Sound the horns, break out the bunting and start the parade. I’ve finally removed the financial albatross from around my neck, and repaid a loan that has plagued me throughout my 20s. I may sound over dramatic, but you have no idea how good it feels to be free of this heavy burden.
Means to an end
Let me set the scene for you. I’ve just finished my undergrad at Lancaster University. I’ve decided to continue my education by doing a postgrad in magazine journalism at Sheffield University, but I have no way to pay for it. After doing some research, I decide to take out what’s called a ‘career development loan’. Unlike an ordinary student loan, this is more of a typical bank loan, which you have to pay off with a respectable amount of interest within a relatively short time after graduation.
As a brash, young 21 year old, I didn’t consider the consequences of my actions. I took out the loan, completed my course, and figured I’d worry about paying it back later. I graduated in 2011, at a time when the ‘Great Recession’ was at its height. I had no idea how hard it would be to secure a stable, well-paying job in that environment. It soon became apparent to me, however, that putting a foot on that first rung of the ladder would be easier said than done, putting me in an awkward position.
I did everything I could to deal with the situation. I worked my way, bit by bit, up the employment ladder. I negotiated to extend my loan deadline numerous times. I even made it a point to send out good thoughts into the universe. in order to delay the inevitable. But to no avail. In early 2013, just as my last chance to extend the deadline was coming to a close, I took a job with a tiny firm in Manchester. It was a disaster; the founder of this start-up couldn’t find enough money to pay us, I had no savings and suddenly I found myself up a very unpleasant creek without so much as a paddle.
It was a very tense time in my life. The bank wouldn’t stop calling, and I had nothing new to tell them, so I stuck my had in the sand for a few months. Eventually, with the encouragement of my mother, I gritted my teeth and called the bank to figure a way out of this mess. That was one of the hardest calls I’ve ever made. It was decided that I would go onto a payment plan, in order to pay back the loan bit by bit, while living within my means. It was honestly humiliating – no one wants to think that they can’t repay their debts – but I strengthened my resolve and agreed to these terms.
You’ll be glad to hear that this story does have a happy ending, but it took a lot of struggle to reach that last page. A few months later I secured what up until that point, had seemed like the ‘unicorn’ of my professional life; a stable, well-paying job. I moved to Leeds, got to work, and slowly, ever so slowly, started making repayments. In those early days, however, when the recent humiliation was still so fresh, I resolved to make a radical change in my life. I started amassing savings, putting a few hundred pounds from every pay check into the bank. I ended up becoming militant about saving and yes, it has deprived me of having as much fun as I’d have liked, but it has made all the difference.
As the years wore on, I increasingly secured what had eluded me for so long. Financial security. I watched my outstanding loan balance gradually reduce from thousands to hundreds, all the while watching my savings balance bounce from hundreds to thousands. I cannot tell you what a change this was, as it helped me deal with the anxiety that had plagued me about my financial situation for such a long time, not only making it easier for me to maintain a decent lifestyle, but giving me a confidence boost as well. Now I know that if something bad happens, and I find myself out of employment once more, I can pick myself up, dust myself off and find something else safe in the knowledge that I can live reasonably in the meantime. You don’t know how liberating that is!
This situation, where I paid off the loan every month while building my savings, had become the new norm. I’d stopped even thinking about it really. It came as a great surprise to me this week when I learned that the loan is now paid off in full. I’m free. God, it feels amazing! I can do as I please without the sword of financial ruin hanging over my head! But I won’t. If this whole ordeal has taught me anything, it’s that money may be the root of all evil, but we need it to survive. We’d better handle the money we have carefully, or the resulting chaos could have a greater impact on our daily lives than we could possibly imagine.