The Moment When Debt Causes You to Lower Your Expectations in Life

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I started this blog back in late 2012 after realizing that I wasn’t going to pay off my debt as easily as I’d assumed I would after I’d graduated from school. In the days following getting fired from my job back in 2013, my precarious financial situation became even more real to me. I spent a lot of time thinking about my past, present, and future whenever not applying for jobs. ‘Is there a way out of this?’, I’d ask. ‘Will I ever be able to live a “normal” life’ (i.e. my own house, car, nice things)? With a calculator and a notepad, I sat on the old squeaky twin bed that came with the room that I was renting at the time and started doing the math….

After a period of time running calculations, I accepted the unavoidable truth. I’d likely never be able to afford to pay off all of this debt, own a home and car, travel, afford nice clothes, and save enough for a comfortable retirement. I didn’t make enough money (still don’t), and there weren’t enough working years left. In 10 years, I’ll be in my 50’s and subject to ageism and involuntary retirement. I likely won’t have a spouse or anyone else to rely on in my old age. I’m always hopeful, of course, but also a realist. The odds are against me at this point in life. So that was it…  And the illusion crumbled…

I sat there and let it sink in. The rest of my life won’t be like I’d always envisioned it being. The future self, the ‘successful me’, that I’d had in my head all these years would never exist. It was sad to think about. It’s still sad to think about. It was almost like a mourning. I felt like a failure. I still feel like a failure.

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As I sat there, the cognitive dissonance started to subside as the rational part of my brain took over again. If there wasn’t going to be enough money to go around, then I had to prioritize and make choices. First, the debt has to be repaid. The consequences for not doing so would be too severe. Seventy-five percent of my 140k+ debt is student loan debt, so bankruptcy was not an option.

Next, I knew that retirement funds would be necessary to support me in my old age. With no retirement savings in my late 30s, I knew that I would have to sacrifice as much money as I could to put into a retirement account when (if) I got my next job. Lastly, I would have to live my life on very little money between then and retirement, only to continue living frugally in old age. That’s not even accounting for needing to take care of my parents in their final years. Frankly, I’m planning that my siblings will be willing to fund most of our parent’s care-taking as they are much more financially well-off than I am. (Hell, who isn’t?)

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No house, no nice things, no travel. I’d need to continue living under other people’s roofs, in rented rooms, sleeping on other people’s old squeaky twin beds; at least for the foreseeable future. As someone who cherishes personal space and privacy, this was a bitter pill to swallow. (Side note: Although I’ve moved twice since that day in 2013, I’m currently writing this post on a squeaky twin bed in a rented room). As living with roommates is a constant source of low level stress for me, I realize I am sacrificing a bit of my health because of this.

Around that same time last year when I had my calculator reckoning, I discovered minimalism and simplicity. It was a buoy for me in that it helped me to cope with my situation. It helped me to see that I don’t need ‘nice things’ to be happy. I don’t need to own a home or car. I won’t lie and say that those things wouldn’t be nice to have. I’ve just come to accept that they may not be for me.

Today, I don’t know how my journey on this rock will end. (Would I even want to know?) However, I’m coping with lowered adjusted life expectations, the best way that I know how. I don’t look, dress, or live like other women my age, because of my financial situation. The sour truth is that sometimes I’m treated differently by others because of those differences. Being and looking poor has its disadvantages. I’m planning to re-start work on a couple of side projects that may become a source of side income. I need to find a way to make more money without sacrificing my health. I will do what I can to improve my situation, and to focus on the silver lining to my cloud.

How has debt affected you?  What have you done about it?

“Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.” (DDSW)

9 comments

  1. Due to some poor decisions I found myself in my late 30’s with very little in my retirement funds. I’m currently rebuilding them now. It’s a process. Hang in there. You’re doing all the right things. Try to stay positive. I know it’s hard. Your blog is a ray of sunshine.

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  2. Budget Loving Military Wife · December 5, 2014

    Debt can be extremely discouraging at times. Try to stay positive and just put one foot in front of the other. The sun has to shine eventually! 🙂 Wishing you the very best!

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  3. ricodilello · December 5, 2014

    You are not alone, debt is a major problem for most people. Keep your head up and take small steps moving forward.

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  4. thesingledollar · January 1, 2015

    Hi, I just found your blog this morning via following some links from somewhere, and read through the archives (benefits of a day off from work for Jan 1!) I’m commenting on this rather than on your most recent post because this one speaks to me really deeply. I’m in a better financial situation — I’m only 36, and have recently paid off both credit card and student loans — but as you might guess from my blog title, I do think and worry a lot about being a single woman with a pretty low earning potential because of my job field. A year or so ago that really hit me and I realized that, even being debt-free, I was unlikely ever to be able to afford a house in a place I really want to live, not and also save enough for retirement. I’m pretty much going to have to become fully dedicated to communal living, probably hooking up with other single women. It’s not like it will all be necessarily terrible — it’s just — not what I was expecting my life to be like. And I didn’t really think about the long-term consequences of what I was doing when I chose a low-paying field and spent 8 years in graduate school for it!

    This comment could quickly become a novel (for example, I’d love to talk with you about how moving so many times during my 20s and early 30s screwed me financially — you know, I should just make a post on that) but I’ll stop there. I’m glad I found your blog, and I hope I can give you another example of someone who’s facing lowered expectations and trying to be reasonably cheerful about what’s got to be done.

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    • doubledebtsinglewoman · January 1, 2015

      We definitely have some things in common. Hmmm. I’ve never thought of communal living for if I am older and still single. I really,REALLY want to have my own space, but beggars can’t be choosers, right? Ugh! Debt sucks!
      I was in grad school for 10 years for a liberal arts type of degree! Ha! Got ya beat there. Insane! I can totally relate to regretting my lack of knowledge about opportunity cost. Congrats on paying off your debt. Looks like you’ve got the ‘dollar’ part working. Now you can focus on the ‘single’ part? 🙂 Thanks for stopping by. I’ll check out your blog.

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  5. Pingback: Finding a Home for Future Me: Creative Housing Options for Solo Retirement | The Single DollarThe Single Dollar

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