After college graduation, I became determined to pay off my student loans as quickly as possible.
I owed $28,000 and was making that exact amount as a newspaper reporter.
I felt stifled by my loans. I yearned to be debt-free with every fiber of my being, but it seemed like such a distant goal. $28,000 is a lot of money for a 21-year-old, especially one on a not-so-lucrative career path.
But like I said — I was determined.
I decided to cut my budget, slashing expenses left and right. Gone were the days of buying groceries without checking to see what’s in my fridge. No longer did I shop aimlessly or eat out when I felt like it.
One time I carefully debated whether or not to rent a movie from Redbox, even though it only cost $1. That’s how restrictive I was about my spending. But sometimes you can become so fixated on a goal, your obsession can cloud your judgement. And unfortunately, there were some things I gave up to pay off my student loans that I later regretted.
Seeing Old Friends
After college graduation, my high school friends attempted several reunions each year. Usually these were held in cities like Washington, D.C., which would have been a pricey flight to a pricey city. Even though I justified the decision at the time, I later regretted missing out on all these trips.
It’s only after you leave college that you realize how hard it is to make friends. I also realized that friendships need to be maintained, especially as the time you spend together becomes less and less frequent.
After missing these trips, I learned how to travel hack. Now I fly for free. This year, I have plans to visit friends in LA, Boston and Washington, D.C. I have enough points to see my family whenever I want. I wish I had this skill a few years ago, but I’m making up for it now.
In college, I started going to therapy every few weeks. I loved my therapy sessions. They helped me work through childhood issues and I slowly learned how to change my behavior session by session.
Unfortunately, I stopped as soon as I graduated. “It’s too expensive,” I told myself. In truth, I never looked into it. I was still on my parent’s health insurance plan and could have likely found a reasonable doctor. But the worst part is that I was mildly depressed during my first year out of college. I needed a therapist then more than ever.
To save money, I also avoided getting a gym membership. There was a YMCA close to my office, and a 1-month pass would have cost me only $40 a month. Exercise is proven to work as a mild antidepressant, not to mention the other health and life benefits.
Saving money is always important, but not at the risk of your physical and mental health. Now I’ve learned how to save money while prioritizing my health. I run a few times a week and do core exercises at home. I find therapists that my insurance covers and I buy my anxiety medication at Costco, where it costs only $20. Living on a budget has taught me how to buy what I want while being frugal.
Giving to Others
Most of all, I regret giving up opportunities to be generous. Studies show that spending money on others makes you feel better than if you had spent the money on yourself.
Any time I got an invitation to a wedding or baby shower, I worried about how I would pay for it. I would begrudge the person for forcing me to spend money. In truth, I was invited to so few of these events that it wouldn’t have made a huge dent in my budget.
Focusing on giving to other people can be a great reminder of how lucky you are. Even though I had student loans, I was also employed in my chosen field, living in my own apartment and able to see my boyfriend every weekend. I was lucky in many respects and should have taken the time to be grateful more often.
Now that I’m debt-free, I feel more rich than ever and want to share the wealth. I love treating friends to dinner and buying beautiful gifts at Christmas. Having enough money to shower my loved ones makes it even better.
What I Learned
Now that I’m debt-free, I’ve learned what I really love to spend money on. I’d rather buy quality items, enjoy a meal out and go to the movies when I feel like it. Paying my loans off quickly taught me what I can do without — and what I can’t.