Avoid Depressed Student Loan Debt

So now we are forced to face the reality. But still, I am not depressed. And let me interject that I don’t use the word “depressed” lightly. Depression is a debilitating disease – one that can be fatal. I think, should you find yourself feeling hopeless and adrift, that you should seek professional help. That said, I think there are a few lessons I’ve learned in life that help ward off depression over our student loan debt – but they aren’t magic fixes if you’re already there.

This week, I got a message on my blog’s Facebook page (have you liked it yet? Please do!) It was comforting to her to see someone else with so many student loans, though she noted that most of their loans were her husband’s (yup, same here!). She’s a stay-at-home mom, so I can only imagine how tight their budget is and how hopeless it feels to see the next 20 years stretching out in front of her. She asked how I avoid getting depressed over the situation.

My reply to her was that, hey, I’ve already been at this for 10 years. In the beginning, I didn’t know enough to be depressed. My husband had very high hopes for his salary and we just thought it was going to be a piece of cake to pay off the loans. The salary range he was so sure his Master’s would net – we’ve never seen even close to that. That is a reality that has slowly been sinking in over the last few years. It’s not that his field doesn’t pay well – there are jobs that do pay very, very, very well. But he has never been able to build up the unique experience that those positions require.

Don’t Obsess

This is hard, especially as a personal finance blogger. I think about our debt all. the. time. It’s not really very healthy, though. While you might want to take on extra jobs or look for ways to be more frugal, live a balanced life. Take time to relax and recharge. Spend time with family and friends. Exercise. Eat well. Basically, just take care of yourself and don’t make your debt something that you eat, sleep, breathe.

Do Something

It’s pretty easy to get depressed when you look at the bills coming in and think “I can barely pay this”. Or maybe you think “I can’t pay this”. Stop feeling helpless and take action. Take a deep breath, sit down, make a budget, and see which of those statements is really true. Then make a plan for getting ahead – even if it’s just by a little. Maybe that’s a one time thing like selling a car or holding a yard sell. Maybe it’s earning a few bucks a month for taking surveys or using Gradible. Maybe it’s something more in line with a job (like freelancing, babysitting, or selling crafts). Think outside the box to find extra cash. But going back to the “Don’t Obsess” point – do what you can do without overdoing it. You still need to have a life and that’s OK. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Have a Goal

When assessing someone who has clinical depression, counselors/therapists/doctors will ask them if they have any goals or dreams in life. Someone who has nothing to live for is in a very dangerous place. It’s important to have short-term and long-term goals that are fairly realistic. Dreams are all well and good, but you also want to have things that you know are achievable. Set both realistic short-term and long-term debt pay off goals.

Start with some small baby-step goals (like holding a yard sale) and build from there. Frequently reassess your goals. If you are doing really great, you’ll want to adjust your long term goals so that they continue to challenge you. If you aren’t doing as well as planned, you might think about adjusting your long-term goals to continue to be realistic.

Try to focus on the next big goal in line, instead of how much time or money is left in the payoff process. Eat this elephant one bite at a time 😉

Find Support

Married people can generally count on each other for support in the debt payoff goals, but even then, it’s nice to have other people who are in similar circumstances. I love the personal finance blogging community for this reason. But there’s also Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace – perhaps there is a workshop near you? Or maybe you have friends or family who are in the same boat that you can confide in. Keep each other accountable, yet encouraged.

Final Thoughts

It’s OK to feel a little down about your debt. Your debt is costing you other opportunities in life, and it’s OK to mourn those things you are missing out on. However, if you can’t stop thinking about your debt, or you find yourself tearful or unable to make decisions regarding your finances, seek professional help. Otherwise, put some plans in to place to have balance in your life and to have some debt pay-off goals.