Finding Freedom In Frugality

Photo: Unsplash & Jessica Lewis

It’s kind of wild how short-term your thinking can be when you’re a teenager. At 18, I really thought I had my shit together. I finally was accepted and decided on an out of state college, and I could not be more thrilled. I figured out what I wanted to my major to be, and what my dorm was going to be like, and how much I could drink without hopefully throwing up. And then came FAFSA. 

Obviously, I knew I had to file for financial aid. I hopped on my parent’s computer the minute the web portal opened up for the 2011 school year, and had everything ready. I couldn’t believe how prepared I was, or how easy it was! Just a bunch of boxes to check, some numbers to guess, and enter in my dad’s information every other page. And with one send button, I was officially going to be a freshman.

Fast forward five years: I’m back at my parents’ home, and things are not how I remember them. I quickly realize I need to get my own place, as my habits are no longer remotely allowed under this roof. So, after landing my first real job at a WHOPPING 32k, I make the brash decision to move out. I think about how easy it was to do in Iowa, and this can’t be much harder since I’ll be making an extreme amount of money! So I pulled the trigger and left.

I come home to visit my parents one weekend as I normally do, but when I get in the house, I can tell something is up. My dad has never been known to be the most patient person – but this day seems different. He has totally flown off the handle. I can’t even make sense of what he’s freaking out about so hard, but then he comes back into the room with a stack of papers and he starts handing them to me. Envelope after envelope, packet after packet. Subsidized, unsubsidized, direct, indirect, federal, private – I don’t even know what any of this could possibly mean at this point. But the one word I do recognize is the big fat “Delinquent” on the top of all of these documents.

I couldn’t believe it. How could my parents not have been paying the loans that I took out without their knowledge! First, I turn 16 and they don’t surprise me with a brand-new Corvette and now THIS?!

And my dad actually has the audacity to do exactly what he said he would do when he found out I stole his Social Security Number – transfer the loans into my name. He stands by me while I shakily call Navient and whoever else, saying “Yes, yes, I am his daughter and the loans need to be in my name. Thank you, Sue. You’ve been so kind.”

Before I knew it, I had an abundance of debt. An overwhelming, unrealistic amount of debt. A debt that had enough 0’s it seemed to belong to Oprah. But it was all mine.

I went home to my Avondale apartment and couldn’t even look at the mail my dad had passed to me. I threw it under my bed and hid. I game planned – if I make 32,000 a year, and I put my WHOLE salary into my loans, then i’ll be completely debt free in 5 years! And before that, OBVIOUSLY, Obama is going to forgive these! Who gives a shit!

So I didn’t pay them on time, or in complete, or correctly at all. The debt consumed me. I was drowning in it, waiting to get a CNN alert that the government decided this was cruel and all loans are forgiven. The number I owed seemed to get larger and larger every time I checked, and I had no one to fall back on. 

I won’t say it was a few months, because it had to have been at least a year and a half that passed when I finally made peace with the idea that I had to figure out my finances one way or another. At this point I knew I had little to work with, but piling expenses on credit card after credit card wasn’t working for me. Everything was maxed out and I was fucked. The only thing that seemed to start to get me on track, was to just to show all my cards to my friends. 

I am broke. 

I am not paying all 20 of my loans, and fuck off, they’re already consolidated. I need you to be supportive of me, and honor that I need to be frugal now.

And it worked. My friends were actually all also in debt, and the mask had been ripped off. Together, with our secret out there, it felt like we could find freedom in frugality. We could host pot lucks and share streaming accounts. We could make our own face masks, and ride bikes home together. We can plant our garden and share what we sowed. 

The debt isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But with all this weight – at least it squeezed us together.

Leila Mustafa: Will get into a street fight and cry to a Coke commercial in the same hour.