Originally written for Dimespring, a now defunct personal finance website, as part of a monthly "Sweet Spot" series.
In his latest book, Start, Jon Acuff speaks against the myth that you should only share your successes. “If you share honestly about your own failures, people can often avoid having the same thing happen to them. If you stepped in a hole and it hurt, it helps if you tell other people not to step in that same hole.”
That is exactly what drove me to start writing about my debt and student loans. In 2004, I was one of 38 graduating seniors from a small, private high school near Chicago. Maybe the other 37 teenagers learned the ins and outs of student loans and personal finances from their parents, but I know for a fact that none of us learned about it at school. I set off for college with a decent understanding of spending, saving, and basic budgeting and zero knowledge about credit cards, debts, and loans.
In fact, over the next six years, I made it through three different universities without having any real understanding of how much money was being moved from one place to another on my behalf. I just knew that my tuition was covered by a faceless financial institution and that being super broke or in debt was a great topic for conversation and bonding with fellow college students.
It has only been in the past few years that I’ve started to really gain an understanding of how student loans work, how I can best pay them back, why I probably should have started building up a credit rating in high school, why every high school student deserves a course on credit cards and debt and student loans, and what a true mess I’ve made for myself financially.
Essentially, I learned the hard way and came out knowing a lot of what not to do, but that can be really valuable insight. A few weeks ago, my coworker pulled me aside at lunch and asked me, “Can I get your thoughts on something?” Her son’s girlfriend is a recent college graduate and is looking forward to a bright future and a never-ending stream of student loan payments. My coworker knew from previous conversations that I have done some research on consolidation (I opted not to consolidate my loans) and income-based deferment (which is how I cut my student loan payments in half). I laughed and said with a frown, “Oh good. I’m turning into an expert on being in debt.”
But I’m actually okay with that. I wandered rather blindly into the world of financial responsibility and wound up at the bottom of a pit of debt. If I can help someone else get a grip on budgeting and working with student loan companies before they hit rock bottom, I will feel like my journey was completely worthwhile. It would take my failure and turn it into a success, and that’s a pretty “sweet spot” moment in my book.