"Let me start off by saying that I've gotten incredibly lucky and have no student debt at all." -Said No One Ever
Just kidding. Many have been blessed tremendously to have graduated with some form of diploma or certificate without having any student debt to payback. However, that is not my situation. I have well over $100,000 of student debt. Luckily I have a steady job and have created an intentional plan to get out of debt quickly and completely; however, for many, this is not the case. And for me, this was not always the case.
Having student debt can be incredibly taxing on your emotions and spiritual well-being. It can negatively effect your willingness to give monetarily to those in great(er) need, and it can sap the joy from your daily routine: "Why go to work if I'm just going to spend the next 10 (or 20. or 30) years paying off this never-ending debt load?
There are a number of Biblical passages that warn about going into debt (Proverbs 3:27, Proverbs 22:7, Romans 13:7-8, Psalm 37:21), but I don't want to beat a dead horse. Who of you reading this thinks your student debt is good? Probably none of you.
There are few things in life that have the ability to stress me out (and often infuriate me) as student debt and the entire shakaterous system that exists to seemingly force students in the 21st century into an absurd amount of monetary debt. But I'm not writing this to rally everyone up who has debt so that we can overthrow the system. I want to simply share three important characteristics I've tried to embody as a working man who is spending an extraordinary amount toward debt every month.
1. That I have student debt at all means I am in the top 1% in the world.
Many people have never and will never have the opportunity to even go into debt. Some people are in such extreme poverty that the idea of borrowing money from anyone for anything is a completely foreign concept to them. Not only was I able to borrow money for something I did not absolutely need, but I borrowed a lot of money for something I didn't need, all the while being able to sustain my life with all the things I did need (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.).
When I consider how inexplicably poor some people are in the world, it makes giving my money so much easier and so much more precious and meaningful. Sometimes I am able to give significantly more than other times, but every week I try to consider how deeply impoverished some are on the planet, and I give because I have been greatly blessed in so many ways, including the ability to have debt in the first place. Debt is a privilege, and paying it back can be a joy if we maintain the right perspective.
2. The Widow Gave All She Had, Which Was Very Little
"41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” - Mark 12:41-44
God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7), and he loves when we give with the same attitude as the widow in the story above.
I admit, there are weeks I have not given, and it hurts my soul every time because I know how much God has blessed me with to give. My consistent practice as a working man is to give consistently and generously, not just in a tray on Sundays, but to needs I encounter throughout the week as well. I live in the South Suburbs of Chicago, and we got about a foot of snow today. I am going downtown tomorrow to celebrate a birthday, and I am bringing cash with me. There are so many people stuck in this unforgiving and frigid cold, and it breaks my heart!
For me, considering how dire the needs are for others is what compels me to give what I have joyfully and soberly. I have so much. I eat food every day. I have an entire closet of clothes and several pairs of shoes. I have an iPhone and a MacBook. I have a steady career that I love. I have a car (that is currently buried in snow). I have a TV mounted to my wall. I have so many things. Some people have literally nothing, and it is that fact that pushes me to continue giving. God sees when we give, and he loves it.
3. Giving Makes Us Happy
I love the many paradoxes of Christianity. You're telling me that if I give, I'll actually feel better about the incredulous amount of debt I'm in? I believe there is no coincidence to the Bible's commands and stories on giving.
"In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high. (1)" Giving to any cause has a biological effect on our emotional well-being that makes us feel good.
I can't tell you the hours I've spent fretting about my debt and worrying about how I'm ever going to even dent the surface of it, but I push myself to continue to give, knowing that my experience in getting out of debt will be greater, easier, and more joyful if I continue to give to others during the process.
Giving is difficult, especially when we have debt that is so cumbersome. But giving will actually help us to get out of debt in a way that pleases God and in a way that better fulfills our life along the way.
Just because you're in debt doesn't mean you aren't able to give. From my experience, giving in the midst of paying off large loads of debt makes paying off the debt that much easier. Again, the paradoxes of Christianity are amazing.
There are many great resources out there that help with managing your finances, creating a budget, and consistently striving toward living a debt-free life. One resource I highly recommend is Dave Ramsey. He has endless material about all types of financial troubles, including debt. One book he writes that I highly recommend reading is The Total Money Makeover. One of his most famous lines is: "IF YOU WILL LIVE LIKE NO ONE ELSE, LATER YOU CAN LIVE LIKE NO ONE ELSE" (Ramsey, 5). While he gives hope and shows practical ways to become free of the snare of debt, he also speaks bluntly, which is so often needed: "Some of you are so immature that you are unwilling to delay pleasure for a greater result" (Ramsey, 5). Ramsey speaks of finances with a Christian foundation, often using scripture.
If you are willing to spend a little more time investing in your debt, something I have not yet done myself but have heard many good things about is Ramsey's Financial Peace University.
Along with Ramsey's resources, I recommend building a thorough, exhaustive budget of all of your expenses-- that is everything that comes into the bank as well as that which goes out. If you're anything like me, you'll probably find you spend more money than you should on things you don't need. Something that may help you budget is a budgeting template, like one here that Mint makes. There are many options to choose from if you're looking to begin one inside of Microsoft Excel; an easy Google search will help you find the one that's right for you.
Lastly, it is good to seek the professional advice of a Financial Advisor if you can. If you are unable to consult with a Financial Advisor or a professional Coach, then identify someone that you know has their finances under control, and ask them to guide you in your quest to becoming debt free (ask questions about your budget, your spending habits, your current situation and where you would like to be in 2, 3, 5, 10, 20 years, etc.) When I first met with my Financial Advisor, I left the 2-hour meeting feeling, perhaps for the first time, that it is possible to be completely free of debt. Having someone financially credible that can coach you through this process will prove invaluable in the long run, and will help you in the times that you feel like giving up. People who are trained in finances can look at every angle of your finances and help you to make sense of it all. You may find that what you thought was totally impossible is easy to do if done the right way with the right help. You can do it!