The Financial Confessions: “I Got Married Right After College And Never Used My Degree”

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I got married right before my 24th birthday. I was so excited. My husband and I got together at the beginning of my junior year of college, which was a few months after he graduated. He proposed three days after my graduation, and of course, I said yes. We got married a year later and moved in together right after the wedding. We weren’t planning on getting pregnant right away, but six months into our new life together, we got the news: we were expecting.

We were thrilled, of course. It was what we’d wanted. Financially, we knew we could take care of it. We were very fortunate that our parents paid for most of our wedding (we also kept the cost to under $10K), and we’d been saving since before our marriage. While I’d only been working for a year and a half at that point, I had put away about $6K in savings. My husband had been in the workforce for two years longer than I had and had recently gotten a promotion. Fortunately, he had just started making $53K/year at his advertising job when we got the news about our new son.

When we heard we were going to be parents, I had been in the workforce for less than two years, and I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I’d known that since I was 10 years old. I would love to lie to you, and say I went to college to find an amazing education that would get me into a career I love. But I look around at my life, and I know that’s not true.

I went to a “ring by spring” school. If you’re not familiar with the ring by spring concept, then you never went to Catholic college. It’s exactly what it sounds like. If you go to a ring by spring school, there’s a good chance you’ll be engaged by the spring of your senior year of college. This concept, as you can probably guess, has gotten less popular over the years, but was very much in full-force when my parents were in college. They both went to the University of Dallas — they graduated the same year — and were married two years after graduation at a chapel near the campus. (I’ve never actually been to Texas, but they still talk about their wedding.)

I went to a private Catholic college in Philadephia. After attending a religious high school, I applied almost exclusively to small liberal arts colleges with strong Catholic communities. My friends who didn’t go to Catholic high school have always asked me if going to college in the same environment I’d grown up in is what I really wanted. And the honest answer is yes. I loved my school experience, but I also went off to college with the expectation that I wanted to meet my husband and get married young. My parents got married at 23, and I wanted a similar life for myself.

Obviously, I found what I was looking for. And I am happily married to a man I love. But I truly did get a “Mrs.” degree and lately I’ve been coming to terms with that reality. I went to college knowing there would be a limit to how long I spent in the workforce. The truth is I didn’t go to find my lifetime career. Plan A was always to go to school, work for a few years after, get married, and have children. I would love to go back to work after my kids are grown, but I have to admit that dedicating my life to work was never part of my plan. My mother stayed home with her four children, and I want to do the same. We grew up in Connecticut, and my dad commuted into NYC everyday as she raised us in our small-but-comfortable house. I got a degree in history, and I taught fifth grade for two years after college. I now stay at home with my son, and once we save a little bit more, we are going to try for our second child.

My only regret here, and the reason I am writing this, is that I have student loans. I don’t think there’s a problem with only using my degree for two years before staying home with my children, as long as we are able to afford to support our family. And once my children leave the house, I really would be interested in going back to teaching. But my student loans leave a gentle flaw in my life plan. We are a middle-class family, but because I stay home with our son, my husband is paying my loans. We have $20K of debt for the degree I’m not using anymore. And I’m not even the one paying it off. My husband is the one putting in the overtime to pay for the education that I’m not putting to use. I contribute some, but now that I am staying home with my son, I have so little money coming in. To make some money on the side, I babysit other children. A couple of the mothers I know from school work long hours, and sometimes I’ll watch one of their children after school for $15/hour. I would be happy to do it for free, but I accept payment because I want to be able to contribute to my family, even if it’s not much money.

Overall, I have no complaints. I get to raise my son in a loving home. My husband works long hours during the week (mainly because we need the extra money), but he fills his weekends playing with our son. I have everything I wanted, and I do find my life fulfilling. My only regret is the debt. I came into this marriage with $20K in debt for a degree I stopped using. I loved going to college and learning, and I’m so glad I met my husband there. But now I’m a stay-at-home mom and a part-time babysitter. And the honest truth is, even though I value my education, that degree could’ve been better used by someone else.

-Stefanie

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