The Truth About Being In Debt That No One Talks About

“Home life ceases to be free and beautiful as soon as it is founded on borrowing and debt.” — Henrik Ibsen

We’ve become used to the lingering presence of our debt, like living with someone who reminds us every day that we’re not enough. It sucks the life force out of you. How are you emotionally coping with your debt?

I asked my friend Kara Perez over at BravelyGo.co to share her personal experience with debt. See if you relate:

“I’ve got a problem with debt. While I no longer have any debt, it doesn’t mean that my feelings about debt have changed. I hate debt. It stresses me out.

“Debt is a burden. You’ll find a lot of articles and stories out there about ways you can pay off debt, or avoiding going into it at all. You’ll find tips for frugal living and ways to maximize your savings. All the information is good! I, myself, have written a post or two about frugal living. What I don’t see as often, though, is stories about the emotional cost of debt. I graduated college with $25,302 in student loans in 2011. I had no savings and no job. It was a pretty bleak financial picture, and I was acutely aware that I was starting from behind.

“My debt weighed me down, and not just financially. My debt weighed on my emotions. I sat at my college graduation feeling actual fear while our speaker gave his address. How am I going to pay my loans back? Am I going to be in debt forever? $25,302 is a lot of money, and I have none — what am I going to do?

“My debt made me sad, angry, and scared, often all at once. And I know I’m not alone in this. Graduates have committed suicide over their student loan debt. Talk to anyone with debt, and they’ll mention that they feel overwhelmed by it, scared of it, and sure that it’s a permanent part of their adult life. That is the emotional cost of debt: the overwhelming hopelessness. I felt all those things. I was sad that my debt kept me from doing things I wanted to in my life. Friends of mine were taking the year off after college to travel, or were able to take very low-paying jobs in fields they loved, because they had no debt. Those weren’t chances I could take.

“I was angry with the education system that requires teenagers to take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt before they understand it. Education shouldn’t cost you your future. If we’re asking kids to pay almost $300,000 for a degree, there needs to be work for those kids when they graduate.

“I was scared I would never pay it off. I come from a lower-middle class income background, and $25,302 was more money than even seemed real. I had a Bachelor’s degree in English, and a passion for writing — not exactly a well-paying field, or a high-earning degree. The emotions paralyzed me at times. I tried to be proactive about my debt, but after college, I could only find work as a waitress. I worked really hard for fairly low pay, all the while making no dents in my debt load.

“The fear, anger and sadness didn’t go away. I thought about my debt all the time. It was something I would poke at, and up would rise all the bad feelings. The emotional cost of my debt was just as bad as the financial one.

“Looking at my balances made me cry. Thinking about my income level made me cry. I was crying a lot, and it was bringing down my whole quality of life. My response to my debt for a long time was like riding on an emotional roller coaster. I would ride until I stumbled off, and then get back on. I couldn’t control the path it took me on. I finally started to feel better when I started making serious moves to pay off my debt. Two and a half years after graduation, I’d had enough. I slashed my spending, tightened my budget as much as I could, and picked up as much extra work as I could. Every single penny that wasn’t spent on the bare essentials (and I do mean bare) got funneled towards my debt.

“Taking action made me feel approximately 1,000 times better. I felt like, for the first time, I was the one in control. My debt was no longer a boogeyman that lurked in the shadows of my life. I dragged that thing out into daylight, and showed it who was boss! It took another year, but I managed to pay off my student loans by three and a half years after college graduation. During that last year, my feelings about debt totally shifted. I felt powerful, hopeful and strong. Focusing on eliminating my debt showed me what I’m capable of. Each time I made a payment, I felt stronger. I was winning against my debt. The finish line was in sight.

“While knowing the best tactics to pay off your debt is important, it’s also important to talk about the feelings associated with your debt. Being debt-free has vastly improved my life. I feel lighter. I’m happier. I can take risks. I can save money. I own my life, not some lender. This emotional journey has had high highs and low lows, that’s for sure.

“For all of you out there who have your own debt burden, I would say this. Examine how your debt makes you feel. Are those feelings positive? Are they negative? If they’re overwhelmingly negative, I encourage you to do whatever you can to take back control. Don’t let your debt control you. You are in charge, and you can defeat your debt.”

Debt gives us no room to make mistakes. Who needs that? When you owe money, you make your most significant decisions life based on fear — fear of missing a payment, or never getting out from underneath the mountain, especially if you’re someone with integrity. The feeling of being behind is hard to shake. Sometimes, it runs our show long after the last payment is made. Your mind is always somewhere else, trying to survive, instead of having fun and attracting the positive energy you have the power to create here and now. Your choice is simple: embrace the hardship of getting rid of your debt, and look forward to being free. Or, put it off, and get poorer in every sense of the word for the rest of your life. You pick when you’re ready to start.

You’re in great company if you’re struggling with debt. Forgive yourself. It’s a new day. It’s a new year. Make a plan to remove that financial and (more importantly) emotional tumor from your life. You’ve done harder things before. Do what you need to do to see the light again.

Jane Hwangbo is a former investment analyst and portfolio manager who founded Mission Over Money, a personal coaching program designed to change the way individuals see and interact with money. Visit her website or find her on Twitter.

Image via Unsplash

  • Court E. Thompson

    Really loved this! I feel this way a lot with my student loans. I’d love to know more about what she did; what her “bare” essentials were. Whenever I read articles about budgeting, they talk about slashing starbucks or shopping. But what what do you do when those are already gone?

  • Rebecca Ann

    I wish I could cut down to the bare essentials and be able to pay off my debt. At this point, with my income v. my debt, even if I moved back home and only bought groceries, what I could pay would barely cover the interest. I feel for the people in the linked article, because I too have law school debt, and a non-law job. However, I love my job, and my income-based payment is manageable, but when that magical time comes where my loans are forgiven, I’m still going to be on the hook for a massive tax bill on the forgiven interest. There is literally no way out, and it’s a terrible feeling to have. I think of all the things I could have with this amount of debt… A really nice house, a few years abroad, some really fancy cars… But no, I have a useless piece of paper from a law school that either nobody has heard of, or isn’t good enough to get a foot in the door in the area where people have heard of it. Such a waste of three years, and so so much stress. I wish I hadn’t gone. If I could send them my degree back to make the loans go away, I would happily drop the JD after my name.

  • Andrea

    Totally relate. I am so angry that no one told my 17 year old self what student loan debt REALLY meant for my future. A part of me is angry at my parents, too, for not forcing me to go to a school that would have been cheaper. I loved my college and cannot imagine my life without the people I met there and the experiences I had, but if I could do it over I would 10000% go somewhere that would let me graduate debt free.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This