A Brief History of Our Money Mismanagement – Part 1

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In drafting this post, I realized that “brief” was a misnomer. I have broken this post into two parts so as not to overwhelm the internets.

My parents had instilled at least one important money rule: don’t carry credit card debt. (In fact, I think what my dad actually said was, “Don’t use credit cards,” which isn’t quite the same thing. As any savvy financial blogger will tell you, it’s important to have credit cards to establish a good credit history. Anyway.)

I have always loved money and thinking about money (“Why did you become a teacher?” you ask? Oh, some misplaced ideals about changing the world through education and art) and when I was single, I spent the first two years of my professional life teaching in a small town with nowhere to spend money and nowhere to eat out. I made more than I spent (cue choir of angels here), made larger-than-required student loan payments, and saved my cash. (To be fair, I also learned about online shopping, and I may have bought almost all of the books by one of my favorite authors when I discovered alibris.com.)

When I went back for my first Master’s degree, I used my savings to make up the difference in scholarship money by working at Borders (does that tell you how long ago it was?) and using my savings. My husband and I had moved in together at that time and he was working on his Master’s but had taken out a number of loans to make that work. At this time we were frugal and knew that accumulating credit card debt or even student loans wasn’t wise, but the latter was certainly necessary in order to achieve our professional goals.

It was later when we ran into trouble. After my husband determined which school he wanted to attend for his doctorate, there was the matter of finding financial aid (his included a stipend for teaching courses at the university as well as – bum bum BUM – student loans), moving, and my finding a job. This is when we started living the “high” life. We were in a city that had great restaurants, we had friends and a social life, and we didn’t have credit card debt. On the other hand, we weren’t saving much of anything. I think that qualifies us as typical “20-somethings” at the time. It’s not that we were completely stupid, we just weren’t thinking ahead, and no one had emphasized to us that we should be thinking that far ahead. We had career and lifestyle goals, but not financial goals. The “adults” we knew were all carrying student loan debt, so it just seemed like something that people did well into their 40s. We weren’t looking forward to it, but it seemed like the norm, so there was no use in worrying about it (right?).

Personally, I have always had a problem with thinking that if I should know something, then someone would tell me about it. I rarely took the initiative to investigate something I was interested in, and I was even less likely to find out about something as unpleasant as debt management. It was much easier to decide that our debt would take care of itself as long as we kept up with the minimum payments.

Do you feel like your advanced degrees were worth the student loans you’re carrying now?

Thanks for reading… more to come!

– M

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