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21 Aug 2004

Student Loan Syndrome

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by Jesse Mecham

Once I’ve gotten to know someone for a while, I’ll usually ask the question, “Do you budget?” The response is always interesting. That was how I got into one particular conversation.

My friend went on to tell me that they used to. But they couldn’t have any fun. When you’re young married students (and I am one), it’s true that things can get a bit tight. And my friend was telling me that they would want to go out and do something, but all of their friends would always say they didn’t want to spend the money. So they’d end up just over at someone’s house chatting – then going home.

Apparently there was a lot of stress about money. Things were tight and they were always worried about the car breaking down, or running out of money for groceries. Their solution to take away the stress of very little income? Take out some student loans. He began to explain that since they had taken out their loans (approaching $30,000, and he still has four semesters of school left) they were no longer stressed about money. If the car broke down, they didn’t want to pay for repairs, but they knew they had the money.

I just listened. No stress? $30,000 in debt and still going and they don’t have any stress? I couldn’t believe my ears. This is typical Student Loan Syndrome (SLS).

SLS is rampant on college campuses. You can usually find SLS where you see someone living outside of their means. A lot of times, especially with young married students, they tend to want to take on the lifestyle of their parents. The result is usually a lot of “necessary” purchases that really can’t be afforded by the young couple.

SLS also comes along when the couple is in “economic anticipation”. They know they will have a huge jump in income once the main breadwinner graduates and lands his first big job. So to take out a few loans now is no big deal. The interest rate is unbelievably low, and their will be so much more money coming in, they think they’ll be able to pay off the loan in no time.

How does one cure SLS? Building up a small reserve of one month’s expenses is the first step. This helps the student avoid even the temptation to charge an unexpected expense. Next, the student must get on a budget and stick to it. Some might call me extreme, but if you’re really in need of money as a student, then take a semester off of school and get some. Students are notorious for saying they don’t have any money to spare – as they text message their friend on the latest new cell phone.

To take out a loan because you’re “avoiding stress” is treating the symptom, not the problem. If you want to get to the heart of your money matters then you need to follow the Four Rules of Cash Flow Management. These treat problems, not symptoms.

If you do have student loans – pay them off! If you don’t – avoid them! While many wise people say that you are investing in your education and thus, taking out loans is okay, I just can’t help but think of all those students who have done it debt free. It takes hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice, but it can be done. Get your degree debt free.

Your Next Step

Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)


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