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Talking about debt

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This past weekend I took the girls to one of their friends’ birthday parties. I was hanging out chatting with the other moms when I mentioned my husband heading back to school and the crazy discount we receive ($25 per class!!!). It’s practically free!!

One of the mom’s lamented, “Must be nice, I still have 20 years left on my student loans!”

Another mom chimed in, “I just applied for public service student loan forgiveness so mine will eventually be forgiven.”

Another mom also nodded, mentioning how the interest payment, alone, is the same as her car payment.

And I said….nothing. It felt too odd to chime in that we’re actively working on aggressive student loan pay-down. Like it would be smug or elitist or something to suggest an alternative option. No one pays off their student loans early. Would I come across as conceited or like I’m talking down to them? What do I even say? “Well…just so you know, there ARE other options. I started with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt but I’m now down to about $70,000. If all goes well it should be gone in just a couple of years!!!” (Insert big smile here)

It just didn’t feel like it would go over that well. And I didn’t want to be “that person” making others feel bad or to come off like I was bragging or something.

What would you do? These are not close friends (my close friends & family are all very aware of our debt journey). These were random acquaintances. Parents of our kids’ friends. I would love to give them some hope that it IS possible to pay off even outrageous debt in less than the mandated loan length. I honestly think many people don’t even consider it an option. It’s never occurred to them that it’s possible to pay it off early.

If you were in a similar situation would you have spoken up?

I’m genuinely interested because I want to be a source of hope for others that it IS possible…but when I’m still in the trenches myself I can’t say “I’ve done it, you can too!” (because we still have a LONG way to go before we’re done!!!) Plus I really fear coming across as pretentious or condescending if I were to say something. Thoughts?


15 Comments

  • Reply Angie |

    If you feel comfortable speak up. But if you don’t then casually say something but without details or being too gungho about it. Unless they are close friends I don’t say an exact number but I do say general terms like, I could have a paid off house with how much I’ve paid towards debt. The reason so many people think its “normal” to dodge their loans and have them forever is because no one talks about them! I think its an important topic to be vocal on because there are options. Like paying off your debt instead of collecting more. Who would have thought? Covering up debt and continuing to buy stuff on credit will catch up with them in the long run.

    I used to hide my debt and just say I have a lot. Now I think its important to get it out there. Its also amazing how much privilege some people have without realizing it. I got in a big discussion with someone who was convinced that only lawyers and idiots come out of college with more than 20k in loans. They said I was LYING when I said how much loans I had. Ridiculous. Needless to say I knew when to quit the conversation and let them live in their condescending bubble.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Wow that’s crazy about the person calling you a liar! I like your approach, in general, to say something like “I could have a paid off house with how much I’ve paid toward debt.”
      I have a friend (closer than an acquaintance, but not super close – we see each other once every few months) go on a tirade about how people today can never get ahead and it’s not like it used to be when our parents were our age. I was shocked by the negativity and general defeatist attitude. I also wholeheartedly DISAGREE with the statements and position, in general. Normally I would’ve engaged in a conversation with her about it (because we are closer than mere acquaintances), but she’s 9 months pregnant, dealing with high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia and I honestly thought the conversation (especially if I disagree with her) might be bad for her health. It’s definitely something I hope comes up again at some point in the future though because I hated to hear a friend think and feel that way!

  • Reply scarr |

    Some people are interested in hearing about how one pays down A LOT of debt. But some people just aren’t into hearing about it; they are sensitive to their own financial missteps which may include a whole array of debt.

    I am proud to be debt-free because my husband and I worked really hard to become debt-free. Sometimes people will say little put-downs about how it must have been easy because we don’t have kids, or because we have two incomes – anything to trivialize our success. I try not to take it personally because the person is usually drowning in their own sea of debt. It was not easy to be so disciplined.

    I do enjoy sharing our success because I want people to get it into their heads that it is possible to get out of debt before you are retired. But not everyone is receptive to hearing about cutting back or working extra. There are no easy ways out of debt.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I agree 100%! No matter what one’s circumstances, the journey out of debt is never easy. I’d say as a married couple WITHOUT kids it might be even harder than WITH kids. Yes, kids can be expensive and come with lots of costs (childcare chiefly among them – roughly the equivalent of a mortgage-sized payment every month)….BUT you’re a longer-term reader so do you remember Adam and Emily? Adam gave an update once about how they’re actually spending less with a new baby because they don’t go out as often, etc. I can totally relate to that, too! Before our journey to become debt-free (and long before children), we would go out 4-5 times per week! We’d easily spend $50-100 each time we went out! Let’s say on average we spent about $300/week on eating out/drinking/entertainment (which is probably on the conservative side), that’s over $1200/month!!! And that’s kind of the norm for couples without kids – plus traveling/vacations/etc. I think we would’ve experienced a lot more peer pressure to engage in those kinds of activities if we started our journey before having kids. In that way, I think (for me) it’s been easier WITH kids than without.

