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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7 responses to “The Scourge of Debt

  • kat

    ha! a laugh at your student loan debt! everyone knows you’re not cool until you hit six figures.

    /hides under desk, whimpering

  • Caryn

    good luck! i paid off my cc’s last year, and it felt fantastic. i still have a little bit of student loan debt, but that’s what they call “good debt.” 🙂

  • the Caitlinator

    I’m not sure I believe in “good debt” when I have the “good creditors” sucking my blood every waking minute, wanting me to pay THEM instead of eating food this week. I get the concept, but in reality, I’m not sure my investment was as wise as it sounded ten years ago.

  • Viaggiatore

    Okay, Caitlin. I’m just a random girl out here in the world who reads you and appreciates your writing. But here’s my reality check for you …

    do you REALLY need another set of debt-incurring education to have a career that “you can care about”?

    As someone who reviews resumes constantly from MBAs who are under-employed, I would lay GOOD ODDS that you could get that career you cared about by putting your passionate self out there and making it happen, not hiding in a yet-more-debt-incurring, albeit educational, lifestyle for 2 more years.

    You can do it. Just DO IT. Find an in. Be creative. Don’t keep digging the hole.

    2 years of innovative, scrappy experience is worth more than the degree. Pinky swear.

    Call it totally unsolicited advice from a stranger. But you’re a smart cookie and it kills me to see you studying and not DOING. Life’s too short, and who knows how long we all have to make a difference. Go make it, and fast. The world needs you, and it doesn’t care if you have two more years of theory under your belt.

    Good luck to you!

  • eclectic

    I’ve got the house (albeit NOT in the South Pacific, rather, in the Pacific NW); the golden retriever (a damn fine-looking boy he is, too); the husband (best damn decision I EVER made); and the 2.4 — make that an even 3 — kids. Success? Sure, but I’ve got debt to go with them.

    You have to live, and that means different things to different ones of us. If you want to get out of debt and pursue another career path, I look forward to congratulating you when you accomplish that! And accomplish it you will, Caitlin. Of that I have little doubt.

  • Kiki

    Caitlin!!!!!!! I got your present today!!!!!!!!!! You are so freakin’ awesome!! And I love your handwriting! Lol. Thanks babe!

  • romy

    the day i signed mortgage papers i nearly burst into tears. yeahyeahyeah, it’s emotional and stuff when you buy your own house, whatever. mostly the sobs were because i had signed myself into more debt than my brain could even contemplate, for the NEXT THIRTY YEARS. and sure, it’s good debt, but still.

    good luck caitlin – i’ll look forward to reading as you find your way to solvency. 🙂

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