5 Invaluable Lessons I Wouldn’t Have Learned Without My Student Loans


So often we speed through life, focusing on what’s next and what we still want, rather than being appreciative of where we’ve already been and what we already have. My list of blessings is overflowing — I have a wonderful wife, two pups, loving family and friends, a job I really enjoy, health, and plenty of other things to be thankful for. I try to reflect on these blessings on a daily basis, rather than just during the holiday season. Focusing on gratitude helps me avoid the temptation of constantly seeking “more.”

A little while back I discussed how generosity is what brings true joy, and also about how having parents who have been present and supportive throughout my life is one of my biggest privileges. Rather than center this post on the countless areas I have to be thankful for in my life, I wanted to throw a bit of a curveball and narrow down the topic.

It may sound strange, but I’m actually thankful for my student loans.

My wife and I graduated with about $40,000 worth of combined student loan debt. In the past 10 months, through some sacrifices and hard work, we’ve been able to pay off over half of the $27,000 that remained. So how is it that I’m thankful for these student loans?

While being in debt is obviously no fun, and can take a heavy psychological toll at times, there have been some positives that can be drawn from the whole experience as well.

1. Student loans gave me the opportunity to attend a 4-year university.

The process of applying to colleges and deciding where to go was a stressful one for me. While it’s definitely possible to get a college degree without going into debt, at the time I didn’t have the necessary information to realize that. I could’ve gone to community college for two years, applied for more scholarships, or worked while attending college. Instead, I chose to bet on myself, taking on debt with the long-term goal of getting a useful college degree that would result in a greater income throughout my working career. Ultimately, going into a 4-year program was the right decision for me. I met my future wife, my best friend, had countless of unforgettable experiences, and grew up a lot by pushing myself out of my comfort zone via moving away from home.

2. Student loans became a catalyst for me learning about personal finance.

After graduating with so much debt, it was clear to me that I needed to get it paid off as quickly as possible. For the first two and a half years after college, I worked in internships and low-paying hourly jobs. My mindset was to put off paying my student loans and learning about money until I was actually making a consistent income. Finally, I got a full-time job with a salary, and it was my light-bulb moment. I wanted to use the money wisely, and set my wife and myself up for success. This inspired me to start learning as much as I could about personal finance. I read blogs, books, and listened to podcasts. I wanted to improve our financial situation, but needed to learn more about the best ways of doing so. Now, personal finance is something I’m very passionate about, and I want to pass this on to other people in a situation similar to mine.

3. Paying off student loan debt has helped instill positive financial habits.

While getting my first full-time job with a salary was my light-bulb moment in terms of starting to track my expenses and making a budget, a lot of the urgency I felt to learn about personal finance can be attributed to having student loans. Having the debt weighing on my shoulders made me act immediately, instead of feeling complacent and putting it off. While having so much student loan debt has been difficult, it has pushed us to instill positive financial habits. We diligently track our expenses, budget, and allocate large portions of our income towards debt repayment. We’ve learned strategies for living frugally and have learned that we don’t need to spend a lot of money for us to be happy.

4. Debt repayment has led to me setting money goals and working towards achieving them.

I’ve always been a long-term thinker. I like setting goals and working towards them, but I had never really carried that into my finances. Having student loan debt has given me the sense of urgency to set big money goals and work hard to reach them. Working towards debt freedom has led to a big sense of accomplishment, knowing that I’m creating a better future for my wife and myself with each month that passes.

5. It gives me the experience necessary to help others facing similar challenges.

It’s one thing to tell someone about ways to pay off debt, track expenses, or various other ways to improve their financial situation. It’s a completely different situation when you can come alongside them and say you’ve been in their shoes. It helps me be more understanding, compassionate, and relatable to the people I’m trying to help.

Being in the situation of having to pay back thousands of dollars in student loan debt is far from easy. Sometimes I think about if I could go back and do it all over again, would I still take on this much debt? Ultimately, that’s the wrong question. Scrutinizing past decisions and beating myself up for financial mistakes is no way to live a fulfilled life.

I can’t change the past, but by coming to grips with my present situation I’ve been able to make the most of it. In doing so, I’ve been able to draw some positives from the situation. I’ve certainly learned a lot, and hopefully taking a step back and viewing your own situation through this type of lens can help you realize how far you’ve come, instead of focusing only on how far you still have left to go.

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  • Andrea

    I love that TFD talks about student debt, but all the articles are people with less than 50k of debt. I would give just about anything to graduate with 50k (and that’s just me, not me and a partner). I will graduate with 250k or more of debt, and that’s terrifying. Yes, I am entering a field when starting salaries are 100k, but I’m still terrified of my debt. I would love to read about someone who’s gone through this already, just to know that I’ll be okay.

    • Andrea, thanks for sharing where you’re at. I’d love to read about how you’re working through such a big amount of debt. Hopefully some of these points can apply to your same situation. You may have a much bigger amount than most of the TFD contributing writers, but it sounds like you’ll likely have a larger starting income too. If you can maintain a high savings rate, with that income you could knock out your debt a lot faster than you think. As long as you make small progress over time, you’ll still be able to reach debt freedom even if it takes a few years longer!

      Putting myself in your shoes, I’d definitely feel intimidated, but a lot of the same principles would still apply. Cutting expenses, staying motivated, writing out a budget, scheduling automated payments towards your debt each month, and maintaining a positive perspective. Everyone has different levels of debt and different timelines for reaching debt freedom, but we can all encourage each other as we strive for the same goal! Good luck in your journey!

    • Holly Trantham

      Hi Andrea! Thanks for your comment — we love posting different stories of people repaying debt, since no two journeys are the same. We’ve had a few 6-figure debt repayment stories, though most are from people sharing debt with partners. And you’re right, most are not such steep amounts, so that’s something we’ll definitely keep in mind going forward! I’ll point you here in the meantime: