(Guest Post by Kelli Space – of Gawker fame)
I thought I knew stress back in high school, when my concerns revolved around spats with friends, looking like a TOTAL Loser for shopping at certain stores, and not being allowed to drive Mom’s minivan when I’d already promised everyone I’d get us all to the movies.
I even thought I knew stress during college at Northeastern University when term papers, research, and various other assignments took over most of my time. Confrontations multiplied with the growing number of people I encountered, combined with the familiar existential question, “What do I want to DO with my life?”
Turns out stress and I wouldn’t be formally introduced until 2009.
From the moment I signed my first binding agreement with loan monster Sallie Mae, I’d kept a tally of the ever-increasing number I was borrowing in the back of my mind. Some days it would freak me out, but most of the time I figured I would get a firm grasp on the situation when the time was right — whatever that means. Again, I had other things to be concerned about – like, my roommate leaving her bowl of last night’s macaroni and cheese on the counter! Bigger problems, you know? By the time I graduated in 2009, the number tying me to Sallie Mae for the next 30 years was $200,000.
Some days I couldn’t sleep, I cried, I looked for reassurance, I sought advice – I always came up empty, as no one really knew what to say. I don’t blame them; how do you tell someone they’ve already made severely poor choices, by the age of 23? The total amount of $200,000 was jaw-dropping and it still amazes me that it didn’t stun me the way it stunned everyone else.
The Game Plan
I created a website after about a year of moaning and racking my brain for a solution. This website cut right to the chase: I was asking someone, anyone, to donate to my student loan debt. My expectations were low, but I figured if Karyn Bosnak could create savekaryn.com and crawl her way out of $20K in credit card debt, I could do the same. After all, wasn’t an education a noble thing on which to spend your (borrowed) money?! It turns out, “noble” or not, debt is debt.
My best friend and I were thinking of posting fliers around town, in train stations, and at Starbucks to advertise my new no-budget site, aptly called twohundredthou.com. The site explained, in pretty basic terms, who I was, how I got into such a pickle, and included a few predetermined FAQs. However, thinking the fliers route just wouldn’t cut it, I decided to e-mail NY-based blog Gawker, who wrote an article about the site instead.
Yes, I WAS ON MY FAVORITE NEWS SITE. MADNESS! (It then hit The Huffington Post)
My Life Now
I can truthfully say that since that day my life has changed, 100%, 180°. Not only have I received a total of $10,630 in small donations from people all around the world, but I’ve received encouragement, support, and advice, as well. I’ve become hugely interested in personal finance, more specifically, paying off my debt: I had a few smaller loans with CitiBank, and have paid them off entirely. The feeling that accompanies making a final payment on a debt is like no other. It’s addicting, really, and I’ve since taken on a bajillion more projects, hours at work, etc., just to keep making those payments and seeing those numbers dwindle. Did I mention strangers gave me $10,630? Because I’m still in awe.
I’ve also largely changed my day-to-day habits. Well, first and foremost, I read Budgets are Sexy (Yay!!) as soon as I wake up each morning ;). I bring my lunch to work and, if I happen to forget, I’ll buy a bagel for $2 or soup from Duane Reade. I still live with my parents, so that completely takes the expense of rent off the table (although I do help them out from time to time). I’ve altered my commute so that my monthly train passes total only $100! I pay less on my commute per month than people living in NYC pay for their subway pass. That makes me feel like I’m cheating the system a little bit, but it feels good! I sell random stuff on eBay as much as I can, and it’s been working so far. I’ve been working 60+ hours per week, due to an additional 20 hours of overtime as my employers are wonderful people willing to help out. In any case, I work a lot. I love working a lot. I want more work!
Still Stressed, But Productive
Of course, I’m still stressed out on a daily basis, as well. Having numbers so large staring you in the face each day does not make for an easy routine. On my commute, I’m writing, be it e-mails, blog posts, tweets, or ideas. Throughout my work day, I’m rushing to get my work done so I can sneak a peek at a new personal finance post, hoping to find something that might help me or change my perspective. At home I’m busy wishing I was living on my own, as much as I do appreciate my parents for letting me in and helping me cut my costs. It’s never easy to move back home, as I’m sure many of you know, or can imagine.
Looking back, I always wonder what was going through my mind throughout college, as I was just chugging along and accumulating all that debt. Sure I thought about it; sometimes I cried and phoned home for something to assuage my anxiety, but still I stayed at Northeastern. I know the fact that I was the first to attend college in my family played a role, as did the idea that the best school that offered you admission was the one you would attend, no questions asked. These were obviously misconceptions that I had to learn the hard way, as clearly no one else was going to correct me along the way.
At any rate, that’s all in the past now. Moving forward, I’m trying to make the best possible decisions, financial and otherwise. I want to help others do the same! Thinking about the day that I make my very last student loan payment motivates me to want to do better, want to understand my choices, and want to be a more responsible adult. If twohundredthou.com and its ‘supporters’ have taught me anything, it’s that I can make it happen, and the more I work, the harder I work, the faster it will come.
Guest post by Kelli Space – A 2009 graduate of Northeastern University, with $200,000 in student loan debt. Kelli created a website soliciting donations to her student loan debt, and has since become a student loan advocate; feel free to follow her on Twitter @twohundredthou, peruse her eBay store (all proceeds go to Sallie Mae!) or shoot her an e-mail: twohundredthou (at) gmail (dot) com!
EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m actually a *huge* fan of going to college, debt or not, but it still sucks seeing people struggle like this :( $200,000 is just insane, I appreciate you sharing your story with us, Kelli!
(Photo by Memory_Freak. Recognize that car? ;))