Dealing with student debt

True life: Debt culture is death culture!

Written by Joe Cassidy


At college, our lecturers told us business students that we were the ‘crème de la crème’ – the future thinkers, decision makers and money earners.

This seemed to create a feel good factor, meaning that things were going to be really good for us when we left college. So when I did finish, I took out a big loan and went travelling the world. I worked a bit in most places, but generally just had a damn good time of it.

The plan was that I would take this ‘time out’ to experience life before landing myself that sweet job the lecturers talked about. Then I could repay the loan with no problems.

The trouble was, the more I travelled, the more I figured out that the concept of ‘sweet job’ and being ‘the crème de la crème’ meant confining myself to stuffy offices, grey suits and even greyer personalities. In order to earn the money to pay back my loan, I would need to enter into a whole other realm of thinking – to live to work and not work to live.

The more I figured out the position I’d gotten myself into, the more I felt stupid, guilty and anxious. I had to leave a brilliant relationship with an amazing girl to return home to Ireland and start making my debt repayments.

The dilemma was this: do the suit thing (and be miserable) for about two years and be debt free, or do it some other way (and enjoy life) and take about four years. It’s not that being in debt is such an awful crime, but it’s the feeling it gives you that you’re not quite in control of your life, that something or someone owns a piece of you. It affects your decisions on how you are, where you can go, what you can do and what you can buy. It even affected my love life!

In the end, I decided to take the long road and enjoy it along the way. Instead of becoming a high earning recruitment consultant for an agency, I became a youth worker. I earn about half the money, but the people, the craic and the work is so much more rewarding than making money off of other people’s backs.

I’m now almost debt free and don’t regret the way I went about it. I still feel like a bit of an eejit for borrowing all that money and assuming it would flow right back at me. But then again, how was I supposed to know that life would have other lessons for me?

I now think debt culture is DEATH CULTURE. Messages of buy/enjoy now and pay later are highly flawed. Banks and their advertising encourage us to have everything we want in life instantly, whether it is a car or a holiday. Life isn’t that easy – you have to wait, save, persist and be patient in order to really own and enjoy. Otherwise you end up being owned – by banks, credit card companies or even debt collectors. The result is stress, anxiety, depression and the shitty feeling of giving away a chunk of your wages every week to something you enjoyed in the past.

Of course, sometimes it is necessary to borrow money. When your wages aren’t coming or when you simply can’t afford car insurance, but need to drive. So what can you do?

If you do have to borrow, ask yourself the following questions first:

  • Do I really need this money now or can I wait and save it?
  • How much interest/fees am I going to get charged?
  • Is there a way of borrowing the money from parents or friends at no/low interest?
  • Do the credit unions (which are non-profit) offer a better deal than the banks?
  • Will I really be able to meet the repayments every week/month when I consider all my other costs and outgoings?
  • Is my income/job secure enough to meet the final repayment on the loan?
  • How you manage your money is up to you. I know that I’m certainly managing mine a lot differently than I did a couple of years ago. I pay rent, debts and bills before I do anything. I also try to put a little bit away for my next trip or for an emergency. After that it’s party time!

Contact MABS or the UK National Debtline (0808 8084000) for advice and information.

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