Some relationship tips are easy and return quick results while others take longer but yield lasting results. Today’s recommendation requires effort and sacrifice, but it will bless your future marriage exponentially!
Just say no to student loans.
Thousands of marriages suffer under the weight of student loan debt. Help your marriage before it starts by finding alternative ways to fund your education.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa Heather, are you serious? How can anyone these days get through life without a college education? And, how can anyone afford a college education without loans?
This question is on the mind and lips of students everywhere. Society (more specifically, those who want to exploit us for their financial gain) has fed us this lie since we were in kindergarten.
“Everyone needs a college education!”
“College is a rite of passage!”
“College is where you learn the skills necessary to excel in your field!”
Please do not get me wrong – I am not anti-college; however, as a thirteen-year post-grad, I have a slightly different take on it now than I did then. College is not always necessary, but when it is, it does not have to happen immediately after high school. It does not have to handcuff you to a financial anchor. And, it does not have to happen in a traditional drop everything for four years format.
Is the Door Already Unlocked?
When people ask Eric if he thinks they should pursue a degree, he often refers to a college degree as a key which opens a door. But first, it is important to check and see if the door is even locked. Try to open it. If it is closed and unlocked, you just need to open the door and walk through it – you do not need to pay $60,000-$80,000 for a key. Maybe the door is unlocked, but you would still like to learn as much as possible about your chosen profession. Great! At that point, you can work in your field while you put yourself through college – interest-free! Or, if you are not interested in working and going to school, you can work and save your money first so you will have the ability to put yourself through school later. Or, a good number of colleges give their staff a healthy discount in pursuit of a degree. If the door is locked, there may be a scholarship or grant which could help you fund your key – or maybe a philanthropist can help you out. Or, maybe you do not choose the expensive, private school? Maybe you begin at a community college and finish up at a state school?
Married couples all over the world work in unison so one can go to school while the other works. It is not a high and mighty way to live at first, but it gets the job done without debt. As Dave Ramsey is famous for saying, “Live like no one else so later you can live like no one else.”
A hard fought college degree is something to be proud of; but, a college degree (or worse, college credits with no degree) with fifteen years of financial shackles attached to it is profoundly less exciting. Then, what happens if the degree turns out to be less lucrative or necessary than professors, parents, banks, and public service announcements made it sound? Earning a degree does not guarantee a wonderful job or a reasonable wage. Taking out huge loans in hopes of landing an amazing job is a gamble I would not want to take knowing what I know now.
If I Could Do It All Again…
Though I am thankful for my degree, I would not accumulate piles of debt to obtain it if I had the chance to do it all again. Thanks to a wonderful incentive program at my former job, I was able to go through graduate school with no debt. Had such an incentive not been available, I might have taken out loans to complete my graduate work.
On this side of graduate school, I can honestly say my degree has blessed my life, but not enough to justify paying back $100,000 plus interest. If I had to go through school again with no outside help, I would choose to pay as I go rather than be saddled with loans for the next several years or decades – even if it took me twice as long to finish. Why? Because I see what student loan debt has done to people. How instead of activating their dreams, it often saddles them with jobs they hate and keeps them from being free to explore possibilities about which they are passionate.
What College Debt Can Do:
- Allow you to get a degree more quickly than if you saved and paid your way as you went.
- Potentially straightjacket your finances for years.
- Keep you from going out on the mission field.
- Suck up money you could be putting towards retirement, ministries you wish to support, or even adoption.
- Constantly call and remind you that you need to repay.
- Lead to discouraging and possibly explosive money fights with your future mate.
- Annoy you well into middle age.
- Force you to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.
- Cause you to feel unnecessary regret.
What College Debt Cannot Do:
- Promise you a wonderful job.
- Give you financial peace.
- Guarantee you a glamourous life.
- Make you work hard in school.
- Make you learn.
- Make you successful.
- Turn you into a mature, responsible adult.
Along with the perception that college is always necessary and acquiring college debt is better than waiting for a degree, there is this mistaken idea that taking out loans is the responsible way to live. It shows you are making adult choices and taking the reins of your life. Such a notion could not be further from the truth. Delaying gratification, having a plan and following it, and making choices which will positively impact you twenty, thirty, and forty years from now is the responsible way to live. Considering how financial choices will affect children and even grandchildren is the mature outlook.
