When my husband and I graduated from dental school and law school (respectively), we sat down and assessed our finances, including all of the student loan debt that had accrued while we were in school. I knew we would graduate with a lot of debt but seeing the actual numbers paralyzed me with fear. How on earth were we going to pay this off? How would we be able to raise our son with this much debt? What were we going to do?
After several weeks of sleepless nights and crippling fear, we made a plan to pay off our $650k of student loan debt. I can’t say that fear doesn’t creep up occasionally, but one thing has really helped keep that fear at bay– gratitude. That’s right. I’m thankful for debt, even though it has been a heavy burden.
I once heard the following story: (You can also find it in our fitness + finances book, Phased)
Two travelers visited a village high in the mountains. The first traveler journeyed from the village in the mountains to a village in the valley. On his way down, there was a monk, working in a field. “I am going to the village in the valley,” he said. “Can you tell me what it is like?” The monk stopped his work for a moment, and asked, ‘Where have you come from?” “I have been in the village in the mountains,” the traveler responded. The monk asked, “What was it like?”
“Awful!” replied the traveler. “They didn’t speak my language, the food was weird, and I had to sleep on the floor for there were no beds.” The monk said, “Then I think you will find that the village in the valley is much the same.” Later, the second traveler journeyed from the village in the mountains and saw the same monk on the side of the road. “I am going to the village in the valley!” said he. “Can you tell me what it is like?” The monk stopped his work for a moment, and asked, ‘Where have you come from?” “I have been in the village in the mountains,” the traveler responded. The monk asked, “What was it like?” “Wonderful! I learned a new language, tried new foods, and slept on this comfortable mat on the floor. I met wonderful people. It was a beautiful, unforgettable experience,” replied the traveler. The monk said, “Then I think you will find that the village in the valley is much the same.”
What was the difference between these two travelers? Each traveler was exposed to new foods, lifestyles, and languages that they had not experienced. The second traveler celebrated this fact and took the opportunity to learn and grow. The other crooned at the experience and learned nothing. It was their ability to feel grateful that made all the difference. You have a choice to learn and grow from new and difficult experiences, and that includes being in debt. Be like the second traveler. Look for opportunities from being in debt to learn and grow. To be honest, I have never paused and considered why I am thankful for debt until now, and it truly has been a cathartic experience. Here are the reasons why I am thankful for debt:
I’m thankful for debt because it taught me the art of the side hustle.
Before I had a mountain of debt to deal with, I would have never tried any of the side ventures I’m currently doing. And in addition to bringing in money to help us pay off debt, they also bring me so much joy! I do contract drafting, review, and negotiation over at The Contracts Counselor, run this blog, and tons of other little things like taking surveys online. I honestly did not understand my potential to earn money before I had big debt to pay off.
I’m thankful for debt because it taught me to be productive and use my time wisely.
That being said about my side hustling, being in debt taught me to be productive and use my time wisely. Because if I’m going to be working a few side jobs AND be a mom, I need to make the time I’m working really count and not bleed too much into my family time. Thus, I’m thankful for debt because it taught me to work smart (instead of long).
I’m thankful for debt because it has bonded me and my husband.
The refiner’s fire of being in big debt and feeling all the fear and stress associated with it has bonded me closer to my husband than I ever imagined.
I’m thankful for debt because it means we got good education.
(or at least expensive education). All of our debt is from being in school. I’m really thankful we were able to go to such great schools and learn the skills we needed to become a dentist and attorney.
I’m thankful for debt because it taught me to be intentional with my money.
I’ve always been frugal, but being in debt has taught me a lot about being intentional with money. I used to find myself saying, “well it’s only $5 or $1, for things that we didn’t need but now I know that those small things really add up. I’m definitely more thoughtful about where my money is going.
I’m thankful for debt because it helped me find interests I may have never found.
Debt forced me to research anything and everything I could about personal finance– something I am now beyond passionate about. I also learned about real estate investing and discovered other interests I may not have found without the stress of having debt.
I’m thankful for debt because it gave us the chance to help and encourage other people.
This blog was born because we felt so stressed and alone in our student loan debt and we wanted a place to be able to share/communicate with similarly situated borrowers. As a result we’ve been able to meet (or e-meet) many of you and it’s been such a gift.
I’m thankful for debt because it made our educations accessible.
We would have never in a million years been able to afford dental school and law school on our own. So even though I have a million negative things to say about the current student loan system and the need it has to be regulated better, I am still beyond thankful that the existence of student loans made it possible for us to become a dentist and a lawyer, which otherwise would have been impossible.
I’m thankful for debt because it taught me to become a wiser borrower.
Before being in debt, I thought there was good and bad debt. But if I’m being honest, I don’t know that I knew which kind was good and which was bad. I thought student loans were good debt, and I still think that in some ways but definitely not always. Now I know that the only good debt is attached to an income earning asset. Thus, we don’t take out debt for things that don’t bring us in money (like houses, cars, etc).
I’m thankful for debt because it helped us realize that things do not equal happiness.
Debt has taught me that things do not equal happiness. So many of us buy things that are beyond our means because we think they’ll make us feel better. And maybe for a brief moment they will, but that feeling is fleeting. Happiness (peace, really) is achieved by experiences and by your own state of mind (being thankful) and not by buying things.
Even though debt can feel awful at times, I really am thankful for it because of all of the lessons it has taught me.
Why are you thankful for debt? I’d love to hear from you!
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