I would definitely consider myself an impulsive consumer. I have always appreciated, loved, and fully engaged in frivolous spending, even when I didn’t have the funds to do so. When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with owning the “perfect dress” to wear while dancing the night away with my girlfriends, or absolutely needing that pricey appetizer and dessert to go along with my already-expensive meal. But I never really considered the consequences of my hasty actions. I never really gave money a second thought, even though I absolutely should have been thinking more about my future and less about living in the moment.
This leads me to a very important financial moment late in my teenage life. Of course, I didn’t fully realize the implications of this event when it was happening, yet now I am definitely dealing with the consequences of this decision. There I was, at the precarious age of 18, signing very important and official looking documents, in front of a very important and official looking bank manager. I signed on the dotted line, indicating that I was to receive and forever be held accountable for my very own student line of credit. It was a little bit like the climactic moment in most romantic comedies in which the heroine (me) makes a horrible decision to stay with the wrong guy and the suspense builds. Looking back now, I recall my younger self truly believing that this money would be useful. I had planned on attending a post-secondary program in my hometown, and since I lived about a half hour away from the college I’d be attending, I was convinced I would need a vehicle. This student loan would allow me to pay tuition for my first semester and purchase a used car, which, in theory, sounded great to me.
To make a long story short, I chose to drop out of the program I was attending halfway through the first semester. I knew it wasn’t for me; it had been a second-choice program, and I wasn’t even 100% sure I wanted to pursue my chosen degree. I, unfortunately, was not able to get any of my tuition money back, and I had already spent the rest of the loan on my vehicle. (If you’re wondering about my much-loved little black car, it lasted a good two years until pitifully breaking down on the side of the highway on a gloomy winter day, due to poor maintenance and long overdue oil changes.) Thus, I found myself $15,000 in debt with student loans that were gaining interest fast.
Most sane individuals would be worried (at the very least) about this situation, yet I don’t recall caring very much. I’m not sure if I had chosen to become blissfully unaware, or if I truly didn’t realize the magnitude to which I was ruining my financial life. I ignored phone calls from the bank demanding interest payments, and I merely glanced at the letters arriving in the mail marked with a “past payment” stamp, without fully registering the terrible situation I had gotten myself into.
I was simply carrying on with my life, working part-time jobs, and spending my money on things I believed mattered (that perfect dress, or a crazy night out with friends). Reflecting back on this small era in my life, I realize how unbelievably silly and thoughtless I was being. Why wasn’t I planning for my future? Why wasn’t I at least trying to solve this problem? I have always been the type of person who has huge dreams and goals. Yet, in the midst of dreaming about my future travels to exotic places and finally being able to move out on my own, I was not fully realizing that, in order to make that transition, I would need to grow the hell up and take care of my financial situation.
About two years after I had first taken out my student loan, I began to realize that I needed to make some big changes. I had settled into a good part-time job where I made enough money to cover all of my bills, as well as contribute a good amount to my savings account. I had applied and been accepted to a program at a university, and I was finally passionate about what I was studying. In order to help fund my university tuition, I had applied for a government-funded program where I was eligible to receive grants, as well as some loans (which I was confident I would be able to pay back after graduating). Most importantly, I made an appointment with that very important and official-looking bank manager, and finally discussed a five-year plan to pay back the $15K loan I took out initially.
I’m not going to lie and say that it’s not somewhat painful for me to watch that payment come out of my checking account every month. It’s very hard to see my hard-earned money go toward a loan I didn’t personally achieve anything with. Yes, it was great having a car to drive around town with, but did I really need that car when I could easily have purchased a bus pass? Did I really need to waste all of that money on a half-semester in a program I wasn’t fully convinced I should be part of in the first place? No, I absolutely didn’t. But I will say that I have undoubtedly learned an important lesson from that loan. I now try my best to make responsible financial choices, and I’ve learned not to make quick decisions that may bring me happiness or convenience in the short term, without fully understanding what the long-term consequences of that decision will be. Most importantly, this whole experience has taught me that facing your problems, no matter how immense and intimidating they may seem, is always better than hiding from them.
Brittany is a psychology student currently residing in Ontario, Canada with her boyfriend and two cats.
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