"Let me start off by saying that I've gotten incredibly lucky and have no student debt at all." -Said No One Ever
Many people are blessed tremendously to have graduated with some form of diploma or certificate without having any student debt to pay back. However, for about 45 million Americans, that is not the case. Latest projections show a combined $1.7 trillion in student debt across the United States, which is more than double the national student debt load in 2010.
Having student debt can be incredibly taxing on emotional health and spiritual well-being. It can negatively effect your willingness to give generously to those in need, and it can zap the joy from your daily routine: "Why even go to work if I'm just going to spend the next 10 (or 20, or 30) years paying off this never-ending debt load?" Carrying around a seemingly endless amount of IOU to Uncle Sam makes a benevolent paycheck reduction that much more of a sacrifice.
"I know there are people who need this. And I want to support my church. And I want to give sacrificially. I know how important it is for the mission. But if I give away my money, how am I ever going to get out of debt?"
If you've ever had this thought, you're not alone. It's countercultural and counterintuitive to decrease your income to give generously when your desire is the decrease your debt load. The two seem incompatibly at odds.
There are a number of Biblical passages that warn against debt (Proverbs 3:27, Proverbs 22:7, Romans 13:7-8, Psalm 37:21), but many Americans still find themselves tied to debt with no clear way out.
There are three important factors to consider while in debt so that you can remain financially generous and still achieve debt-free living.
1. The fact that you have student debt means you are in the top 1% in the world.
Many people will never have the opportunity to go into debt. Some people in the world are in such extreme poverty that the idea of borrowing money from anyone for anything is a completely foreign concept. Holding student debt is living proof of the privilege to secure financing for something you want and don't have money to pay for at the moment. What an amazing opportunity!
When considering how inexplicably wealthy we are compared to some people in world, it makes giving money so much easier and so much more precious and meaningful. Every week I try to consider how deeply impoverished some are on the planet, and I give because I have been greatly blessed in so many ways, including the ability to have debt in the first place. Student debt is a privilege, and paying it back can be a joy if we maintain the right perspective.
2. The Widow Gave All She Had, Which Was Very Little
"41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” - Mark 12:41-44
God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7), and he loves when we give with the same attitude as the widow in the story above.
For me, considering how dire the needs are for others is what compels me to give what I have joyfully and soberly. I have so much. I eat food every day. I have an entire closet of clothes and several pairs of shoes. I have an iPhone and a MacBook. I have a steady career that I love. I have a car. I have a TV mounted to my wall. I have so many things. Some people have nothing, and it is that fact that pushes me to continue giving. God sees when we give, and he loves it.
Giving generously doesn't have rules. You might not be in a position to part with a large portion of your take-home pay, especially while making substantial payments toward debt. Sacrificial giving is something you will need to define for yourself, and perhaps with the help of a trusted advisor.
3. Giving Makes Us Happy
I love the many paradoxes of Christianity. I believe there is no coincidence to the Bible's passages and stories about giving.
"In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high. (1)"
Giving to a great cause has a biological effect on our emotional well-being and makes us feel good.
I can't tell you the hours I used to spend fretting about my student debt and worrying about how I was ever going to dent the surface of it, but I pushed myself to continue to give, knowing that my experience in getting out of debt would be greater, easier, and filled with joy l if I continued to give generously to others during the process.
Giving is difficult, especially when we have debt that is so cumbersome. But giving will actually help us to get out of debt in a way that pleases God and in a way that better fulfills our Christian life along the way.
Just because you're in debt doesn't mean you aren't able to give. From my experience, giving in the midst of paying off large loads of debt makes paying off the debt that much easier. Again, the paradoxes of Christianity are amazing. Because of the positive emotional effects of generous giving, doing so increases our well-being in the otherwise dark and stormy reality of living with debt.
More Resources for Debt-Free Living
There are many great resources out there that help with managing your finances, creating a budget, and consistently striving toward living a debt-free life. One resource I highly recommend is Dave Ramsey. He has endless material about all types of financial journeys including how to live a debt free life. One book he writes that I highly recommend reading is The Total Money Makeover. One of his most famous lines is: "IF YOU WILL LIVE LIKE NO ONE ELSE, LATER YOU CAN LIVE LIKE NO ONE ELSE" (Ramsey, 5). While he gives hope and shows practical ways to become free of the snare of debt, he also speaks bluntly, which is so often needed: "Some of you are so immature that you are unwilling to delay pleasure for a greater result" (Ramsey, 5). Ramsey speaks of finances with a Christian foundation, often using scripture.
If you are willing to spend a little more time investing in becoming debt free, Financial Peace University has helped more than 5,000,000 on their journey to living a debt free life, and it can help you too.
Along with Ramsey's resources, I recommend building a thorough, exhaustive budget of all of your expenses-- that is everything that comes into the bank as well as what goes out. If you're anything like me, you'll probably find you spend more money than you should on things you don't need. Something that may help you budget is a budgeting template, like one here that Mint makes. There are many options to choose from if you're looking to begin one inside of Microsoft Excel; an easy Google search will help you find the one that's right for you.
Lastly, it is good to seek the professional advice of a Financial Advisor if you can. If you are unable to consult with a Financial Advisor or a professional Coach, then identify someone that you know has their finances under control, and ask them to guide you in your quest to becoming debt free (ask questions about your budget, your spending habits, your current situation and where you would like to be in 2, 3, 5, 10, 20 years, etc.) When I first met with my Financial Advisor, I left the 2-hour meeting feeling, perhaps for the first time, that it is possible to be completely free of debt.
Having someone financially credible that can coach you through this process will prove invaluable in the long run, and will help you in the times that you feel like giving up. People who are trained in finances can look at every angle of your spending habits and help you to make sense of it all. You may find that what you thought was totally impossible is easy to do if done the right way with the right help. You can do it!
Here's something to look forward to for that great day when you do live a debt-free life: 10 Characteristics of Debt-Free Living