Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Out From Under the Thumb of El Guapo

Every time I read stories like this, I’m glad I got through a BA in journalism and a MS in English with only $1,500 in student loan debt.

And whenever we get to feeling discouraged because money is tight and we’re deferring home improvement projects we’d like to do, I have to say, well, at least we’re not massively in debt. Sure, we owe about $70,000 on the house, and a miniscule amount on a sole credit card. We’re not being crushed by debt, and if I have any say in it, we’re not going to.

We pay as we go. And we do what we can to save money. This summer’s home improvement project, for example, is going to be replacing the four windows on the front of the house. All four of them are big energy-leakers. Luckily, all we have to do is buy the windows. I’ve installed all of the other windows in the house, so we don’t have to pay labor to have them put in.

It’s the other projects that are killers – the back deck plus garage, I just can’t do myself. Parts of it, yes, But not all of it – and certainly not things like framing, roofing and concrete. I can do the window dressing, the electrical and such. That’s good. Can’t afford the rest. That’s bad.

I just refuse to go into debt for things like this. It’s just not sound thinking. I feel for the people who have had massive amounts of student debt pile on top of them, as with the woman featured in the Wall Street Journal article. But I can’t help thinking: You knew you’d have to pay the piper some day. At what point do you cut your losses and stop taking out the loans? I knew going into journalism that I’d have a heck of a time earning enough money to provide for a family, let alone pay off student debt. So I worked summers, worked during the semester, and overall just worked when I had to and didn’t go to school when I didn’t have the money. I got lucky with this current technical writing job landing in my lap, and that spurred me on to getting that masters degree – for which I paid cash. What has it netted me? A possible $2,500-a semester teaching gig at a local university, if there’s ever enough demand for the bonehead English class I’m signed up to teach. Again, nothing I could use to pay back any student debt had I taken out loans to get the Masters degree I needed to teach the class and get my foot in the door at the university.

Every tie I read one of these stories, I’m reminded of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s 1998 Conference talk, “To the Boys and to the Men,” in which he said:
I urge you, brethren, to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.

This is a part of the temporal gospel in which we believe. May the Lord bless you, my beloved brethren, to set your houses in order. If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wives and children and peace in your hearts. That's all I have to say about it, but I wish to say it with all the emphasis of which I am capable.
We’ve tried to heed that advice and, humbly, I can say it works.


Lorena Williams said...

Very good advice, I already owe credit cards and in three more years a huge student loan. Wish I didn't have any debt at all.

Mister Fweem said...

I'm sorry to hear that. I think I got really lucky in how I was able to work and pay for my education along the way.