This essay is from a finalist for the 2020 Student Loan Planner Scholarship.
My grandparents were children during the Great Depression. Grandma washed and reused Ziploc bags while my grandfather ended our visits with a shout of “Don’t take any wooden nickels!” as we drove away.
They owned their house outright and instilled in my mom and subsequently my sister and me that credit was bad and you never wanted to owe anyone.
The money mindset I inherited is “money is to be saved.”
Graduating with no debt
Because of my family (and a little help from the federal government) I was able to graduate from college with a teaching degree and no debt. I recognize that this is an amazing feat these days.
I worked part-time during the school year and full-time every summer: camp counselor, office assistant, nanny, and retail worker at the now bankrupt Mervyns. I lived on what I earned and never opened a credit card.
I started teaching elementary school at 22 years old and never once took a sick day so that I could earn a $300 perfect attendance bonus at the end of the year.
Marrying into debt or falling in love with a med student
Fast forward to falling in love with a med student. Do you have an idea where this is going?
My future husband was finishing up a post-bacc at UC Irvine when I met him and he already had five years of student debt racked up. Amid the normal dating events like trips to the movies and Dave & Busters we also had many late night conversations about debt and money.
Money has been a stressful topic in our relationship since the very beginning. My beliefs stood in stark contrast to his assertion that taking on debt was an investment in our future. In general, my husband is a “go big or go home” kinda guy – – which I love about him.
When getting into med school in California wasn’t working out, we decided to enroll at a Caribbean medical school. I did what was probably the most reckless and daring thing I’d ever done and quit my job to move with him.
Taking on my own debt
While other spouses of med students were working on their tan, in true-to-myself form, I enrolled in a Master’s of Educational Technology program. Without proper income, I also signed on the dotted line for my first student loans.
At this point, it only seemed like a drop in the bucket compared to my husband’s ever mounting pile of debt.
I looked the other way and stuffed down any ill feelings while also enjoying the Caribbean climate.
Becoming the breadwinner
Objectively, going back to school was a good decision. When we returned to America I was able to land a great job as an Instructional Designer and faculty at a university.
I learned to brush off the, “Why do you work if your husband is a doctor?” question and bite my tongue to keep myself from explaining how many hundreds of thousands of dollars we are in debt.
There is a confidence that comes with succeeding in your career. Especially as the female spouse of a doctor who often gets all the attention and awe-struck comments. At work, I get to stand alone and am recognized for my own accomplishments.
I’ve been able to support our family through the end of medical school and transition to residency. I qualified and bought us a home. And I vowed to pay off my student loans early.
2020 is a dumpster fire
When the world began to shut down in March, having a spouse working as a resident in the hospital hit close to home. As he was worrying about proper PPE, I was trying to figure out our finances.
We lost our ridiculously low priced babysitter because she had to start teaching her children from home. With two under two, the best solution was to hire a full-time nanny and our finances have become incredibly tight since then.
Working in higher education, I have already been faced with one furlough period as the university I work for tries to stay afloat. They’ve already announced an upcoming mandatory holiday furlough and although we can hope for the best, I’m preparing for several more unpaid weeks before the year is over.
How I’m coming to terms with debt deferment
My gut reaction when the CARES Act was first released was to take advantage of the 0% interest rate and continue paying on my student loans. However, as events have rolled out, we have found ourselves needing every last dollar to make ends meet.
Accepting deferment felt like a blow initially. I have less than $10,000 remaining on my students loans and was anticipating paying them off in less than two years. Taking care of this relatively small chunk before my husband finishes training was going to start us on the right foot to becoming financially independent.
If 2020 has taught us anything though, it’s that you can’t predict the future. Sometimes you have to accept defeat in the short term in order to stay in the game. This debt deferment is actually a gift for our family.
Education, healthcare, the careers we have chosen have been around for centuries. Even with this blip in the road our jobs will continue to be in demand. We will pay off our debt. And I know my grandparents will smile down on us when we do.
Katie Price is an Instructional Designer and adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two kiddos, and cat. In her spare time she and her sister operate Priceless Design, a small web design studio specializing in WordPress websites for best-selling authors.