Sunday marked the first anniversary of paying off my student loans. I’ve been thinking about this milestone since the new year. A year ago then, my debt repayment accelerated rapidly. It felt natural to reflect on what changed in the last year.
1. I’m in an unusual financial position.
As a recent law grad, I’m expected to have student loans. I knew going into my payoff that I would be an anomaly, but it has been harder to face than I expected. I used to seek out the topic, but now the topic finds me.
At a gathering earlier this month, one of my fellow law grads brought up how he’s never had a lower net worth. He commented to our friend, a waitress, that she likely had a higher net worth that he and I do because of our student loan burdens. I didn’t correct him. His loans are his to bear. He’s a smart guy and I’m sure he’ll figure it out.
I don’t mind outsiders assuming I have an enormous debt burden because of my education. It helps my own frugality. However, it’s frustrating to have the presumption presented to my face. I can’t relate to the weight of their loans. It’s hard to talk about it with people that don’t want to do anything about it. I haven’t found my place in where to talk about it with people who aren’t already planning to tackle their debt early.
2. Saving doesn’t feel as good as paying off debt.
I hate to say this, but I enjoyed paying off my student loans.* When I graduated, $45,330 felt like an insurmountable sum. Every payment got me closer to something unbelievable. I didn’t think it was possible to do what I did, but I did it! Had I believed in myself earlier, I would have been done even sooner.
Paying off debt was an incredible confidence builder when it came to my money. I kept track of so many little details and nothing fell through the cracks. If I could manage that, I knew I could manage anything. I felt like a debt slaying warrior.
Saving doesn’t evoke the same feelings. The first few thousand were tough. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere with saving. It has been more fun as I stockpile more cash. The $20k and $25k milestones for the house fund had more weight than earlier accomplishments. Those felt like worthwhile savings amounts. I saved something! I’m excited to cross into $30k and $40k. Hopefully, I can get there before I buy a house. Starting over from zero is going to feel pretty cruddy.
*Hubs thinks I’m crazy for this. He hated paying off debt and loves saving. Each saving milestone brings him incredible joy. To be clear, I didn’t enjoy the debt; I enjoyed the journey.
3. Investing is where the fun is.
I was old for my grade and I stayed in school forever. I didn’t enter the working world until I was 27. Add to that, I had that pile of loans to address. I didn’t start actively investing until April 2015 at the prime old age of 28.5.
A lot of people may not sympathize with my tardiness to the investing game. So many start investing much later than I did. The problem for me was that I knew all along what I was missing. I knew about compound interest. I understood its power. Though, apparently I didn’t understand it enough to do anything about it.
Because of all this, I felt and still feel incredibly behind. Now with my student loans behind me and a small, low interest car loan (I can’t wait until this is done), I’ve been able to do something about my investing inadequacies. I’ve maxed my IRA for the last 3 years. I’ve maxed my HSA for 2 years and I’ll max my 401k for the first time in 2016. Next year, Hubs and I will max out everything. That will be a glorious occasion.
I love investing because I can feel that I’m doing the right thing. I’m taking care of myself for today’s worries and tomorrow’s reality.
4. I’m in a better place now, on the road to a new end.
It’s easy, when paying off debt, to think of the payoff date as your end goal. It’s a great goal, but it should never be the end goal. For a while during my payoff, I was so focused on my payoff date, I believed my payoff date was the end goal. I’m here to tell you it’s not.
For the first 6-8 months after I was free, I struggled. I have no shame in admitting that I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I spent an incredible amount of time spinning my wheels, getting no where. Getting rid of my debt was a huge goal. When I accomplished it, I didn’t know what to do. I played around with several ideas: minimalism, fitness, zero waste, early retirement. Less, more, less, more. None of these ideas filled the hole left behind by my drive to rid myself of student loans.
Today, I accept all of those pieces as a part of my next journey. I will never own 100 things, but I actively choose to own less. I will never be in amazing shape, but I choose to move more. I want to waste less and save more, a lot more. I haven’t filled all the space yet, but I’m working on it. The best news is that I’m more confident and at peace with myself than I’ve ever been.
I have no regrets about paying off my student loans. The process helped me learn a lot about myself and where I want to go. I’m excited about what the future holds.