Student Loan Debts and A Mortgaged Future

Hayley: For richer, for poorer (and everything between)

I’ve often heard it said that finances are the biggest source of discord in most relationships. Like any couple, Nick and I have our fair share of disagreements, but when it comes to money, we’ve always been on the same side of the equation. For the vast majority of our relationship, neither of us had any money, so there was really nothing to fight about. When we were broke during law school, it didn’t bother us. We weren’t supposed to have money then, as we held down work-study jobs and muddled through the obligatory, marginally paid summer internships. Which bill should we pay first? Ramen Noodles or Easy Mac? These aren’t really questions we got particularly riled up over. We’d buy the food, we’d pay the bills to the best of our ability, and that was that. When Friday came and it wasn’t payday, Nick and I would pool our meager funds to buy a pack of hot dogs and a cheap bottle of wine, and hole up for the weekend watching DVDs and taking long walks. It was romantic! We were young! We had hot dogs and wine, and in a year we’d graduate and have salaries and be successful and laugh at these days of austerity.


But after graduation, it was different. As the student loan deferments ended and the lucrative legal jobs did not materialize, we decided to crash on my mom’s floor for a month or so while we looked for jobs. One month turned to two and two turned to six and before I knew it, we had been there almost a year and a half. We made the best of things while we struggled to find full-time, permanent jobs. I worked as a cashier at a sporting goods store (woeful lack of knowledge of baseball gloves and lacrosse equipment notwithstanding). Nick did his share bagging groceries, and we’d rejoice when he scored a Sunday shift (time and a half!) We babysat and did odd jobs and continued interning in our field in the meantime, to make connections and gain experience. And while we were smart enough to be grateful for jobs (any jobs) and a floor to crash on, it was a struggle to reconcile the dream we’d been sold (mortgaged by student loans) with the reality we were living.

No matter how hard we worked, it felt as though we were never getting ahead. If we were lucky, we’d break even, but many weeks we fell short of even that. Each month, I’d call my student loan provider to renegotiate my payments.

“You know, your monthly payment would go down if you had a kid,” the eager representative informed me.
“… Excuse me?”

“I’m not, like, suggesting that you do that… but it would lower your payments if you did.”

One of my more vivid memories from that time occurred at a stoplight. Nick and I were having a particularly awful week—more job interviews that hadn’t panned out, a hefty dental bill we hadn’t expected, a car break-in requiring a paycheck-worth of replacement windows. We were driving along quietly, each lost in our own anxiety-ridden thoughts, when this unbelievably depressing song by The Script came on the radio:

She needs me now, but I can’t seem to find the time.
I’ve got a new job now on the unemployment line,
And we don’t know how,
How we got into this mess; is it God’s test?
Someone help us ’cause we’re doing our best,
Trying to make it work but man, these times are hard…

There we were at a red light, in our barely-functioning old car, shuttling between an unpaid internship and a minimum-wage night job that would not quite cover our food costs for the week. And we both burst out hysterically laugh-crying because man, these times are hard, and how did we get here, and why is this song so terrible?

It was incredibly frustrating, feeling as though we had mortgaged our future. We went to the good schools, we got the good grades. We even struggled through balancing the unpaid internships that were supposedly prerequisites on the path to successful careers, with the minimum wage jobs we needed to support ourselves in the meantime. It wasn’t that we felt entitled to be making more money—it was just that we felt so stupid for thinking the outcome of all that hard work would have been worth it financially.

“Generation overleveraged”

We’re not alone in this mess, of course. We’re just two of the nearly forty million Americans with student loan debt, part of what USA Today has dubbed “Generation Overleveraged.” We, and our financially beleaguered peers, postpone big purchases like cars, or have to shy away from entrepreneurship and small business ownership, and are often forced delay homeownershipOne study found that “over a lifetime of employment and saving, $53,000 in education debt leads to a wealth loss of nearly $208,000.” Ouch.

Even as our day-to-day financial situation has stabilized, I can’t shake the feeling of underlying financial anxiety, and I’m not sure I ever will. Our collective student loan debt, for a combined fourteen years’ worth of higher education, seems insurmountable at times, as we chip away at it month by month and never seem to make a dent. I try to focus on the positive—at least I am now in a position to make my monthly payment without the requisite painful phone call to Sallie Mae—but if I think too hard about the grand total, I break into a cold sweat. Financial goals I thought we’d have reached by now—retirement savings that’s not pocket change, an emergency fund, the beginnings of a down payment for a house—simply seem unattainable.

“for richer” (By comparison, anyway)

I don’t want to live our lives feeling like we’re playing a never-ending financial catch-up game, but in weaker moments, I can’t help but feel like a failure for all we haven’t accomplished, and overwhelmed by all the milestones that still seem so far out of reach. I know we can’t change the financial choices we made in the past, and who knows if we would have made the same choices, knowing what we know now? It’s slightly comforting to remember that the economic outlook was a lot rosier when we decided to go to law school, but the long-term ramifications of graduating into “arguably the worst entry-level legal employment market in more than thirty years” sting all the same. All we can do at this point is grit our teeth and make the best of things going forward. (Though I do joke to Nick, “I wish I could have met you somewhere less expensive.”)

The scrappy part of me feels pretty damn proud of how far we’ve come, despite the fact that barely half of our graduating class found full-time, long-term legal jobs within nine months of graduation. We’re saddled with a hell of a lot of student loan debt, sure, but we’re finally employed as (full-time! permanent!) attorneys, and incredibly grateful to be standing on our own two feet financially. We’ve got enough saved now that we can weather a minor crisis, like a busted tire or even a last-minute flight for a family member’s medical emergency, and still pay our rent on time. It’s an enormous relief to be able to make an immediate doctor’s appointment when I’m sick, instead of waiting until my next paycheck, when the twenty dollar copay will be less of a burden.

Looking back on times when we didn’t have these luxuries is a constant reminder to be thankful for all we have now. I chastise myself when I find a stray five-dollar bill tucked in the pocket of my jeans, because it wasn’t long ago when five bucks would have made an enormous difference in our week. When we recall the stomach-churning anxiety of being unable to make a scheduled payment, it’s easy to find a sense of pride in just being able to keep up with our current bills. Weathering a period of intense financial instability early in our relationship gave us an invaluable sense of perspective—I just wish that gratitude wasn’t tinged with the ever-present fear of going through it all again. (Or worse. We did not have a kid, a pet, or even a houseplant to consider the first time around, much to the chagrin of my student loan representative.)

I try to think of those earlier, tougher times as a badge of honor, or a security blanket for our future. After all, we’ve done “for poorer” once already, and I know we can get through it again, laugh-crying all the way. I’m just holding out hope that it won’t be necessary.

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  • Crystal Whalen

    I love this article and can completely relate. As a 2012 law school grad burdened with mounds of student debt, I often question if it was all worth it and hate the feeling that no matter how hard I work I’ll always be behind financially.

