Money Can Buy Happiness: Why I'm Okay With Being $50,000 In College Debt

by Kayla Wilkinson

Owing people money is not fun. If I owe someone $20 for gas, it will continuously weigh on my mind until I actually repay the money.

So, of course, I assumed owing the government tens of thousands of dollars in student loans would be the exact opposite of fun, but I also worried it could potentially take a toll on my peace of mind.

Ironically, I'm happier than ever. As I'm sitting here on the front porch of my college house, I am literally accumulating more student-loan debt by the minute. Today marks the first day of classes, which also marks another year I will owe the university (or the government) approximately $30,000 for tuition.

Still, I feel no anxiety about my choice to attend university or to take out student loans for my education. In fact, I've never felt more content or at peace with my life.

I really do understand why people make a lot of life decisions, especially the bigger ones, completely based on money. It's safe to say everyone desires financial security and independence, and debt makes those desires harder to realize.

So, when you're choosing where to attend school, where to live or choosing anything else, it's never a bad idea to stick with the option that is most affordable. Should our decisions always revolve around money?

When I was considering college options, of course money was on my mind. I didn't want to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt that would crush me as I would start my post-college life, but I also didn't want to just choose the cheapest option and disregard where I truly wanted to go.

Ultimately, I chose not to attend school in my home state, but even after I made my choice, I felt waves of angst about the cost, despite my total happiness with and confidence in my decision.

I chose to attend a university consistently ranked among the top three best value out-of-state schools, which means it's cheaper than attending the vast majority of other out-of-state schools and just about all private schools. Yet, I still felt a certain degree of insecurity over the $30,000 a year ticket price.

Three years later, I realize how wasteful that anxiety and those negative emotions were.

I can confidently say if I made my choice based purely on money, I would not be as happy or fulfilled as I feel now.

Of course, I wish there were a way I could attend the school I feel is perfect for me, without the debt, but at the same time, the experience of making a decision and not letting money totally dictate that decision has taught me a lesson I'll always hold close: Depriving yourself of happiness for the sake of saving money is rarely worth it.

A few weeks ago, a friend told me she's miserable at her current school and wants to transfer to another university she knows she'd love, but she won't do it because she'd have to take out a couple thousand dollars in loans.

While we can all empathize with and understand her thought process, hearing that made my heart hurt. She'd rather remain unhappy than take out loans, and something about that just seems fundamentally wrong.

If we always prioritize money over our personal joy and wellbeing, when will we ever stop chasing money and just be happy? 

It's taken me a while to get over being insecure about my student loans. Society tends to associate debt with poor decision-making, irresponsibility or even personal failure, but debt oftentimes has nothing to do with these things.

Instead, my debt allows me to attend the school of my dreams, which presents me with countless incredible opportunities and experiences, all of which have made me happier than ever. For this reason, I can't say my student-loan debt has nothing to do with how happy I now am.

If I had not taken out loans, I would not be anywhere near where I am now. I have a skinny wallet, but I also have an engaged and motivated mind, a fulfilled and inspired soul and a joyous and full heart. Thanks to these things, I now realize it's ridiculous to feel insecure, anxious or guilty about my debt. 

It will take me years to pay off my debt; choosing to take out student loans has forced me to spend frugally and work as many hours as I can manage, all while being a full-time student and making small loan payments when I have a little extra money.

I know once I graduate, my paychecks will have large cuts going toward my loans and I will not be able to rent some new high-end apartment or buy a new car or treat myself in any major ways.

Most importantly, I also know that I have never felt as comfortable, inspired, driven, confident, prepared for success or blissfully happy as I do now. Can you really put a price tag on that?

Sometimes it's worth investing in yourself, in your future and in your own wellbeing, even if it means you will have to take on a financial burden. No, this is not always possible or a realistic option, but it should also not always be automatically ruled out.

Allowing money to constantly run our lives will inevitably result in the deprivation of some pretty amazing and worthwhile opportunities and experiences. Sometimes, these opportunities and experiences are simply worth it.

If you asked me if my current happiness and peace of mind are worth the $30,000 a year that I don't have, I would say no. They're worth so much more.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It