Some Thoughts to Consider…
- Avoiding College Debt is Possible. A long-time friend of mine formerly worked for a financial aid department of a large university processing outside (i.e., not federal, state, or institutional) scholarships and grants which came through for students. During her work there, it became clear to her that many students could go through college completely debt free if they simply sought out available grants and scholarships. There is money out there for school. It does not typically fall into students’ laps, but it is there if you do enough digging. Dave Ramsey recommends high schoolers between their Junior and Senior years take a full summer to apply for scholarships and grants – do it 40 hours per week as if it were your full-time job… you may find that such a time investment will allow you to go to school completely paid for. If you’re already in college, still look for the scholarships and grants which are available to you. It may not pay in the short-term like typical summer jobs, but it could pay thousands in the long-term and bring a sigh of relief when funding college is no longer an issue. But, for the sake of argument, let us say you were not able to find one single scholarship or grant. It is still possible to obtain a degree without going into debt. There are still students today who work hard at a job and still go to school. In fact, many even credit their jobs with helping them do better in school. It forces them to budget their time and, because they are working so hard to get the money for school, they tend to value school more highly. Working your way through school is not only wise financially, it may even help you squeeze the most out of the experience (and statistically, you will have a higher GPA if you work and go to school at the same time).
- College Debt Weighs Heavily on Many Young Couples. When Eric and I married, we had a relatively small amount of student loan debt (though, it felt large to us before starting to pay it off). Thankfully, we both decided we wanted to be debt-free, so we buckled down and paid it off shortly after getting married. There were times we would rather have spent the money on vacation or a nice dinner, but we wanted freedom more. It saddens me to consider all the young couples burdened with piles of debt right from the beginning. It sucks a lot of sweetness out of the relationship, especially when the couple disagrees about how to handle the debt. Those who team up and work together will still feel weighed down, but with more hope. Those who cannot agree will encounter money fight after money fight until one side backs down or until they allow the stress to destroy them.
- If You Do Have School Loans, Make a Game Plan for Knocking Them Out as Soon as Possible. Should I wait until my significant other pays off debt to marry him or her? Not necessarily. If he or she is working hard and making wise monetary decisions, that shows financial character. However, if he or she is not worried about letting the debt linger and is content to make questionable financial choices, we would recommend not moving forward towards engagement or marriage – at least until he or she makes significant changes. Money fights and money problems lead many couples to divorce.
- Throw Out the Myth that You Need College Debt. As mentioned earlier, well-meaning (and some greedy), people have told us college is always necessary, and college debt is always an investment in our future. Well, people do not (and should not) typically take out loans to fund an investment. College is an investment in the future, but it does not require loans. Students can work towards degrees steadily and methodically. Which is worse? Taking out huge college loans, getting an entry-level job in your field, and paying hundreds of dollars a month towards your debts, or working a less appealing job for a few years, saving up your money, and then going to school with cash? The first student graduated more quickly, but with several years-worth of debt. The second student had to wait a while to enter his chosen field, but once he did, he was able to put his earnings towards savings, retirement, and even fun! The payoff for finishing school quickly with loans is not worth the financial stress it brings.
Even though it is the tougher path to follow in the beginning, think of your sacrifice to stay debt free as a life-changing gift to your future spouse. Some of the greatest gifts do not fit in boxes. Giving your future spouse the opportunity to begin your marriage with a financial leg up is a terrific way to say I love you and I have been preparing for your arrival for years.
To those of you who have taken out student loans, please do not lose heart or define yourself by your debt. You can pay it off and be free. It will take work, but it is more than possible! Eric and I made several large money mistakes in our first few years together, but by God’s grace, we were able to climb out of the hole we dug for ourselves. It required going without some wants, but it was worth it.
If you are in a relationship now, do not only notice how much debt your significant other has, but how he or she talks about money. Does managing it matter? Does he or she make frequent frivolous purchases? Is he or she quick to borrow money from friends, families, or banks? Does your sweetheart tithe, give, prioritize saving, or live on a budget? More important than whether or not someone has debt is how he or she feels about staying in debt and going back or further into debt.
If you have not yet taken out student loans, consider all possibilities to avoid them (in fact, take it off of the table as an option – “necessity is the mother of invention”). If you have already taken out loans, how can you keep from taking out more? If you are finished with school and encumbered with debt, what sacrifices can you make now to get Sallie Mae out of your life as soon as possible? She does not have to plague you into your marriage, parenthood years, or retirement years.
You do not have to live in chains. You can be free!
Have you ever considered how your current financial decisions will affect your future spouse and children?