  • Jillian

    “I don’t want to live our lives feeling like we’re playing a never-ending financial catch-up game, but in weaker moments, I can’t help but feel like a failure for all we haven’t accomplished, and overwhelmed by all the milestones that still seem so far out of reach. I know we can’t change the financial choices we made in the past, and who knows if we would have made the same choices, knowing what we know now? ”

    Right there. All of this. I’ve been married four and a half years and every sonogram to pop up on my Facebook feed hits me right in the throat because we can’t afford the kidlets yet we very much want. We are pushing toward there and are doing better, but it still glimmers in the future.

  • Laura C

    My fiance just graduated from law school (taking the bar today) and for the first time in I guess either of our lives, we have real debt. Even knowing we’ll be able to pay it off, it’s … a lot to wrap my mind around, having six-figure debt. But in some way it’s not real in a ramen-eating kind of way? Like, he’s got a high-paying firm job lined up (assuming he passes said bar exam) and for the 10 months he’s there, we’re going to live like he’s making what he’ll be making the following year as a clerk, and pour everything else into paying down the law school debt. But during that time we’ll still have close to twice as much income as we had when he was in law school making nothing. I don’t know, maybe we should be even more strict with ourselves and pay off more, but I’m not sure we’re that disciplined.

    • anonpsu

      My advice would be to live like he’s still in law school (i.e. on very little). Don’t upgrade your lifestyle at all and you will be able to pay off more of the loans. Have the money automatically debited to the loans every month so you don’t see it in the checking account.

    • jashshea

      Anonpsu’s advice is good! When the loans come due, look at the interest rates and the variability on those rates and make smart decisions about payoff strategy and shovel a bit into savings. Make a plan, stick to it, and pretty soon the you’ll be in the red. Like anything, it’s simple, but not easy :)

      • Laura C

        Yeah, we’re paying off his government loans first, because the interest is higher on those as most of his loans are actually from his mom, who took out a line of credit she had at an incredibly low interest rate. We think we can get the government ones paid off within a couple months (he stopped taking those when the interest rates went up). Plus we moved from New York to Cambridge, so our rent is reduced close to 30%, and coincidentally I’m getting a raise. So while it’s weird/scary to think about having this amount of debt, we’re actually in much better shape than the vast, vast majority of law school grads, thanks to the combination of me always having had a good income, him having gotten a big firm job right off, and both of us having generous parents with resources. Not something we ever forget!

        • jashshea

          You guys are in great shape! My husband and I have a house and some rental properties and thinking about the total owed makes me sick to my stomach. I pretty much just ostrich the grand total and focus on quarterly/annual status.

          • Laura C

            I think that’s healthy, though. For me, anyway, focusing on the really big picture can turn into a reason to throw my hands up in the air and say “why bother trying to fix it?” — whether we’re talking about a too-long to-do list, a healthy living goal, or money. Whereas if I break it down into manageable chunks, suddenly I find myself making progress.

        • BigLaw Refugee

          Not sure if your fiance is planning to go back to the firm after his clerkship — if he is, a lot of firms give clerkship bonuses, so he should look into that.

          It’s good that you have each other and you’re on the same page about paying down debt. I worked at a large firm like that for several years before transitioning to public interest law, and I saw a lot of people who went in intending to aggressively pay down debt… but many ended up getting sucked into the biglaw lifestyle with expensive apartments and luxury clothes, jewelry, electronics, expensive hobbies, etc. I was living with my best friend and boyfriend (now husband) at the time, both public interest lawyers, and I think that really helped me focus on paying down debt and saving.

          That would be my other piece of advice — don’t pay down debt to the total exclusion of saving, even though you won’t be able to find a savings account with an interest rate higher than any of your fiance’s interest rates on his loans. I left the firm two years ago and my husband and I are now buying a house, and the down payment is largely coming from money I saved when I was working at the firm. I could have fully paid off my loans out of my savings, but then we would just have ended up paying more in interest/mortgage insurance on our mortgage. That happy medium is working for us — you might strike a different balance, but keep in mind savings as well as paying down the loans, even if it’s just a solid emergency fund.

          • kcaudad

            FYI – for those interested – mortgage interest isn’t a expensive as it used to be, at least at my bank. I got at house for around $120,000, paid 10% down (required) and will have PMI (private mortgage insurance) until we get to 20% equity. Our PMI is only $30 a month. For us, it was worth it to keep the extra 10% ($12,000) in liquid cash and pay the PMI, for now. People in our parents’ generation have been surprised that the PMI cost was so low and could understand why we decided just to pay it for a while!

    • Meg Keene

      Be as strict as you possibly can. The legal market, even for top tier graduates, is terrifyingly unstable. If you have a chance to get rid of that debt, GET RID OF THAT DEBT.

      We didn’t have that chance, with David graduating into the 2010 legal market, where huge swaths of kids at top 5 law schools were unemployed. And then we had a kid, making it way harder to pay huge chunks towards loans, because we’re paying those huge chunks towards daycare.

      Get disciplined, seriously. Now is the time. If you get rid of those loans, you can live better later.

    • Hayley

      Good luck to your fiance taking the bar!!

  • Alice

    Man, this hits home. I’m in the second year of vet school and just got married in June. It’s really hard to know that I’m saddling myself, and the new hubby, with six figures worth of debt, just as we start our lives together. It’s so tough to live in a world where we are taught to persue a career that we love, only to find out that doing so will burden us with a debt that will affect our futures, both financial and personal, so profoundly. It really becomes a decision of which is worse: not fulfilling career goals because of financial constraints, or fulfilling them and suffering for it later.

    • Lawyerette510

      Congrats on getting into vet school though, and my understanding is that generally it is a good choice because there is such an large demand for vets (I’m assuming you’re in the USA) and such a comparatively limited number of programs so that the market is less saturated than say attorneys where there are by all economist evaluations entirely too many law schools compared to the dans for new attorneys (spoken by someone who chose law school in 2005 and graduated in 2008, by all standards a horrible time to enter the legal field)

  • BB

    My husband and I are in “for poorer” right now. I keep trying to convince myself that with me in grad school and him barely working 20 paid hours a week due to a number of health issues–plus all of the associated bills for doctor’s visits and procedures–that this will be the poorest we will ever be…hopefully. But it’s still hard to be in this place. I agree that this financial struggle makes our relationship more resilient, and I guess it’s good to figure out how to deal with financial stress as a couple, but what I wouldn’t give to see our debt decreasing rather than increasing right now. This too shall pass, right? Congrats on full time jobs in your field of interest! I can’t wait for the day that we’re there too!

  • Kelsey

    “I wish I could have met you someplace less expensive.” Yup. A frequent comment in our house as well.

    • scw

      we make this joke, too, but it’s really not true! I feel like I’ll be paying my loans until I die, but I’d never go back and pick another undergrad institution.

      • Satsuma Caravan

        I see where you’re coming from completely. *But* the source of the problems is not the university (or education itself). The problem is the wider extractive economy of today’s world, driven by bankers, politicians, corporations, and their “ethos”. Education and the university sector are getting hit big time — and not just in “money lost”, but in the wider seeds of sentiment sewn by those who wrangled us into this messed-up economy, who are happy to let the blame fall elsewhere, any time… The real sad irony is that there’s a message being pumped out (and passed along by everyone who swallows it) that education is a “liability” and that, really, people should dump their dreams of being accomplished and settle instead for following the corporate example of making money at all costs (pun intended)… I think it’s worth digging deeper into the source of all this, if nothing else to know the value of what we’ve done *as persons*, despite the anti-education nonsense that we’re all just *commodities* in the end.

