I am a confused 23-year-old grad student, please help!
Since the age of 12 I have been passionate about one thing: obtaining a career in politics. Around that time my dad got very sick and my parents' finances tanked. When I went to college I was forced to take out student loans. My loans made me nervous, but I still had tunnel vision about my career. I reasoned that with the jobs I would pursue, I would have no problem paying the money back in 10 years time.
You can't do what I wanted without going to graduate school, which is where I am now. And here we come to my frustration. First, I no longer have the passion for my degree I once did. God has shown me it is not as important as I thought — no matter what job I get, the fate of the universe will not rest in my hands. I still love politics, but not the same way. Second, this intense desire I once had for a very cool job in Washington has been replaced with the intense desire to be a wife and a mom. When I thought about those things in the past, they were always secondary to a career. "Oh, sure, I will get married someday. And if I work here, they have a great day care facility." But now the only thing I want is to be a devoted wife and mom. I have struggled with this for the past few months and taken it again and again to the Lord in prayer because it doesn't seem to fit with my life. Now I am sure it is what He wants for me someday.
And this brings us to the final source of my frustration — the cost of all this attendance. As I have had to bear the entirety of my education, after I finish my graduate degree I will be in the hole $170,000. I haven't been extravagant — this is the cost of the education I needed to get where I wanted to go, only I don't want to go there anymore. Given that I owe all this money, it seems a terribly strange time for God to fill my heart with the desire to do something else. The type of career I have been training for isn't something you do part time. It makes me want to cry. And I can't just wait to get married until I have paid off all my loans — that might take 20 years!
The thing is, I prayed and prayed before I took out every loan because it almost made me physically sick. But I am sure God put me at my undergraduate institution because that is where I became a Christian. And I know God has placed me where I am now. And the only way to do what I did was to take out loans. But I don't know how I can bring this debt into a marriage someday or how to reconcile owing so much with wanting to be a stay-at-home mom! Help, I need good advice! I know this isn't pressing because there is nothing on my horizon, but it is pressing on my heart, and I don't know how the two fit together.
Here's what you shouldn't do:
Don't Panic. God is not out to sabotage you by suddenly "filling your heart with a desire to do something else." You sound like a passionate, driven person who does what she sets her mind to. Maybe He's filling you with the desire to marry and have children now to motivate you to focus your passion and drive on paying down your debt.
Don't Worry. What you owe in student loans is not a surprise to God. He hasn't lost your file. He knows what you owe and what you long for. He can help you get there.
Don't Delay. There's no time to waste in starting to tackle this debt. Marriage may still be a few years off. But if you start on an aggressive plan to pay your loans off now, you'll be in a much better position to marry later.
There are some great Christian financial tools out there that can help you plan a way to pay off these loans as quickly as possible. My husband and I are working through one of Dave Ramsey's books in an effort to pay off our graduate school loans (we both pursued degrees in politics before heading off to work at Focus on the Family).
You might also consider taking one of the Crown Financial Ministries classes offered through many churches. This provides a group setting and the benefit of wise counsel and accountability that a book alone doesn't.
Whatever you do, don't ignore the debt. The sooner you start paying it down, the sooner it will go away. That said, I would also encourage you that you don't have to be 100 percent debt free to get married (few people are today). I believe the most important question your future husband will ask has to do with your attitude about debt. You need to be more than remorseful. You need to be resourceful. You need to be demonstrating that you are doing all you can to actively pay it off. If he's a good man and sees you behaving responsibly and diligently toward this debt, he will respect you.
And now for what you should do:
Take Full Responsibility. You made the decisions you did to borrow the money for the schools you attended, and you have a duty to pay the loans back. You say you needed these degrees and that $170k was the cost of getting them. Unless you're at Harvard's Kennedy School, it's difficult to imagine where a graduate degree in poly sci or public policy would run that high, but what's done is done. And if you have attended the best schools, you'll be in an even better position down the line to command good wages for an unconventional job set up. (See Be Creative below.)
Stop Digging. You'll never get out of the hole you're in if you're still making it deeper. You have to stop taking on student loans (and any other debt). If you still have unpaid semesters to go, take a break from your studies to earn enough money to pay for what remains. Pay-as-you-go from here out.
Be Aggressive. Every cent you pay back today is one you won't owe tomorrow. Start right now. Pay as much as you can, every week. Don't buy lattes or new books. Brew your own coffee and go to the library. Wear last year's fashions this year. Move back home or live with a Christian family who will charge you a modest rent. (When I worked on Capitol Hill, I lived with a family who charged me a fraction of what my own place would have cost.) If you're driving a new car, sell it and buy a less expensive used one. There are lots of things you can do to cut expenses.
You will have to forgo certain luxuries that our culture considers essential in order to free up as much of your income as possible to pay down your loans. And if you're not working, start. If marriage and motherhood really are your goals, you're going to need to "live like no one else" during this lean, mean season so that down the road, you "can live like no one else" (so says Dave Ramsey in his book, The Total Money Makeover).
Be Creative. Technology and an increasing openness to unconventional work arrangements may make it possible for you to start a family, keep working to some degree, and raise your own children at home.
I know from our experience that it's possible. When our first child was born, my boss let me do my job from home. When the second baby arrived, I gave up the full-time work from home and started freelancing and doing special projects. Now with our third child on the way, I write a regular column for Boundless and do what extra I can as I have time. Of course time is at a premium. But I'm still able to bring in enough income with my writing to make our student loan payments.
Pray. Ask God for grace and strength and a good job. Ask Him to help you find every spare dime you can to send to the loan holders. And ask Him to bring you a husband who won't run when he sees your balance sheet. We all have baggage we bring to relationships; yours happens to be financial. After you've prayed for forgiveness for all this debt, pray for the discipline and diligence it's going to take to pay it back.
I think it's a testament to God's faithfulness that He's impressing this on your heart now, before a man is even on the scene. That makes me think He's giving you some lead-time — time to tackle this debt before you fall in love and get married and start a family. Whatever you can do to lessen what you owe now will make it more possible for you to marry and be a mom later.
It will be worth the effort.
Copyright 2010 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.