My longest relationship started on August 3rd, 2004 when I picked up a pen. I looked at the financial aid officer smugly in the eye as I signed on the dotted line and smiled. Take that, I thought, mainly to myself because what did they care. They weren’t the one who just accepted student loans to go to a community college. My father had never been able to save for education but was willing to let me live rent-free if I went. I took him up on the offer and took out student loans to pay for it. Okay, and maybe I also took them out to help fund my new lifestyle. I’ll pay it back, I promised myself on spring break. I’m only in college once!
Well, I wasn’t only in college once, I was in college a total of three times. Most recently, I graduated in 2016 from Arizona State University paying what is considered cheap tuition for a university. While I don’t think paying $11,000 a year is a steal, not including parking or books, Google says otherwise. And while I’m not too angry with myself for finishing my two degrees no matter what, I was really angry for taking too long and taking too many breaks when life felt difficult.
With a reported 44 million other Americans dealing with student loan debt, I know I’m not alone but it’s still hard. Because of my student loan payment, I didn’t feel comfortable taking on other financial commitments or maxing out retirement. I still dealt with a scarcity mindset and I was consistently afraid the other shoe would drop. In November of 2016, the other shoe did drop. My doctor found a lump in my throat.
I can remember it like it was yesterday, all of it. I remember finding the lump and calling my boyfriend on the way home from the doctor. I remember all of the tests and my friends holding my hands. I remember getting the diagnosis and meeting with the surgeon. I remember the night before surgery going out to dinner with his mom and my dad. I also remember pleading with my boyfriend that if anything happened to me to please take my cat. I couldn’t imagine him wondering why I never came back after leaving one day.
After surgery, I woke up. The nurse gave my apple juice, my boyfriend spent the night with me watching Game of Thrones and my cat insisted on being a night nurse. The world didn’t end. I was still there. It wasn’t my time yet. The other shoe had dropped and I made it out okay.
It’s now been almost 16 months since I woke up from surgery. This past January, I received the good news I had been waiting over a year to hear. For the first time, no cancer is showing up in my bloodwork and my hormone levels are healthy. I’m finally feeling better, good even, and I’ve lost 17lbs. I still have health problems but I’ll make it through. The other shoe dropped and I’m okay.
Cancer has taught me that life is abundant, not scarce. I don’t have to be scared of paying down my debt while still living my life if I am responsible. I can contribute more to retirement, go on trips and pay down my debt as much as I can because there will always be more where that comes from.
Fin Health, especially when it comes to student loan debt, is important. If you aren’t financially healthy or have the proper mindset, it can really hinder you from completing your goals. It’s way too easy to become obsessed with paying down debt and feeling that you are just that. You’re debt. I think that’s what had me stuck in a scarcity mindset before rather than abundance. It’s easy to think you’re just debt or cancer, but then you realize how lucky and full your life really is. And then you can see yourself clearly again. Like, who you were before this even happened.
Today, I’m back to feeling like my scrappy self. I still have my career, stronger than ever, advocating for youth who need someone in their corner. My cat still meows loudly when I’m on the phone doing an interview. I still drink coffee, watch reality tv and read a book a week. My business is booming and my budget is rocking. Those student loans are coming down. The other shoe dropped and I’m okay. You’ll be okay too.
This post is being entered for the CFSI #FinHealthMatters competition. Wish me luck!