        • jashshea

          I feel you on lots of these points, namely that our economy/society is largely a mess. What we value nowadays is very very different from what our grandparents valued, FOR SURE.

          But I do have to say that I feel like many Gen Y + Older Millenials were raised to believe that education was the end-all, the way up the socio-economic ladder. And while that’s largely true in theory, I think the implementation in the last 20 or so years was largely a mirror to the housing market bubble. Easy availability of money + non-financially savvy population + traditionally valued commodity = Product overvaluation. I think we’re due/overdue for a correction in some facet of that market (probably on the availability of funds side, since why would a business drop their prices, right? ;)).

          I wonder how this Over-leveraged Generation will raise their kids: Will they tell them to pursue an advanced degree in a XYZ if the career opportunities in XYZ are nil? Or will they tell them to buck up and learn a trade so that they can rely on income right away? Or, hopefully, teach them sound financial principals so that they’re better off out of the gate?

          *I want to make this clear: I’m not saying that higher education is a waste of money. My parents & I spent a mortgage-like amount of money on my education 15+ years ago and I very much value the experience I had. But the annual cost at that institution has DOUBLED since then. That just doesn’t sit right.

          • I agree about the Gen Y + Older Millenials. I was raised that way, myself, and went to school for a degree without tons of thought into future potential with that degree. Looking back, had I known or thought about it, I would have stuck with the journalism major or gone into a STEM major instead.

          • Gina

            I couldn’t agree more. In response to your question about how this generation will raise our kids: I, at least, won’t be pushing higher education unless there is a specific, viable career path that comes out of it. Why? I’m a law school graduate, my husband is a high school graduate. Guess who makes more and finds their work more fulfilling?

          • jashshea

            Indeed. I can’t see pushing the rhetoric my parents did: go to the best school you can get into and we’ll figure it out when the dust settles. Which, bless them for doing that for us. But bless them more for making learning and education a priority in their house. Much more valuable, IMO.

          • Bets

            “Will they tell them to pursue an advanced degree in a XYZ if the career opportunities in XYZ are nil?”

            I’m so grateful that my parents considered this. Not having gone to university themselves, but having always planned for higher education for me, we sat down and considered what was a good fit between my interests and career opportunities. My teenage self wanted a private art school in New York for painting and sculpture, and dad went, “you could buy a house with that tuition.” We settled for a design school in an engineering faculty at a well-ranked public university, and I couldn’t have been happier. Plus, I can still go to art school someday if I want to.

          • Meg Keene


            That’s how I feel. My kid might not hear that from anyone else in the family, but that’s what he’s going to hear from me.

          • Erin E

            Yep – agreed. My parents were able to help me pay for college, but it
            was with the assumption that I would choose a degree with a specific and
            attainable career path attached. “What will you do with this
            degree/this experience” is what I’ll ask my own kids.

            I kind of
            look at my college education as set of consistent fallback skills. Like
            if other dreams or paths down the road don’t work out, I can always get a
            job in my degree field that I may not love, but also don’t hate. It
            seems crazy to say that’s been a godsend, but it has.

          • Meg Keene

            YUP. I think you articulated this so well I don’t have much to add.

            I’ll tell you what though, I didn’t go to grad school because I was fully supporting myself by then and there was no way I could work the numbers that made sense. Since every single person in both of our families has a graduate degree other than me, and most of them have PHDs, it felt a little bit like going out on a crazy limb to not go to grad school. And I supported David going to grad school ONLY because it was law school, which is in essence a (goddamn expensive) trade school.

            Anyway, I’ve never felt better about any decision I made, in retrospect. And even though I still get some social flack and eyebrows raised for my “under education” (HAHAHA), I’m doing as well or better than the people that did go to grad school, and I had all that extra time to struggle through figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, so I’m in a happier career place then lots of them. In short, I’m really glad I made the choice, even if it doesn’t give me social status.

            That said, life isn’t all numbers, and there are things we do because they are just… valuable to us. The people in my life that relentlessly pursued PHDs because it was their passion, go them. But so many of us feel pushed to go to grad school because it’s the thing to do. You do it to better yourself. You do it because you don’t know what else to do. You do it because you want to escape the shitty jobs of your 20s. And $60K-$150K in debt is a LOT of money to pay for reasons that don’t have to do with the kind of passion that doesn’t let you do it any other way. There are parts of me that feels like academia is a bit of a scam at this point, shaking down unsuspecting students for HUGE amounts of cash, with promises it can’t possibly deliver on.

          • KC

            Yes. It doesn’t make sense to me to pursue a PhD (at least, the kind that you pay for, as opposed to one that at least pays better than the jobs-in-your-20s) for reasons other than “this will get me exactly where I want to be and I have done a lot of placement research” or “I am incredibly passionate about this specifically and can’t get access to research subjects or whatever otherwise, and I recognize the mortgage this is placing on my future options”.

            Or, as I said a long time ago, “I’m waiting to get a PhD until I have a much more compelling reason than the nifty hats”.

          • Meg Keene

            Though we have to admit, the hats are PHENOMENAL.

            But I bet you can purchase one for under $100, so there is that.

          • Nobody in the right mind pursues a PhD for the money…ever. You do a PhD because you’re passionate about a subject and want to pursue a career in academia. It’s impossible to survive a PhD without being passionate, it’s so bloody emotionally taxing that there would just be no point. In Canada, in the sciences or at least medicine, grad students get a guaranteed income of about $17,000 per year TAX FREE and AFTER TUITION, which (by student standards) is like rolling in dough. In a market where meaningful jobs are hard to find, that ”security” still wasn’t enough to get me to transfer into the PhD program instead of graduating with my MSc, I just couldn’t dedicate myself to it.

          • I am also glad I did not go to grad school to get the MFA I was thinking about for years. I found a way to work in my chosen arts field with without the MFA that I, at one time, thought was necessary. Maybe it takes more hustling to make up for the connections I didn’t get through grad school, but I somehow ended up in a spot I wouldn’t have dreamed of being years ago. And am so thankful life worked out like it did, in that regard.

          • Class of 1980

            It’s primarily a federal government-created problem thanks to way higher limits on government-backed loans than ever before. Colleges can’t demand money that isn’t available, and since gov’t made sooo much more $ available with few barriers, the limits on what colleges could charge were removed.

            Government created the housing bubble, and now the student loan bubble.


            I WISH this was more generally understood. They may have had good intentions, but in this case the road to hell was paved with good intentions. An entire generation has been put into chains as a result.

            Now they want to introduce all kinds of legislation as some kind of patch job, without changing the underlying problem.

        • Kayla

          Speaking of politicians, can we talk about Senator Warren’s Bank on Students Act? It wouldn’t solve the problem of skyrocketing costs, but would go a long way to help all of us with student loans up to our noses. But, you know, Congress.

