This essay is from a 2020 Student Loan Planner Scholarship winner.
When I closed the chapter on 2019, I (along with every hopeful and inspired individual), vowed to get my financial act together.
I was a semi-new nursing graduate steady in my worked-so-hard-and-longed-for career in nursing. I entered this career as a second-degree student with a whopping 100k+ amount of student loan debt. I dipped into financial blogs, podcasts, books, you name it-in order to understand how to manage my finances and quickly eradicate my newly acquired post-nursing school debt.
The recession in this apocalyptic 2020 version of the world we now live in, has greatly affected the way I prioritize and balance life, my personal finances – and those of my kid, along with my student loan debt.
I have to work backward in order to make sense of my 2020 financial knowledge and literacy, and how the recession affects me in the current moment.
As a first-generation immigrant, my parents seldom spoke about finances. This subject matter was always private. They made sure my sisters and I had what we needed for school, were comfortable and that was that. However, it was evident that money was clearly an issue.
We were a family of 5 living in a converted-2-bedroom apartment. My dad worked two jobs, that sometimes had him gone both morning and evenings. My mom had her own side hustle, as a self-taught baker making elaborate cakes for sweet sixteens/fifteens, weddings, baby showers, and many other actual-and Hispanic created-events.
Money flowed into our household, but talk of savings, acquiring debt for school, or retirement funds wasn’t discussed. A general “work hard, go to school and get a degree so you can get a good job” expectation was imposed upon my sisters and me. But I always wondered, what happens once you get there?
As a single parent to an amazing 11-year-old boy, I’ve had to approach life and finances with much grit. I am responsible for maintaining and keeping myself and my kiddo alive, securing money now and having enough later for my future and his, all while attempting to at least have some fun throughout.
Money is so important. Education is so important. There is power in educating oneself about money and finances. This 2020 recession has been the eye-opener for myself AND the entire world about how dang expensive it is to live. Especially when you live in Manhattan, especially living in the epicenter of a pandemic, and especially when healthcare costs-meets financial uncertainty is at an all-time high.
I was, and continue to be fortunate to have a steady job, with a steady flow of income. Working in a busy NYC Emergency Department during a pandemic ensured and guaranteed me employment. However, this ensued extra panic within me. How am I to manage to work in an insane environment, manage remote school learning, keep myself and family safe AND pay off my student loan debt? Nothing seemed guaranteed *note during this time frame there was no talk of pausing federal student loan payments. I vowed to pick up as many extra shifts in order to pick up the pace towards financial freedom. No matter the circumstance, or consequences, might be in doing so.
Months later (too long in my opinion), the glorious email was sent out. All federal student loans to be paused, no interest to be accrued. “Wait, what?”, I thought. “This is my time to be a-g-r-e-s-s-i-v-e and hit my student loan debt with all I’ve got. Then a second glorious email was sent out, with a somewhat controversial opinion to my own. “Don’t feel guilty about paying nothing” sounds familiar? * I’m looking at you Travis from Student Loan Planner.
I figured this seemed a bit ludicrous of an idea to not take advantage of 0% interest. But alas, education, education, education.
I have made it my affirmation during this 2020 recession to go back to my roots of “You don’t know what you don’t know until you educate yourself and when you do, do better.” This recession has taught me to reformat my plan to tackle my student loan debt and with that, reformat and re-prioritize life and my finances. I can do it all. My student loan debt isn’t magically disappearing or going away. But my savings, for the present, emergency costs and for the future, won’t magically accrue and build up if I am not giving that as much love either.
Revisiting the original prompt, has this 2020 recession affected me? Absolutely. Hasn’t it affected us all, for better or for worse?
I have taken a step back to look at the bigger financial picture of my life. My student loan debt is relatively new. I have taken many strides and many work hours to finally get it under 100k, but I do have a long way to go. I would be a fool to not zoom out and realize that by hyper-focusing on debt this will not ensure that if something like-said pandemic we are living through now-affected my actual income. Would my kiddo and I be able to live comfortably with the emergency fund I’ve saved? Do I have enough money to cover emergency/healthcare expenses? Do I have enough money to actually have some sort of fun?
This recession has affected my views on how to manage life and finances in both actuality-and for my and kiddo’s future, that my student loan debt is still * a little scary, but with a plan and flexibility, it can be conquered.
Most importantly, it has taught me that finances cannot be an “all or nothing” approach. Life is happening every, single, day. The same way I counsel some of my patients about their illness during discharge, “It sometimes gets worse before it gets better.” This pandemic and recession definitely has many of us in different stages of worse before the better.
For me, I am taking the momentary worldwide pause on re-evaluating and re-prioritizing finances for myself, and my kiddo, for both now and what the future holds.