About Guest Writer:
Melanie Lockert is the founder of the blog and author of the book, Dear Debt. Through her blog, she chronicled her journey out of $81,000 in student loan debt. Her work has appeared on Business Insider, VICE, Allure, and more and her story has been featured in Marketwatch and The New York Times.
We are stressed about money. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a March 2022 survey showed that Americans are stressed about inflation and an increase in costs. As of February 2022, 65% of respondents noted that money was a cause of stress.
While there are many things to worry about when it comes to money like a possibility of a recession, losing one’s job, and earning a living wage, there’s one thing that can seriously impact your financial life — debt.
Debt can cause more financial stress
Debt is a type of four-letter word that can eat up all of your income and add to your expenses. It can make it hard to get ahead financially and move forward. The payments seem to never end and so much goes toward interest.
It can be tough to make ends meet and have money left over. It feels like you’re on a hamster wheel, running and running, with no break.
My debt story
I remember feeling defeated and low when I realized I had to pay back my overwhelming student loan debt after graduating in a shaky economy, right after the Great Recession in 2011. I took out student loans for a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree and borrowed $81,000, not counting the interest.
I knew financial stress from my debt was affecting my life when I experienced headaches, and shortness of breath, and was constantly worried about how I’d pay back my debt. I felt like a failure for going to a private school and getting into so much debt and didn’t have a good job to show for it.
Eventually, I had to get my head out of the sand and away from denial. I looked at exactly what I owed, the interest rates, and how much I was earning and spending. This first part was the most painful. To face reality, without the shield of denial or avoidance.
I was able to pay it all off — nine years in total — but with the most aggressive part happening in 4.5 years when I paid off $68,000. Through living in a low-cost area, sharing an apartment, not having a car, side hustling as a brand ambassador, pet sitter, and then writing, I kept expenses low and earned more to pay off the balance.
The freedom I have now — considering that we may be headed for another recession — is priceless. My money is my own and monthly payments can go toward saving and investing.
Get help with your debt
If you’re experiencing financial stress from debt, know that you are not your debt. You are so much more. And can reclaim your life and get support. Paying off debt can be a painful, emotional process. There’s shame involved, guilt for things we did, and embarrassment for not living up to who we think we should be.
All of this stuff goes way beyond the numbers. But tackling the numbers can help you improve your mindset and mental health. This can help you get out of the debt cycle.
On top of separating your self-worth from your debt, you want to fully understand your debt. Check your loan balances and interest rates. Review income and expenses. Get support through friends, financial professionals, and nonprofit credit counseling agencies to help you with your money stress and get your life back in order.