          • Satsuma Caravan

            Coming back in late again here. I appreciate all the points made above. And believe you me, I am *not* pushing an older generation out-of-touch idea about education. My point is really the opposite: education is getting a kick in the backside because it is a sector that can be easily drained in the service of corporations, politicians, bankers, etc (this goes for lots of places outside of the USA). I think the very same thing is happening with a lot of vocations that fall outside of the university remit. Try the fine and performing arts, for instance. There’s a problem with simplistic labelling in all of this — and with the value judgements that go with it. We may well be throwing out a lot of babies with the bathwater if we buy hook, line and sinker into the corporate mentality that we need to “come into the real world” – while always means their world, on their terms. Education gives us a view onto other worlds — like what 75% or more of the world’s population lives like nowadays — and that is not the corporate dream by any stretch of the educated imagination.

  • scw

    I’m lucky not to have needed to take student loans out to get my PhD, but have a mountain of debt from undergrad. my monthly loan payment is more than some people’s mortgages (though, to be fair, my payment is much less than my actual mortgage). I made so little when I graduated that those loans qualified for deferment, and they still qualify now that I’m in grad school, so I spent years largely ignoring them.

    getting engaged has really encouraged us to get our finances in order, though, and in addition to saving for the wedding we’ve started to build up my loan payments each month. I’m still in deferment, and probably will be until sometime after I graduate in the spring of 2016, but by our spring 2015 wedding we’ll be paying almost the full amount my loan will be in repayment. of course I sometimes wish I could spend that extra nearly-thou a month on bangin’ presents for my bridal party, but I’m really proud that we’re finding time and money to be on the offensive with my loans now when wedding planing means money and time are in short supply.

  • Well educated

    These articles always leave me feeling torn – on the one hand, very comforting to know we’re not alone in this and that there are thousands of other people struggling with us. Because you know, solidarity! On the other hand, these kinds of articles- even with all the hope, relief, and gratitude Hayley so beautiful infused, remind me that the cumulative total is actually just terrifying. Nine months to graduation, 15 months until both our loans are in repayment – it’s a little scary.

  • Amanda L

    Oh man, I’m glad this story has a happy middle (it’s not an ending, obviously!). I did ‘for poorer’ for many many years on my own. My husband never really has, other than the first couple years out of college, when that was the state everyone was in. He has no credit card debt, no student loans, and a healthy savings and 401k. I’m playing catch-up from my many years in a less-lucrative industry than I am in now. I just wanted to say that I totally feel your pain and I also hope that those days are in our rear-view mirror forever… for all of us! :)

  • anonpsu

    oof! This hits home. I’m the one with student loans, but I can’t help feeling like a financial deadweight for my fiance (he never treats me like that, of course). Since college he’s saved enough for us to have an emergency fund and start a downpayment on a house. Since grad school I’ve barely saved anything (besides retirement) and have only made the smallest dent in my loan. It is frustrating and it is a lot of money, but honestly I just try not to think about the overall big number! All I can do is pay as much as possible each month and stop worrying.

    • Ariel

      I’m pretty sure we’re the same person, right down to me saying oof when I read this article. I have six figures of student loan debt, hubs has none. We would definitely have a house by now if it wasn’t for me. I pay a ton each month and it’s as though I’ve paid nothing when I look at the overall number. Ugh.

      • anonpsu

        Yup! I’m like “yay I paid an extra $300 this month” and then the high interest rates on my grad student loans just eats that all up.

  • Laura

    In many ways, I’m very, very well off. Substantial scholarships, some support from my parents, and crappy jobs to cover rent left me debt-free after college graduation. Got a full-ride fellowship for my master’s, so just took out loans to cover cost of living and paid them back within a few years of salaried employment. Now I’m in a Ph.D. program, drawing a tiny stipend for the next few years (but my husband has a decent job in the education sector). We can afford groceries, stock a bit of money away for retirement, treat ourselves to dinner every once in a while.

    But! I’ve been watching high school acquaintances post on Facebook about their new houses, trucks, boats, whatever. For the most part, these people graduated with a high school education and took work in my small hometown (2,500 people). Some of them got technical degrees, others work on their family farms. Very few of them attended four-year colleges.

    And here I am, having done “all the right things,” following my love of learning, watching a postdoctoral fellow in my lab fail to find an academic position this cycle and resign herself to being an adjunct instructor for the next year (total income: <$21,000. Yay for Ph.Ds!). I'm also one of the lucky ones — I had enough financial assistance to graduate with my B.S. debt-free, so I started out far ahead of my peers. I know that eventually, statistically it pays off to have a master's/Ph.D. than a high school or associate's degree, but man, it's awfully demoralizing in the short term.

    • Lindsey d.

      I’ve been watching high school acquaintances post on Facebook about their new houses, trucks, boats, whatever.

      Just remember that appearances can be deceiving. You don’t know how they are paying for those things. They could be racking up debt now. I’m not saying they are, but with Facebook, one must always take posts with a grain of salt.

      • Laura

        Oh, for sure. I have kept in close touch with a few of them, so I know their financial situations, but who knows about the rest. And I’m ultimately happy with my life and my choices. Still, when you can get a nice house in my hometown for <$100,000, it's tough not to feel that twinge of jealousy :)

      • laddibugg
      • sara g

        This. I know for certain that some of my friends, who constantly post about their new cars, their house remodeling, or their vacations, etc on FB, are horrendously in debt, paying mortages they can’t afford and putting everything on credit cards. If I wasn’t close to them, I’d think they were living the good life purely based on their FB posts.

  • Acres_Wild

    Oh man, I feel this so hard. As a new lawyer, engaged to another new lawyer, we have an astronomical amount of debt. Like, not going to be paid off in this lifetime. My loans may possibly be forgiven in 10 years if the public interest loan forgiveness program is still functioning, but otherwise, loan payments forever.

    Truly, though, neither of us could imagine being in any other field. We don’t have the dream jobs yet, and we wish we could save more, but we have legal jobs, we make enough to cover the bills and pay down the debt a bit each month, and that is something to be thankful for. When I get discouraged, I try to think of it as an investment in our future. Was it worth it, to get the education that will allow us to do the work we’ve always dreamed of? Maybe I’m naive, but I like to think it was.

    • Meg Keene

      LAW SCHOOL DEBT. I have a very sophisticated plan for dealing with it. Cough. Set it on autopay and pretend it’s not there. Because… can’t.

      I think can only really pull this off because it’s not my debt (like, it’s ours, we pay it together, but you know… deep down, I know it’s not mine ;) But after years of trying to get into a financially good spot, and paying off my own student loans, and now having this huge debt, I cope by not thinking about it.

      As I mentioned, this is a super sophisticated financial strategy. Cough.

      • Amy March

        I actually think it *is* a super sophisticated financial strategy. Like you I guess I’ve set up autopay on my law school loans and just let that happen and try to ignore it. Which means I’m not constantly testing my willpower with making decisions about it so I’m able to stick with my plan. If I were facing this debt every time I bought a magazine or a beer I think I’d feel significantly more overwhelmed and likely to throw up my hands than just knowing $x is how much money is left.

