Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2, NLT).
I am walking down the street and overhear a girl talking to her friend about her brand new, shiny student loan. She is about to start her first year of college after working during the summer. She has saved up enough money to pay for the semester, but really wants to use some of the loan money to go shopping. My ears perk up and I feel an immediate sense of foreboding. She is me. This is a modern, more technologically savvy version, but just as unwise when it comes to finances as I ever was.
I feel this sudden urge to do something. I fight it. I want to help, to save her from 10 years of life as an indebted college graduate, but what will I say? Is there a way to get my point across without exposing my own financial failings and/or being that creepy stranger who listens to conversations and then comments on them?
I decide to say one of those silent prayers I typically say when I think I’m supposed to do something that I don’t really want to do. It’s not long before the right opportunity presents itself. Her friend is gone and we have apparently been heading in the same direction.
Me: Hi. Sorry, I happened to overhear part of your conversation. You mentioned something about a student loan….” [Interpret as: I was desperately straining to hear every word you said while simultaneously trying not to appear as though I was eavesdropping].
Her: Hi. I thought you were listening… [Note to self: Must do a better job of remaining incognito… or must mind my own business. Whatever works].
Me: Yeah. Well, I know it’s none of my business, but you might want to consider using your earnings to pay for school and not going shopping with the student loan money. Trust me, it’s not worth it. It may seem like a great idea right now because you can buy what you want, but when you’re my age and you’re still trying to pay it back, it’s not pretty.
Her: I thought that they gave you a grace period….
Me: Yeah, for six months and then you have to pay with interest. It’s not as easy as you might think. Listen, I bought a Discman with my student loan money and now I’m still paying for it years later.
Her: What’s a Discman?
Me: [Sigh] Exactly.
Me: It was a CD player that I had to have when I got my student loan money. Trust me. This isn’t a road you want to go down. If you can work to pay for school, please try to do that. I don’t want you to end up in the same situation as me.
She actually nodded and thanked me. That’s how I knew I had made the right decision. I felt like she understood.
The question is, do I? That situation happened several months ago, and yet, here I am continuing to buy mid-week meals with my credit card. Have I really learned my lesson or am I repeating the same mistakes? I no longer have that pesky student loan, but at times, I still spend more money than I make. I’m still in debt.
Debt is the noose around your neck that no one talks about. It makes you a slave to your past choices and hinders your growth and potential without you even knowing it. Did you just spend your opportunity to be generous to someone in need on another latte? What about that dream vacation you’ve been meaning to take? Did you spend that money five years ago on a brand new couch you didn’t need?
Every time we spend money, we are making a choice. It’s hard for me to see it that way, but it’s the truth. We are saying that whatever we want to spend our money on right now is more important than something else we may want or need in the future. It may not seem like a big deal when you by that cookie, but what about when those cookies add up to not having savings, or a car or the down payment for your own home? Where is my down payment? For a long time, it was on my credit cards – the same place where my car has been.
Romans 12:2 is not just about renewing your mind in terms of spiritual discipline. It’s about applying the principles that are outlined in the scriptures to our lives, including the area of finances.
My mind is still being renewed in this area and I have a ways to go. I truly shudder when I think about some of the financial decisions I’ve made in the past. It’s been a long and difficult road, but with God’s help, I’ve been making a slow recovery.
With that in mind, I’d like to leave you with a few truths I wish I had embraced when I was younger.
Dear younger me,
- Student loans are not free money. You will have to pay them back – with interest or die trying.
- The Lord’s mercy endures forever, but the student loan offices’ does not. Your grace period will run out.
- Run; don’t walk away from the people on campus offering you free stuff in exchange for a credit card sign up. You don’t really need that ‘free’ hat.
- Chocolate is not tuition. Neither is a pair of shoes. Student loan money is for tuition, books and transportation, if absolutely necessary. If you want a new anything, don’t buy it with your student loan money.
- Save. Repeat.
- Apply for as many scholarships and bursaries as you can.
- Trust God to provide, not your student loan or line of credit.
In a perfect world, we would all have enough money to attend college or university without the need for student loans. If you are already in debt, though, don’t panic. God’s mercies are new every morning. Let’s make the decision today to be wise with our spending and to trust God to provide.
Are you struggling with debt? How has it affected your life and what steps are you taking to break free?