Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I once said...

I once said that there are some things that we will not talk about on the world wide web.

There's a list and, it seems, that one by one... I am crossing those topics off the list.

We are talking about finances.

That dreaded four letter word that is very taboo and not allowed in polite conversation. It does not matter how much or how little is in your bank account and I do not care who you are -- money is something that everyone thinks about, worries about, plans for, and celebrates.

A long time ago, a friend talked about how she met her husband in college. Early in their dating, he told her he wanted to be a doctor. In her total candidness, she said she remembered thinking, "Sweeeeeeeeeet!" These were young and foolish days that would lead her to learn that there was much more to the story than having a doctor in the family. With it comes unwanted health questions from people, strangers revealing too much information, lonely nights, and debt.

Often, so very often, I take pride in my husband and what he accomplishes and can accomplish because of not just who he is, but what he does.

I don't know if you can tell, but I am trying to circle into and ease into a very touchy topic that, geez.... let me get right to the point:

We have student loans.

Medical school did not come free. Wouldn't that be nice? Husband is not the first doctor to graduate with loans-- he is the norm. Over 80% of doctors graduate from medical school with debt. I don't need to go into the details of the loans as they are ours and not yours. Don't be nosy- just know that we don't regret them nor would we change where we are.

This year, 2016- we have been calling it the year of REDUCTION! (yes, both the caps and the exclamation point are very necessary) We are focusing on the loans and forcing ourselves to cut back to the bones. I have been doing research and research and more freaking research looking for the silver bullet that will magically make our loans go with the days of Atari and pet rocks. I have learned a lot about student loans and want to share what I know; maybe this will save you a few hours.

Advice you didn't ask for:

1- YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THE LOANS. There are people ALL AROUND that carry a similar burden to you and your loan. Find a friend who wants to eliminate their debt. You don't need to share the intimate details and you don't even have to share the same kind of debt- just have someone that has the same goal as you. Lean on that person and be there for them when they need to lean on you.

My friend wants to pay off her house. Can you imagine being 35 with a large beautiful house fully paid for? It's her goal for her and her family and I think that is an amazing goal. I love it. I told her that this year was the year we wanted to get serious about the loans and she recommended this "partnership" for us.  Eight days in, we have already admitted that we want to crack and spend money on something frivolous. Having someone to text or call and say, "I've had a flipping nutty morning and I really want to go to Chick-Fil-A for lunch, but I  know I shouldn't." And have them respond, "Nutty morning? CFA ain't gonna solve it. What would you rather have?"

We also cheer each other. When we find a place where we can save a few dollars or a place to make a few dollars-- we are quick to send a text to each other with our tidbit of success. Those cheers ensuing remind us what we want more- the "this" or the "THAT!"

So-- get a friend. And, if you're a doctor's wife-- you have a lot of friends who are in your boat. You have friends that you didn't know were friends. Look back on that fraternity of fellow interns' widows and reach out to them.

Something else- we let ourselves down all the time and don't think twice about it. But, the thought of letting down a friend? It gets real. I don't want to let HER down and she, in turn, doesn't want to let ME down.

2- YOU CAN PLAN ALL DAY LONG. But, until the plan is put into action, the wheels are spinning. If the plan you started does not work: make a new plan. There is no failure in this. The only failure is accepting that debt is acceptable.

Our house did not sell at the price we chose and we are not going to sell it for less than we want. Like I said, we don't have to sell our house-- we wanted to sell our house. We are going to tackle these loans from another way.

Pick a date that you are going to pull everything back and lock down the accounts. When that day comes, attack it. Go at it as fiercely as you can. Which leads me to the next point:

3- OWN IT. Own your debt. It's yours and yours alone. No one is going to pay it off for you, as much as you want to ask (and you will. There's no shame in considering asking someone for a fat check to make your life easier. That being said, how would you feel if the check were written, deposited, and all you did more for the mountain was open your big, fat mouth? You have accomplished nothing.) OWN IT and own it TOGETHER. Find satisfaction in it. Look at it for what it is: there would be no Doctor at the front end of that name if there were string of zeros following that dollar sign.

4- BE ACCOUNTABLE. Don't be ashamed of it. If you are asked to do something and can't, don't be afraid to say, "Sorry- it's the year of REDUCTION! and we're tackling other things. If you want to {insert something less expensive/free here}, I'd love to!"

5- BE FORGIVING. Give yourself some room to breath and the occasional chance to celebrate something-- anything. New friends want to go out to dinner? GO! An invitation out of town? GO! Just make your expense be worth the expense.

6- NO MAGIC BULLET. I have looked for all kinds of things for an individual to pay off their student loans and you know what I have discovered? That a pediatric sub specialist gets the short end of the stick. When Obamacare was released, the lawmakers were adamant about putting into law that a large portion of student loans for doctors who go into pediatric sub-specialists should be forgiven by the government.... butttttttttt, at this moment it's a hollow law as there is no funding for it.


I think that we were holding out hope that this part of Obamacare would flesh out and get funded. We, in turn, would have our magic bullet and get to the sweet life of being debt free.

Guess what? It's been over five years and nothing has changed. Sure people, congressman, organizations, and groups support this-- but no one can find the funds for this. We can continue to hold our breath, tread water, and hope for change- or we can be the change.

7- PLAY THE LOTTERY. Why? Why not. I am not saying that hundreds of dollars should be spent on this, but every once and a while when luck is coursing through the veins-- pick up a scratch-off and see how lucky you really are.

8- PUT A PEN TO THE CHECK. Not literally- because who writes checks anymore- but one can only plan so much. Unless you physically make a payment, the wheels are spinning and the interest is ticking away. Want to reduce debt? Pay on it. Pay on it until it is paid off. All the websites I have seen, all the books I have read, all the people I have talked to-- not one flipping person has said these simple words: Make payments and put your money towards the debt.

9- TRACK YOUR PROGRESS. I made one of those old school fundraising thermometers and I put an obnoxious amount of hash marks on it: both by percentages, tens, and quarters. In doing so, I was able to see how quickly we got to eliminate 10% of our debt over the last 60 days. Yeah, there is still 90% to go- but to see that thermometer fill up with my green crayon- it makes me feel good.

Put it somewhere where you can see it, but where it is still private.

And, for Pete's sake-- be positive. Negativity will not pay these loans off. Focusing on the 90% instead of what has already been accomplished will not solve the problem. Be the change.

10- GET THE WHOLE FAMILY INVOLVED. We told Birdie that this was the year of REDUCTION! We asked her if she had any good places we could save money and she had a few ("Use one tissue instead of two when we blow our nose," or "We really don't need to spend any money on art supplies right now"). It made a good reminder for us that we are all in this together- both the hard part and the fun part of celebrating our success. It is also something to let her know why we are choosing to pour water instead of opening a Capri Sun for supper- because we can put that little money towards the loans and they can go away faster.

2016  kicked off with a whiplash of a payment. If We can stay on this strong trajectory and if we can continue down this path, the cost of medical school will be eliminated by the end of 2018. It will be a moment for celebration, for ordering a good bottle of champagne and acknowledging that driving a 15 year old car, not wearing the newest fashions, and sacrificing in areas both obvious and subtle were worth it. Because we want more for ourselves, we want better for our children, and we want satisfaction of not just a job well done but a job done AWESOME.

Don't be afraid to ask us how we are doing. And don't be afraid to celebrate our success-- as long as you celebrate yours, too.


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