        • Meg Keene

          Funnily, that’s also the only retirement savings plan that’s ever worked. Autopay! Thankfully we have enough right now to set some aside, but autopay into accounts I don’t look at is how most of our money got saved. The savings I count all the time? WORSE. Way worse.

        • Jo

          I agree with Amy, Meg. Your plan is super sophisticated because there’s a lot to be said for peace of mind. Making 50K, but “forgetting” about 10k in order to pay back debt? Brilliant. Especially if it let’s you sleep at night.

      • Mezza

        This is my exact same plan. I have to think about it every October when I renew my income-based payment amount, but otherwise, autopay and zero thinking!

      • Hayley

        Auto pay and putting it out of your mind otherwise is the ONLY way to get through it, honestly.

    • SarahG

      Dude, I am *counting* on that public interest loan forgiveness (underpaid health teacher here). It’s my only hope! But like you, I perhaps naively think my education was worth it. I still think we overpay in this country, though.

      • Meg Keene

        You know, it’s funny. We were planning on that too, and then David COULD NOT get a job as a public defender, because the state budgets had been decimated. (Well, possibly he could have if we’d been willing to move to a place like our hometown, that we’d been working our whole life to get away from, but we weren’t, for obvious reasons.)

        I constantly find it so odd that he’s working a firm job because he couldn’t get a public service job. We talk a lot about, “Maybe one day… you can be a civil servant.” Which, WHAT? Talk about backwards land. Thanks, economy.

        • Biglaw Refugee

          It’s crazy to me how hard public defender jobs are to get in California. With a degree from a top-five law school, my husband volunteered for a year at a public defender office in a big city before accepting a position in a “less desirable” part of the state … and that was STILL really hard to get. The move has turned out to be great for us. We can afford to buy a house here, and it allowed me to leave the job that had been paying the bills but that was slowly killing me. But if someone had told me five years ago that I would voluntarily move to this town, I would have died laughing. The current legal job market is just crazy-town.

          • Meg Keene

            Yup. He did all that as well. The thing is, we’re FROM one of those towns (one of the very least desirable of them). One of the reasons David is from there is that his dad got a public defender job there after law school. So. And after spending a lifetime fighting to get out, that just wasn’t an option for us. (Though we would have had a built in social circle! No one ever leaves.)

            The whole thing is so odd and frustrating. Isn’t the public defender supposed to be the thing you want but don’t take because of money? Not… the thing you just can’t have?

    • BeeAssassin

      Your post totally reminds me that I had to defend student loan debt to a coworker, who was criticizing “all these kids who get six figures of debt for a stupid arts degree. Why didn’t they go into engineering or something?” First, it’s sad that education (not just college) is now explicitly seen as a way to make us efficient contributors to our economy. Second, nobody knows going into college what the job market will look like in four or more years when they get out. As the OP said, when they went in the economy was way better. Just looking at which jobs and degrees are “worth it” show that there is an inherent time cyclicality to most of them.

      And finally (most importantly) the most important question – did your education allow you to do the work you dreamed of? My fiancee has an arts degree from a relatively unknown college and is doing what he loves, making more than I make (and i have a technical master’s degree from a top-tier). If he had listened to all this right-wing advice about getting a degree that was “worth it” he’d never be in the great situation he is now.

      • Another Meg

        Not to mention the fact that getting into debt doesn’t mean you just flitted through school without a job. I worked three jobs and still graduated from a state school with over 20k in debt.

        • Hayley

          Oh, totally. I always worked at least 1-3 part time jobs while in undergrad and grad school. But those jobs helped to cover living expenses, and didn’t make a dent in tuition.

      • Meg Keene

        BOOM. Art degree. In Experimental Theatre.

        Do I regret it? NOPE. That said, I got scholarships and did it without six figure debt. I have a friend that did it with six figure debt, and I can say without qualification that it WAS NOT WORTH IT. He’s just paid off his loans, at 33, after a decade of working in a bank. He talks a lot about his lost years, and how he may just not have a chance to be an artist because of them.

      • Class of 1980

        I can’t agree with you. Hoping for a better economy that will create high enough salaries to pay
        the loans might be a pipe dream … because all these graduates in
        major debt is causing a downward effect on the economy because they must
        put off buying houses, cars, having children, etc … Their debt prevents them from fully participating in the economy, so how does the economy improve?

        Most of the problem with skyrocketing student debt is that the government backs WAY HIGHER loan amounts than ever before in our history. That directly lead to colleges being able to charge far more than ever, and boy did they!

        But the other problem is that students weren’t encouraged to look at how much they were going to make in salary vs. how much they would have to pay back. The gov’t-backed loans did not take future earnings into consideration the way private lenders would have.

        This is financial illiteracy all around.

        Also, who pays for those student loans that are increasingly going into default? Taxpayers.

        Certainly people should study whatever they are drawn to, but to divorce that from the reality of whether or not you can pay the loans back is irresponsible. Glad it worked out for your fiance, but it clearly isn’t working for millions as evidenced by this very post that we’re all commenting on. I think the “right wing” advice to look at what your potential pay will be is actually solid advice.

        Again, the gov’t created the problem, but to suggest not to worry if your future earnings will cover your loan isn’t good advice for most people.

        • BeeAssassin

          I agree that a person has to take possible future earnings into account when deciding how much debt to go into; but unfortunately in many cases that is a gamble any way. A few years ago, respiratory therapists were in high demand; now they’re not. 10 years ago, certain types of digital artists were in high demand; now it’s an industry that’s being offshored and part-timed to death.

          But my point of contention is less about pay than that education is being expressly used as a way to mold people into efficient cogs in the economy, rather than meaningful contributors to society. There is an interplay there but one does not equal the other. When I went to grad school, my Scandinavian relative was horrified when I told her how much debt I would take on (a fairly reasonable amount for my degree, since I got a big scholarship). Her response was, “But doesn’t getting that degree mean you’ll contribute more to society? Why isn’t the government encouraging you more to do this?”

          And although I agree that the government played a role through its method of backing student loans, let’s not minimize the role that universities themselves have played in this. Skyrocketing administrator salaries, insane capital expenditures, sometimes even outright lying to students about what their potential future salaries would be – everybody plays a part but I don’t think students are the most at fault, the way they’ve been painted out to be in a lot of the mainstream media stories about this.

          • Class of 1980

            Oh, absolutely everything you said about the universities is true.

            However, they could not have done it without the high loans allowed on gov’t-backed loans. Once the money flow got turned on, they took every advantage of it. And a lot of their increased spending doesn’t even positively affect the actual educating of students.

          • Hayley

            All good points. I really agree with the point about it being a gamble. Yes, borrowers need to start thinking more what they expect for a salary, in comparison with what they’ll owe – but, in many fields, that data is difficult to find, if not completely misleading. And while some fields tend to be more of a “safe bet” than others, there are still no guarantees.

      • Jules

        That, plus part of it (even as a biomedical engineer) can just be straight up dumb luck, which is impossible to predict. Well, luck and my effort to establish firm connections.

