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Get Out of Debt

Tackling Our Debt Head On

Today we have a guest post from Elle at The Other Fairy Tale Girl. Elle and Cat have a lot in common as both of their husbands have taken on debt for medical school tuition. Read on to find out more about Elle and her debt.

This story of my debt is technically not mine, but once you get married that whole “MY, ME, MINE” turns miraculously into “OURS”.

My husband’s debt story took a turn for the worst three years ago when he was accepted to medical school. In his undergraduate years he had chosen bioengineering – a program that was brand new to his university and only admitted a handful of students. His dad is a construction worker and his mom is a nurse, so bioengineering seemed the best way to combine both of these fields. But when it came time for the senior career fair there were no employers interested in his program because it was so new!

Current debt at this point: $20,000

He decided to apply to medical school. He had worked part-time in the ER wheeling patients around and checking them in. It wasn’t so bad – plus isn’t medicine such a prestigious career? During this time was when I first met him and I immediately saw he was not cut out to be a doctor. He is brilliant but a deliberate thinker. He doesn’t like to juggle multiple tasks at once.  He can’t function under pressure and he doesn’t thrive with stress. The biggest red flag of all: he chose being a doctor because he didn’t know what else to do.

He took a year off after graduating from his bachelor’s program and finally received an acceptance letter and went to medical school. The first two years of medical school were great for him. Those years require a lot of studying as you’re learning the basics and my husband is a wonderful student. He took the first large exam on the path to becoming a doctor, and as he was studying for it the doubt started following him. Was he cut out for this career? Did he have the desire and the drive to do this? He passed the exam with flying colors.

Current debt at this point: $147,700

The third year of medical school is when rotations begin. My husband did the first rotation and had a feeling that he did not want to be a doctor. When he began the second one rotation, it confirmed his suspicion.

Then he dropped out of medical school. We had just gotten engaged two days before he dropped out.

Current debt at this point: $153,700

It is hard to imagine something that could put more strain on a relationship than crippling debt and a career change all at once. We did a lot of moping around and burying our head in the sand about it for the longest time. At this point we were already very frugal in our lifestyle – I used public transportation to get to work, we never turned on our heat (I don’t recommend this because the pipes will freeze!), we did not have cable, etc.

After  dropping out, he spent 6 months searching for a job with his bioengineering degree to no avail.

It wasn’t easy. No employer wanted a bio-engineer with only an undergraduate degree and no experience. We decided it was best for him to get his masters in something that employers did seek: mechanical engineering.

Meanwhile I pushed our heads out of the sand about the debt. We looked at how much we had accumulated and started coming up with a plan to pay it off. To this day there is a dry erase board in our kitchen with the current outstanding amount to remind us what we’re working toward. Some months we have an unexpected bill that throws us off course (looking at you damn oil heat!) and that interest accrues with such a fury. I have described it in my own blog like trying to climb an avalanche that is pulling you under. At least the number has gone down with time.

Speaking of time – only 148 more days till my husband graduates with his masters and 48 days till I graduate with mine! I have been fortunate to have an employer that paid for my graduate education. But, we still live under the cloud of debt and will be for quite some time. The hopes of buying a house and travelling are still there, but they are being pushed to the side for now. My husband and I could sit continue moping about it like we once did or get started working on it. So far we have chosen the latter.

Current debt as of today: $212,168.87

Here are a few things I’ve picked up over the past year of digesting the debt:

Take a deep breath. Clear your mind and don’t dwell on the problem for too long. I am a problem solver. I am a planner and a worrier. For a very long time I sat numb with the weight of this problem and it was not helpful. Everything in my life up to that point had only needed a short-term plan: Spring semester in college = 5 months, the difficulties of tax season = 3.5 months. Getting out of debt is going to be long-term battle and it can’t be tackled with my usual Type A fretting gusto. If you find yourself biting through your lip, go for a walk or make a cup of tea. It will save your sanity in the end.

If you live with an ostrich-like spouse that wants to live in ignorance, try to guide them out of that sand. Putting the number on the dry erase board helps us confront the issue of our debt every day. We make our coffee and glance up at it, acknowledge it, and continue about our day working to paying it off. Don’t update it too often or you’ll go crazy – once a month works for us. It is so satisfying to see that number decrease even if it’s just a little bit.

It is okay to let your family and friends know what is going on. You don’t have to give them the specifics but it feels great to talk about it when the debt seems too much to handle. Plus, I feel like people understand our situation better. They accept that we want to have dinner at home instead of joining them at an expensive restaurant. But we’ll still up with them for a drink after. We are saving money while not killing ourselves to save every dollar.

Elle is a tax accountant married to a (hopefully soon employed) engineer. Both Elle and her husband are currently enrolled in masters programs in Pennsylvania. Elle loves to blog, read, sew, and cuddle with her two reluctant cats. She blogs over at The Other Fairy Tale Girl, where sometimes she talks about their debt and sometimes she talks about much happier topics.

Like what you read? It’s your turn! We’ll pay you for your debt story.

Around here, we’re all about taking our debt and beating it down. Grrrrrrrr! We pay $5 for every awesome debt story we publish (whether you’re in debt, out of it, or barely living to tell the tale) so send yours our way to be considered: reddebtedstepchild[at]gmail[dot]com!
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Erin Thompson

Erin Thompson spent years managing her own blog about budgeting and debt. Because of that, she has great insights not only about managing spending and borrowing but also about running websites profitably. When she's not writing articles for us, she's traveling and looking for new types of wines to try.
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