I have a lot to be thankful for—a wonderful family, an amazing partner who I adore, phenomenal friends and a well-paying job that ends the minute I leave the office—but this year, I’m thankful for something in particular: my $13,000 of student loans. They have been the source of stress, tears and countless sacrifices, but despite the pain they’ve caused, they’ve also given me a lot to be thankful for.* They were the catalyst for my self-taught financial education, the reason I learned to save 50% of my income and proved that financial extremes lead to misery. They’ve helped me become a financially literate and mindful adult who isn’t afraid to go against the societal norms.
1. Savings > Spending
If there is one thing my loans taught me, it’s that saving money feels better than spending it ever could. When I made the decision to pay off my loans as fast as possible, I quickly experienced the feeling of sheer joy that accompanies $1,000+ loan payments. Watching your loan balance shrink is the best feeling in the world, and is closely followed by another money win: watching your bank account bulk up right before your eyes.
Before embarking on aggressive student loan repayments, I created a robust emergency fund of three months worth of living expenses. Because I live on 50% of my income, the fund only took me 3 months to create. Watching the fund grow each month was thrilling because it happened fast (due to my high savings rate) and provided me with peace of mind. No matter what happens, I know that I have enough money to survive. That is the kind of happiness that money can buy.
2. Money Knowledge For the Win
My desire to aggressively pay off my student loans led me down the rabbit hole of personal finance education and my world has never been the same. My eyes used to glaze over when I heard terms like “401(k)” or “Roth IRA” but now they excite me. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be 65+ to enjoy the benefits of such accounts and that making a lot of extra money is as simple as a successful side hustle. I’ve seen that early retirement is entirely possible and that any lifestyle I want is within reach when my finances are strong.
Having student loans forced me to educate myself about things I never learned in school. I’ve learned that the possibilities for my life are endless. But I haven’t learned that through fluffy mantras like, “You can be anything you want.” I’ve learned it in tangible, factual ways that involve actions instead of beliefs.
3. Being Weird is a Good Thing
Most of my teenage years were spent trying to fit in and be “cool.” Freshmen year of high school, fitting in required pencil straight, frizz-free hair. Despite the countless hours spent and the abundance of damage that ensued, my curly, frizzy hair would not cooperate. At 14, I finally learned something powerful about fitting in: it sucks.
One day, I stopped straightening my hair. In fact, I even stopped brushing it when it wasn’t wet. (If you have naturally curly hair, you’ll understand what I mean.) Overnight, my hair went from a frizzed out mess to perfectly curled. Suddenly, my friends with straight hair desperately wanted curls and began coming to me for advice for how to achieve it. It turned out that being “weird” and not having straight hair was a good thing—it made my mornings easier, my hair was healthier and it looked infinitely better.
Although I first learned the lesson that “weird = good” when I was 14, it’s something that has been cemented in me through my rapid loan repayment as an adult. While my coworkers are buying brand new cars and drowning in debt, I’m taking the bus to work, rapidly building my net worth and will be debt free in six months. They think I’m crazy for subjecting myself to the “horrors” of a bus commute, but as soon as they find out I’ll be debt free in the matter of months, they suddenly change their tune. In fact, they ask me how to do it. When it comes to money and savings, being called “weird” and going against the grain is the ultimate compliment.
Happy Thanksgiving, (American) friends. I hope your long weekend is filled with delicious food, good company and an abundance of laughter.
*I know (firsthand) that loans can feel overwhelming and like the last thing in the world to be thankful for. If you’re struggling with student debt, please know that you’re not alone. But even beyond that, you can do this! One day in the not-so-distant future, your loans will be nothing but a memory. If you ever want to vent or chat, I’m always here: firstname.lastname@example.org