        Freshman don’t always have a grasp on what the job market is like, even in their own field. So much variance geographically, professionally, in sub-fields…

    • Jules

      I know it’s hard to believe it’s an investment in the future when things are less than ideal and you’re loaded with debt. BUT. Like you said, hopefully the best is yet to come.

      I happen to think of “following your dreams” as a thing in life you won’t get to do-over (never in the same way, at least), so if it’s close to your heart and you can scrape by until you find the right job, WORTH IT. I think I would rather be 80 and be like, “Man, remember when we ate in 360 days a year and had chicken and beans? Ha ha” than “Man, I wish I’d had the guts to take the leap. I think I would have done great in a legal career, but at least we had good money in a job I didn’t really like.”

      Personal choice though. Some people would rather avoid the debt and avoid the unknown.

      • Hayley

        Oh yeah, I definitely look back fondly at some of the stuff we did during that time, and obviously we learned a lot from the experience. I think for me, the part that stings is that we did not go into all this with open eyes, really. If it was, “ok, we’ll go to law school, get X amount into debt, have a really difficult time for a few years, but end up doing what we love, though we may never recover financially” fine, but the conventional wisdom at the time was that you’d take the loans and pay them off really quickly on the amazing salary that you were guaranteed to land.

    • Hayley

      Yeah, we both love what we do, so in that sense it was totally worth it. But, at least when we were applying to schools, there was so much misinformation out there about what we could expect for salaries, job prospects, etc. Knowing what I know now, I would have put a LOT more thought into it, maybe saved for a year or two first, even if I still eventually chose law school. Hindsight :)

  • Lindsey d.

    We are in the opposite boat. Doing well now and our only debt is our mortgage, which isn’t as low as it could be. He’s lived in the house for more than ten years, but had to buy his ex out, so he kind of started over on the loan about three years ago. Now we are nine weeks pregnant and looking seriously at whether I can stay home for a while after the baby arrives. I think we can, but we are pretty used to nice things, he hates to budget and it’s scary to think about not having that buffer. We have a little time, but I feel like the next seven months are going to move quickly!

  • rachel

    Thank you for this humble, eloquent– and non-hyperbolic!– assessment of how hard it can be for people in our generation to get to a place of financial well-being. There are so many articles out there that are variations on this theme (law school debt in particular) and this is the best one I’ve read, hands-down– because it’s so simple and honest. You’ve had a particularly tough road and you are doing great! Congrats on all your accomplishments.

  • Amy March

    This article really resonated with me. But I am surprised by the number of people who feel comfortable responding to this along the lines of. “That must suck. I worry all the time about my finances even though I am comparatively and objectively wealthy and doing much better than you.” It feels like when someone writes from the heart about the pain of being single, and the response is. “Yeah, I’m contentedly married but I still worry “. Or about the difficulty of parents being sick and responding with “mine are actually completely and totally fine, but man my dad wears dad jeans.”

    I’m glad there are many people not struggling, but I’m not sure what sharing that fact does here except run it in.

    • Laura

      You know, this article really resonated with me, too, although (maybe?) my comment below might have been one that you felt “rubbed it in.” No, I’m not currently impoverished. I don’t want to speak for Hayley, but it sounds like she’s not currently impoverished anymore either. That doesn’t mean that I don’t relate to this financial worry, even though I’m not in dire straits right now (I have been in the past, but that’s neither here nor there).

      What speaks to me about this article was the “generation overleveraged” idea. I feel like many of us were given the message, “Go to school, get As, seek a higher degree, and you’ll reap the rewards.” And here we sit, with our PhDs and MAs and JDs, living with parents or making barely above minimum wage or whatever. There’s a disillusionment, because even those who came out financially somewhat unscathed poured years of their lives, hours of effort, and high levels of stress into an endeavor that didn’t pay off in the ways they expected. I don’t think you have to be below a certain income level for that disillusionment to resonate.

      • Laura C

        And even people doing better than just barely getting by live in an economy we’ve seen crash, have parents who’ve watched their retirement funds and houses lose huge amounts of value (if they’re lucky to have retirement funds and houses), and generally understand the degree to which the entire middle class is on a shaky foundation. Jacob Hacker’s book The Great Risk Shift really lays out the extent to which insecurity and instability have become standard. Maybe Obamacare will help alleviate that a little, as decent health care ceases to be something you can really only get through a good job. But these days, short of having the kind of money where you’d be fine if you never worked, if you’re not aware of the bad possibilities, you’re probably not paying enough attention.

        • Laura

          Yes, I was just having a similar conversation with my brother, who works as a veterinarian and is paying down his loans. He’s saving for retirement but simultaneously wondering if there will even be a “retirement as we know it” in 40 years when he’s ready to wind down his working life. That lack of confidence in the whole system is going to have pretty serious ramifications.

          We have people who worked hard to get a degree, and now can’t find a job. They worked 50-60 hrs/week to get ahead, but their work responsibilities mount without getting meaningful raises or promotions. They’re told getting a house is part of the American dream, but they’re priced out of a huge segment of the urban housing market. Do we really think that these same people are going to dutifully sock away money for retirement because “that’s how you get ahead?”

          • Hayley

            Also, trying to find a balance between saving for retirement versus trying to pay down the student loans as quickly as possible is…tricky.

        • Ambaa

          I wish Obamacare was able to do more. I’ve been disappointed by it thus far. The health insurance I’m able to get today is more expensive and way worse than what I got on the open market five years ago :( The only positive is that my husband was denied five years ago because he is heavy (though very healthy). Even so, trying to get health insurance over this summer has been crushingly disappointing.

    • Rachel

      I agree with Laura. This is a generational realization that we have to put off some things that our parents had at our age because our education costs are not offset by our education in the ways that we were promised.

      • Fine but still anxious

        I totally agree with you Laura. I am also not currently impoverished — in fact, last year, I paid off my nearly $200K in law school debt after four years of working in a soul-punishing, super-draining, relationship-destroying law firm job that I was very fortunate to have. And now I have savings. But for many years there, and still at times, I felt like I was one lay-off or stealth lay-off away from being stuck with an impossible debt to pay. And none of that, the job that I hated, the feeling of being dragged down by debt, etc., was why I want to law school. And I realize that I paid my loans off at the cost of doing other things — like buying a house — that my parents had already done quite easily by my age, without the benefit of an ivy league law school degree. And even now that the debt is gone, I still worry about being able to handle a mortgage, building a sufficient emergency fund, etc., etc., in ways that my parents MAY have worried about, but that was never really reflected in their financial decisions. So yes, I think this is a generational thing, and I think even if you are doing comparatively well, you can still really relate to what Hayley is saying, and the general feeling of insecurity. (And Hayley, don’t give up! And don’t let the loans spoil the other good things going on in your life).

    • jashshea

      I’m comparatively rich now. But I used to be broke, with a debt to income ratio over 1.5. Most people wouldn’t want to become unbroke the way I did – sold possessions for seventy five cents on the dollar, moved 1000 miles from friends and family for a job, used a cardboard box as a coffee table for 2.5 years – but my being better off now doesn’t invalidate that I understand where Hayley and others are coming from.

