances. All so that when I’m old, I can put my feet up and enjoy the view with my husband, golden retriever, and 2.4 children. But what about the chaos I’m facing NOW? All of these things I’m doing go against the very grain of American existence and consumerist culture. What am I REALLY going up against, here?

But that is a post for another whipping boy. Not me. I’m just going to have to find a way to keep on trucking. And damn it, I will survive.*

(*With thanks to Jerry Garcia and Gloria Gaynor for the inspirational words of advice.)

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