How I Got Here: Grad School

I probably wouldn’t have started this blog if it wasn’t for the fact that I am $85,000 in debt because of my student loans. True, student loans aren’t necessarily “bad” debt, and the government can’t repossess my education — but it’s still a scary number. I’m fortunate enough to have a well-paying, meaningful job (real estate consultant for nonprofits) that is actually 100% related to what I studied in grad school (city planning and real estate), but I still face a long road ahead of me. I’m happy with my decision to go to graduate school (University of Pennsylvania) because it gave me the skills I needed to succeed in the industry I want to be in (real estate). Looking back on how I approached grad school financially, however, there are a few things I wish I had done differently.

My biggest regret is not saving before I quit my last job. I graduated from college knowing that I wasn’t done with school; I just needed some time to grow up and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I worked for three years before attending grad school and saved maybe $1,000 at most. You would think that if I knew I was going to return to school eventually, I would have started putting some money aside. Nope.

The year I decided I was ready to apply to schools, I was also on the verge of ending my current apartment lease and figuring out where to live next. My parents still live in San Francisco, so I could have moved back home if I wanted. I could have saved well over $15,000 if I had decided to live at home during that last year (12 months x $1,300/month rent x utilities/groceries).  But an apartment opened up a few blocks from my boyfriend and friends and I decided to take it. I’m glad I did. Being so close to my boyfriend really cemented our relationship, as we had started dating only a few months before I signed the new lease. It allowed us to form the bond that kept us together while we were across the country from each other. But I probably didn’t have to buy the flatscreen TV…or all the framed art…or the fancy kitchen equipment.

I wish I had better understood how debt would impact my life. Applying for financial aid was a breeze; repaying my loans is not. I was fortunate enough to go to college on my parents’ dime and didn’t have to experience the hardship of repaying student loans until now. I would be ecstatic if I could pay my loans off in five years, but it will probably take longer than that if I actually want to have a life and save some money for my future. I wish I had thought about debt in terms of what else that money could be going towards: trips, spa days, saving for a house. I have to say though, that debt has made me a more conscious spender. My paycheck basically goes to rent, loan payments, utilities, and groceries in that order; whatever’s left over is mine to spend as I please. Since that amount isn’t very much, I have to really consider where it goes: do I buy disposable clothing at H&M or do I buy a train ticket to visit friends in Washington D.C.? I’m trying to spend the little money I have on things that are meaningful to me.

Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes, and obviously there are better financial choices I could have made. Maybe I’m only saying this because things worked out for me and I have a job I like in the industry I want to be in, but so far, the investment has been worth it.

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