      When I was broke, I lived on Woe-is-me island and didn’t think anyone else understood what it was like. That is a shitty place to live. And I think Hayley’s tone reflects a maturity I did not possess at the time and applaud her for that.

  • Lauren from NH

    In the same boat with student loans. My mister has a larger amount and higher interest rates so we are focusing on his. Other than the soul crushing moments and financial angst, can I just say what an awesome feeling it is when you see you are making a dent or even when you pay one of your loans off. It’s like “I GOT THIS! TAKE THAT SALLIE MAE! (triumphantly crumples random paper and throws it away) I OWE YOU NOTHING!!!”

    I highly recommend Ready for Zero, if you need to get your loans all organized in one place or just love the graphs to visualize your progress. And they have a function that calculates if you paid $50 more per month, you would save $$$ in interest over the life of you loans and XX days/months. Also (for all y’all with debt up to your eyeballs and feeling guilty enjoying $.25 ramen)…it’s FREE!

    • Lauren from NH
      • Anon

        I freaking love RFZ!! Great recommendation!!

      • River

        THANK YOU FOR THIS. I was gonna post something super depressing about how we’re stuck with awful loans my fiancé took out for school (I have a not-unsubstantial amount, but mine have been consolidated and his can’t be) that decimate our monthly income and how we’re trying to move and pay for our wedding and just got hit with a dental health emergency that has me vacillating between debilitating pain and high-as-a-kite loopiness….
        but now I can be excited because an internet stranger shared a new FREE toy to help us look at the whole picture. HOORAY!

        • Lauren from NH

          There are no pretty graphs (unlike the website) BUT…there’s an app for that ;)

      • Hayley

        Oh, awesome! I had never heard of this but am definitely going to check this out.

  • Rachel

    My fiancee (two weeks until we are married!!!) and I are very lucky. I’m in grad school and have no student debt, and he has a great paying job and his student debt is very reasonable, if still substantial. When we got engaged I said flat out that repaying student debt is my #1 priority. With our fortunate situation, this will only take a couple of years, but doing so will put off things like a house, upgraded cars (thank heavens honda and toyota built great cars in the 90s), retirement savings/investments, even kids for a little while.

  • Anonasaurus

    We are making progress on my student loans, but man every time I look at how much of our total monthly income goes to loans I want to weep. I was very lucky that I was able to refinance a bulk of my undergrad loans using SoFi (SUCK IT CITI!!!) and we are over paying and plan to have it demolished in 4 years but still. I’m just glad we aren’t the only ones :)

    • Lauren from NH

      Thanks for mentioning SoFi! Checking it out!

  • Kayla

    Oh, I feel you on the well-you-could-have-a-kid front. When I was trying to pay for undergrad, a particularly helpful financial aid advisor told me, “Well, if you were married, you’d qualify for more aid. As long as you marry poor. Don’t go marrying up, or that won’t help you at all.” Cue laugh-cry.

  • Gina

    All I can say is, Me Too.

    This legal market is horrible, and I wish I had thought more about the long-term ramifications of taking on that much debt and entering law school, but I love your perspective. We are still so fortunate to be able to pay our bills, and just because we aren’t at the same place our parents were at (late 20s, I’m assuming), doesn’t mean we are a failure.

    Hang in there, girl.

  • laddibugg

    Sometime I wonder if we not be considering getting hitched because of debt (I have almost twice as much as him, though combined it’s under $100K), but then I remember that even if we didn’t get hitched, we’d still have $XX, XXX amount of debt anyway.

    • Meg Keene

      True story.

    • Hayley

      Oh, we went through that exact same thing. LUCKILY the terrifying student loan balance was so much that throwing our entire wedding budget at it just…wouldn’t have even been worth it. I mean, make the best choice for you, obviously, but I promise those loans will still be there waiting for you after the wedding :)

  • ART

    This was great timing. We got married a month ago, and two weeks later filed paperwork to start a small business (my husband’s). The start-up costs haven’t been terrible (yet) but we’re trying to get him a business line of credit, and even though it’s not for an insane amount, I am debt-averse after paying down a bunch of student loan debt, and it’s scary to think of taking on more. My husband doesn’t have the same anxiety-fueled obsessive approach to personal finance that I have – I recognize in some ways this is a good thing, but it also means he isn’t going to track his finances as closely as I do in order to pay it down faster than required. So we’re dealing with the emotional part of managing money differently, and I’m walking around thinking “we’ll never have enough! wahh!” But this morning as I was brushing my teeth in my totally decent bathroom, kissing my new husband goodbye to go to my totally decent job, I thought man, get over yourself. This is plenty.

  • HannahESmith

    “Even as our day-to-day financial situation has stabilized, I can’t shake the feeling of underlying financial anxiety, and I’m not sure I ever will.” THIS. This is my life. I was lucky to have the same job through the financial crisis, but my husband had a series of terrible jobs combined with bouts of unemployment. Even though things are way better for us now, we still live in the inexpensive month-to-month apartment. Spending any large amount of money makes my heart race. I think this sense of caution does mean I make better financial decisions, but I wonder if this feeling of stress about money will ever go away.

  • Cait

    Great article. I often feel like, “there but for the grace of god go I,” (or we, really). My husband and I just moved to his home country England, and I’m unable to work for the moment until we hopefully meet the very strident financial requirements for me to apply for a spousal visa. Years after grad school, it’s still ramen and robbing the coin jar. The big upside is we’re together and will always have the memories of making this new time in our lives.

  • sarah

    My husband and I do not have student loan debt, but I totally relate to this article just from the money struggles aspect. We just bought a house last fall and are expecting a baby this winter, but have just started our third bout of unemployment in the last five year. We both have good degrees and good (for a time) jobs, but that doesn’t totally insulate you from downsizing. We’re checking off some of those boxes, yet our financial situation is definitely precarious and makes it extremely difficult to plan for the future. I agree with other comments that our entire generation will be carving a new path and figuring out what the new milestones are.

  • macrain

    In my career I work with college students, and I’m currently working at a pricey, private art and design college. I’ve seen students drop out halfway through because the expense is so crippling. They didn’t even have a plan to make it all the way through school, let alone for afterward. I keep thinking how I knew next to nothing as an undergrad, and how grateful I am that my parents pushed me to attend a public state school (which was a bargain and totally worth it, but even so I JUST paid off my undergrad loans at 33. Still working on grad school.)
    I guess what I’m saying is- if you have debt, don’t beat yourself up. Think of how young and clueless you were when you had to make those choices. One of the most important choices you make about your financial future happens when you are still figuring out what it means to be an adult.
    Also, slowly chipping away at my student loan debt has served my credit score incredibly well, as a silver lining.

  • As a woman with a masters degree, a paralegal certification, and a full-time job paying the going rate for paralegals who just applied for a part-time job at Whole Foods…

    I needed to know I wasn’t alone today.

    Thank you.

    • Hayley

      Nope, you are in very, very good company!

