Reader Story (and Question): Financial Health vs. Mental Health?

This guest post from “NotPollyanna” is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes. This week's submission is a reader story and a reader question rolled into one.

Hi. My name is Not Pollyanna. (Okay, that's not my real name, but that's what I call myself at Get Rich Slowly.) I'm 26 years old, three years out of college, and have $79,000 of student loan debt left to pay off. I'm working on it, but I have to tell you: It feels insurmountable.

How I got here When it was time to make decisions about college, I was severely mentally ill with depression, anxiety, and anorexia. School helped me cope, and I didn't think I could survive outside of it. No one suggested I take money into consideration when choosing a school beyond my mom suggesting I apply for scholarships, which I really wasn't able to do. My parents went to a few school meetings about planning for and paying for college and came away with a plan to take all private loans so the loans are all together rather than a mishmash of private and federal. (Note: This is a very bad idea.)

I chose a college two states away. I applied, enrolled, and paid with a private student loan. In the three years I attended that school, I was sent home three times because of hospitalizations for my mental illness, but I remained a full-time student by taking correspondence courses. I attended a community college for a year, and I finished with two years at a third college.

I originally borrowed $86,000 to pay for my education. When I graduated in 2008 with a B.S. in Humanities, my debt total was $106,000. I know now that borrowing so much was very ill-advised, but that wasn't something I was able to contemplate at the time.

Clawing My Way Out Three months after graduation, I got a job as a library assistant, paying $25,000/year, where I still work. I live with my parents and spend my money primarily on health care and student loan debt. I keep $2,000 in my savings account and a $2,000 buffer in my checking account as an emergency fund. At the end of each month, I update my money spreadsheet and I put any extra money (income - spending = extra) toward my student loan, prioritizing my highest interest rate loans, snowball-style. My minimum payments on my student loans originally totaled $860/month, but are now $680/month.

I don't do much of a budget beyond “spend as little as possible”. With the exception of a $5,000 gift from my parents toward my student loan debt, this how I spent my money in 2010:

  • 24% healthcare
  • 58% on my student loans, (40% on minimum, 18% on extra)
  • 18% on everything else: transportation, clothing, phone, my cat, etc.

What Next? Moving out of my parent's house is my top financial goal. (Some abusive family situations that contributed to my mental illness have not completely ended.) The flexibility I have in my budget isn't enough for me to pay rent in this area. In response to my extra payment on my loans, my lender reduces the minimum payment amounts. This gives me more flexibility in my budget over time, which gives me more money I would have available for rent payments. In addition to moving out and paying down debt, my third major financial goal is to get the education to become a library conservator, which requires a master's degree and a training and/or certification in conservation.

I need to stay in my current major-metropolitan area to see my doctors. I spent several years in abusive mental health care, so now that I have a treatment team that is helping me, I don't want to leave until I am mostly “done”. I have been focusing my money-making energy in finding a new, more lucrative job, since I suspect a new job will be the biggest boon to my financial situation. I do intend to make and sell handbound books and works of embroidery, but have been waiting to throw myself into that or other part-time gigs in favor of my job search. (Is this foolish?)

Since graduating from college, I've been as financially responsible as I know how. Am I missing anything? I know that isn't a very specific question, but I've been doing everything I can think of and I am still in a pretty bad situation. I'm really hoping someone out there knows of something that could make a big difference in my situation.

The original article can be found at Story (and Question): Financial Health vs. Mental Health?

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