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I am a pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world. -Mother Teresa

Thursday, April 3, 2014

3 Reasons I'm Glad I was $25k in Debt

This is the letter I received after my first of 5 student loans was paid off. And it felt awesome. First reason I'm glad I had debt?

1. Accomplishment. The feeling of accomplishment is not enough to make the debt worth it. I could have also felt accomplished if I'd saved all of that money to buy land. But it is great being able to look back at how much you owed and measure how much of your goal you've reached.

It's a great confidence-booster and teacher of discipline. It has helped me develop good financial habits and minimize bad ones. This will help me in my future endeavors, which include saving up to buy that land I mentioned earlier. Now I know it's possible not just for some people to save $25k in less than 3 years, but it is possible for me to do it.

As I said, though, that accomplishment alone is not enough to have made the debt worth it. So I shall continue.

After finding out how much I owed in student loans while in my last semester of college, I remember singing "Oh, praise the One Who paid my debt..."

I began to think about how I would treat someone if they paid that $25,000 debt for me.

I'd be so thankful and feel kind of guilty and embarrassed. I'd be amazed at their kindness. I would probably talk about it in whispered tones of wonder and almost disbelief.

My love of handwritten letters would cause me to write a thank-you note first.

Then I'd want to live my life in such a way that they wouldn't regret paying the debt for me. This would mean working hard to take care of myself, not being wasteful, and paying it forward by helping others. I'd also want to stay in touch with that person to let them know what their sacrifice helped me do and become. Staying in touch would also allow me to know what ways I could be helpful to them in return even though it would be nowhere near what they did for me.

This leads us to my second reason for being glad I had that much debt.

2. Gratefulness. I'm grateful to all of the people who helped me along the way by giving me a place to live, a job (with free delicious and usually healthy food!), and encouragement and advice.

I'm also grateful for the friends I have who "confessed" that they continue to defer their loans. My boss has even told me most people never pay theirs back as if I shouldn't either. Although I don't agree, there is a debt that I can't repay. As my friend said about her student loans, "I just keep hitting 'defer, defer, defer.'" It seems like such a hopeless place to be. The debt always hanging over your head, lurking in the back of your mind as you try to enjoy your life. You're just not really free. You're trapped knowing there's nothing you can do to pay it.

Then Someone pays it for you.

That sin I know I can never work hard enough to erase? Yeah, Someone paid that debt for me. That bigger debt. (Luke 7:41-43 & 47) That's gratefulness. That's freedom. And that's what hit home when I was  $25k in debt. If I would do all of those things for someone if they had paid my financial debt, why not do them for the One Who paid my spiritual debt?

Maybe $25,000 doesn't sound like much to you. Now that my debt is less than $5k, it doesn't seem like as much to me either, especially when I hear stories of people who have paid off $250k. I'm learning not to compare that way, though. They might make over 4 times more than I do. But that still doesn't mean it's easy for them. Or they could have 3 kids. But just because I don't have any children doesn't mean I haven't had to sacrifice.

Which leads to my third reason I'm glad I had so much debt.

Photo by my 12-year-old niece, Grace

3. Inspiration. I've been so caught up in the sacrifice, the giving-three-fourths-of-my-income-to-pay-off-student-loans that I didn't even stop to think that this part of my life could inspire others. Maybe a little but not really. I was excited for myself to be out of debt, but I didn't think I could help others until mine was completely paid off.

Then I shared the basics of my story with a group on Facebook last month.

Their responses were all it took to change my outlook. It's the reason I've written this post. I want to encourage you in practical ways as others have done for me.

No, paying debt isn't all about sacrifice and discipline, hard work, and being deprived. I have gone on a trip out of the country every year since I began paying my debt! I would be without months of these amazing memories if I'd let my debt keep me back:

  • I spent Christmas (and 2 weeks!) in England with three lovely friends visiting Jane Austen & C. S. Lewis/J. R. R. Tolkien sights & so much more. 
  • I went on my first road trip which was with my younger brother for 40 days! From Georgia to Alaska through Canada
  • A few months later I was invited to raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon (which I had never seen) for 17 days. I actually considered not going because of finances. So glad I went anyway! 
  • The next year I raised over $1,000 thanks to generous friends to go on a mission trip to Thailand where I had so much fun playing with children in an orphanage.

Having that to look forward to keeps me going when I have to give up smaller things or even other big things like having my own place to live (instead I live with family for now).

Don't give up everything that's important to you in order to pay your debt.

Some sacrifices aren't worth making.

*Update: I have now paid off my loans! Click here to read about what I didn't expect after paying off my debt.

Though I'm not an expert, I do have some experience. So let me know if you have any questions. I'd love to help you if I can!

Do you have any different reasons you've been glad you had your own debt?

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