  • Mara C

    Thank you for sharing this experience. I epically quit a high stress senior position in a corporate company, went backpacking in Asia, started working for pennies for a non-profit, and married a student who’s only income is from his internship… all in one year. I vacillate between feeling utterly happy that rent’s paid and my husband is awesome, to feeling angry and frustrated because I’m in my 30s and still in a crappy 1 bedroom apt and flip out if food accidentally falls on the table at a restaurant because it means I just wasted money. I hold a degree from a prestigious top tier university but in retrospect, it really didn’t do jack squat for me.

    It’s a constant fight to focus on being at peace with myself and my decisions when everything that my parents and society indoctrinated in me – study hard, go to a good school, get a good job, get a nice house – pushes back at me. But here I am and as the author mentioned, it does give me an invaluable sense of perspective that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. For all the bullshit and depressing feelings, I really do appreciate what we’re going through now because when we do receive the rare gift of eating out or seeing a movie, I consciously cherish the moment and feel blessed we can do it at all.

  • Dee

    Totally hit the spot. I just started making payments, and feel like I kinda got sold a dream. “Get your education, whatever the costs – you will be able to pay off the loans in no time once you graduate”. Ha-ha ha-ha ha.

    • Hayley

      “No time” = literally, never. You’re never going to pay them off :) Torture.

  • MY husband and I had $45k of debt when we got married. We had to live in a guesthouse in someone’s backyard in order to make ends meet. It was a STRUGGLE. It was so hard, it SUCKED. But now, four years later, we are saving 50% of our income and it feels glorious. I think those rough times really solidified us as a couple, but I can’t say there weren’t a few rough patches along the way. Money isn’t everything, but it sure as hell helps.

  • ReneeMW

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! My student loans are outrageous and for the longest time I felt like such a failure. My b/f doesn’t have any student loan debt but I’m buried by enough for it to be nothing short of a challenge for us to get really started. I’ve always felt so far behind in life but as I learned I wasn’t the only one burdened by an obscene amount of student loans I guess I felt relief. It’s infuriating what happened with private loan lenders and even the federal loans but in the end I don’t regret my education…just wish I would have known all the fine print an BS when signing a chunk of my life away!

    • Caitlin_DD

      Same situation here. You are not alone…

  • I’m sort of in the same boat — not as desperate as I was as a post grad, but the constant anxiety of having the student debt that is left is exhausting! Now that you’ve found jobs in the industry you can knock those out fast! I can’t wait to hear of your progress, it’s all motivation for me to read as well. Sometimes I feel as though I just want to give up, pay the minimums, and pretend it isn’t there.. but I keep on pushing, hopefully cutting out years of my repayments.

    “One study
    found that “over a lifetime of employment and saving, $53,000 in
    education debt leads to a wealth loss of nearly $208,000.” Ouch.” — This fact is scary, and stressful, knowing that I had 1.5 times that amount! All I can think though is the faster I push through it, the quicker I can begin saving and investing to catch up. If anything, our debts have taught us to live frugally and want less material items (because we were forced into not being able to afford them!). I think these life lessons will serve us and any others with massive student loan debt for life. :)

  • Kerstin

    I feel like academia is getting a pretty bad rap here in the comments, so I’m going to put another voice in the ring. Admittedly, it should get a bit of a bad rap for its insane cost and for promoting a socio-economic discrepancy that we should all be ashamed of. But, I don’t believe that it means we should all give up on higher education. We should change it. Make it better, more accessible, and more affordable.

    According to this May 27 NYTimes piece (, the cost of NOT going to college today over our lifetimes is $500,000. In the long run, according to the study, you save money by going to college and paying off your student loans. (Read the whole article, it’s fascinating as it gets into how today’s graduates are not necessarily making more than past college graduates, but that people are making less without college degrees – so that’s an f-ed up system to debate along with the deterioration of unions on another day).

    However, while I realize and appreciate this piece is about the financial aspects of higher education, I have to say that for me personally, college has never been about the finances. Don’t get me wrong – I have had my own fair share of student debt to pay off (how is it that student loan entrance counseling does NOT involve showing you any type of monthly paycheck and how much is taken OUT of it??). It’s just that despite my reference to the above article, I don’t believe we should continue to quantify the “value” of a college degree, and certainly not in our society’s broken economic terms.

    I know I am fortunate. I was raised to trust myself, when the world (and sometimes even my parents) didn’t understand why I never considered premed or what a degree in Gastronomy was or how I would ever get a job related to that degree. Some people still don’t get it. But I use all three of my degrees (high school, college, and graduate school) Every. Single. Day. I would not be the person, woman, wife, friend, teacher, feminist, or employee that I am today without my education. For that, I don’t mind living frugally and creating my own [American] Dream. I see the connections and the value for myself, and that’s enough for me.

    • Kerstin

      Let me be clear: I don’t mean this to be on a high horse or to deny anyone else’s experiences. Simply sharing my own thoughts and experiences. Life is tough and I love all the APW’ers and our own unique and passionate ways of dealing with it!

  • NTB

    Hi. I feel you. My husband graduated from law school in 2009 and was unable to find a job, thanks to the recession. Fortunately, his loans were pretty small and I have no loans from undergrad or grad school because I worked and took the slow route to getting my degree. But even in a relatively good situation, we are nowhere near being able to purchase a home or start a family. I am 28, almost 29, and I would like to start soon. But saving for a home seems totally unattainable. Rent is INSANE where we live. I don’t know how we are supposed to magically have a house one day, but maybe it will happen.

    My husband was laid off last year and started working for himself as a lawyer. That has been an adjustment. I think there’s a stat that says a good chunk of legal professionals are self-employed. Fat salaries for lawyers at big firms are hard to come by, and that has been hard for my husband to come to terms with, especially since he did well and he’s a hard working person.

    Thinking of you and totally understanding where you’re coming from here. I cried a little. This is a great piece.

  • Annonyanka

    Thank you for writing this. I was laid off in February and my boyfriend was laid off (similar reasons — new management) in late June. Nether of us has jobs yet despite intense networking, volunteering, interviewing, more interviewing, and going above and beyond (I put together a 3 month communication plan after an interview because the hiring manager said that would be the first big task — I was her second choice and “it was a very difficult decision”). He’s at the final stage for two potential jobs this week (one has him coming in for a final “meet the team” but it’s down to him and one other person, the other job he’s had the final interview and is in the final four candidates) whereas I got another “we really liked you, but the other candidate had just a bit more experience” email last week and my more recent applications haven’t even had answers yet.

    I definitely cried reading this.

  • Ambaa

    I relate to this a lot. We’re climbing our way out, but I feel like I’m a decade behind on my goals. I’m also afraid that I’m never going to lose the feeling of worry. Perhaps like those who lived through the great Depression, I feel like the marks of the struggle are going to stay with me and I’m never going to feel solid. I feel a constant low-level panic about money humming just below the surface of my brain and every time we have to buy anything it amplifies. I don’t know if even when we are financially solid I’ll ever lose that feeling of fear.

  • RJ

    What a fantastic, encouraging article. My husband and I graduated from law school a year ago and are in a very similar situation. I appreciate the article’s honest perspective (and the hope it gives me that someday we will end up in the Caribbean, one way or another!).

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