  • Reply Alice |

    The most important factor to me would be how much those people earn. If the person enrolling in public service loan forgiveness is a childcare worker or in another field with low pay that might be the best option for them and good for them for enrolling. If these people were in families that are making professional salaries I would say something but not be too explicit “I was so upset with how much student loans were costing me in interest I’ve been paying ahead on them and it is so worth it.” Perception isn’t always reality but when I have a pretty good idea of what people earn I try to speak up and normalize talking about money. Shifting my own frame of mind to “I HAVE the money, I am just choosing to spend it on other things” took a long time and hearing about other people’s journeys helped.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I LOVE this advice! I think it’s fabulous! Unfortunately, I really don’t know enough about all the party-goers to know even ballpark figures of their incomes. But I love your suggestions of ways to talk about it on a general level without coming across as pretentious or condescending.

    • Reply Victoria |

      I like this suggestion for approaching it.
      I was at an event recently where I wanted to make some suggestions of how to help some specific charities I work with. But I didn’t want it to seem forced or pious so said that I worked with some charities if they wanted some easy ideas for paying it forward.
      Maybe you apply similar thinking here and say “we thought long and hard and came up with some solutions for paying down student debt earlier, if you’re interested in hearing about it”. It gets across that there are others ways but leaves it completely open as to whether they engage further with you. As they are not close friends you could reiterate at the end of the party “if you wanted to talk more about debt here’s my number”. It might be easier for someone to think about it and come back to you, than engage straight away in front of other people. And when they’re focussed on managing their child’s sugar high ?

  • Reply Jen From Boston |

    I would’ve kept mum about it. As these were acquaintances it’s really hard to tell how they’d react, or what their true financial situation is.

  • Reply Taira |

    You are a hope to others by writing about your student loan pay down on this blog. If you don’t feel comfortable you should never discuss something personal in specifics. That goes for everything in your life not just your debt payoff.

  • Reply Angela |

    Alice, I LOVE your last sentence! I have been actively switching to that way of thinking over this past year as well. It’s certainly easier and more culturally acceptable to make the blanket statement that you don’t have enough money to do X, Y, or Z. But I realized when I decided to aggressively pay down my student loan debt that I wanted to be more conscious and precise about my choices. So now I do specifically say that I’m choosing not to spend money on something. I’ve realized it’s much more empowering that way because it does frame it as a choice.

    And, Ashley, I’ve noticed that using that language when speaking with friends actually invites conversation about my choices. When I say that I’ve decided not to spend money on something, they can ask me why and I mention my goal of paying down my student loans. I can then gauge their interest to determine how far to take the conversation. Many people accept my answer and move on, others will begin to ask questions so the conversation continues. But it really depends on the person. I even had one friend who asked me to help her once she learned what I was doing. It was a very cathartic experience for both of us!

  • Reply Kim |

    I paid off my student loans when I was 27. I had $20,000ish to pay off. The bulk of it was an interest free loan for 5 years after I graduated, so I was especially motivated to pay it off. After I got a full time job, I lived like I was still in college for 5 years – working hard, freelance, and not buying things that were unnecessary. I was so proud when I paid it off, I told a lot of people, but only people who knew me well. I didn’t want to come off as braggy either. I wish it was acceptable to have open discussions about money and loans, but it seems to still be taboo.

  • Reply Shauna |

    Because I do want to encourage others to start talking about these things openly, when the conversation does come up I try to talk about it in more of a supportive, but questioning way. Like “Yes I have tons of student debt too.” Then lead into something like “I saw this article/blog/website the other day showing different ways people were able to pay student loans off early” Usually from there you can tell if people were receptive to still talking about it. Maybe even just pointing to Dave Ramsey or Mr Money Mustache. I think just planting a seed like that helps keep conversations going and open without people putting walls up thinking it’s impossible or that you’re being elitist.

  • Reply Amber from Red Two Green |

    I think there is a HUGE lack of information about student loans and also a lot of misinformation. I also think you are right to feel a little worried about coming across as smug/conceited/etc. Talking about money generally can just be a sensitive topic.

    I think framing the conversation in a way that focuses on your friends is helpful. For example, when your friends say things about their own repayment plans, you could ask them why they have chosen that plan and what other options they considered before they chose. That opens up the conversation in a (hopefully) robust way. Honestly, asking people those two questions to people i know has shown me two things 1) people do not understand student loan repayment and or 2) other people are smarter than me and have good ideas/reasons they’ve chosen a different route than me.

  • Reply Taija |

    Yes I think I would have talked up. You don’t want to sound snobby and elitist but I find sharing that kind of 411 is important. Once I started trying to get rid of my debt I started finding all these little tidbits that could help my journey and my friends and coworkers were very thankful. Misery likes company and people will love to complain, but their complaints are indicative of the fact that they need help. You could have started hat conversation with them with a question . Did you know that that there is this option (insert amazing idea here) that could help you save (x) amount? Most likely they have never heard of it or only heard of it in passing, and there you have it a gateway to help a friend or family member

So, what do you think ?