If you’re anything like me, well, congratulations! You’ve clearly made many wise choices in life and will find yourself in good, handsome company. Also, if we are kindred spirits that means we have a lot in common. For example, we both probably:
1. Like being around mirrors
2. Dislike being around endangered animals
4. Are not that great at counting
17. Are ass-deep in student loan debt
The whole fear of animals and counting thing I can’t help you with, but if you want some advice on how to get by with student loan debt the size of a Javan Rhinoceros I’m here to offer my services to you. Pro bono too, because that’s the kind of guy I am: someone who doesn’t speak a word of Latin but giggles like a schoolgirl just imagining the hilarious translation for what that phrase must mean.
So without further ado, I present to you my officially-sanctioned “Unofficial Guide to Dealing With Student Loan Debt.” So dim the lights, spark up some incense, and enjoy the pro bono stylings of yours truly.
Tip #1: Channel the American Dream
As evidenced by my lifetime membership to BMG Music Club, I have a hard time not signing on the dotted line when a too-good-to-be-true offer comes my way. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, they say. Well, you might want to check the insides of it for Greek soldiers or for the legal fine print, because even if you “refer a friend” to a student loan creditor, you still have to pay back your full amount.
Now, here’s where it gets complicated if, again like me, you just signed some paper they shoved in front of you without reading through their precious “terms and conditions.” Apparently the traditional way to manage student loan debt is to earn some sort of “income” with which to pay it back. Personally, I can’t attest to the effectiveness of this strategy. There’s very little money in phrenology these days. But from the numerous messages tied to bricks thrown through my window and the dark-suited debt collectors who’ve visited me, this “income” thing seems to be their preference.
As a disclaimer, I’ve never taken a finance or business course in my life. Frankly the whole concept of paper money sounds like a sham to me. What, an IOU from me isn’t as good as one from the government? And don’t even get me started on the so-called “gold standard.” It’s bimetallism or death, I say!
Anyway, I digress. This is America, dammit, and there have got to be some ways to get your hands on some of that income and pay off your student debt with a great idea, a little elbow grease, and some self-lifting bootstraps (note to self: patent self-lifting bootstraps idea).
For example, Instagram was just bought by Facebook for $1 billion dollars. That’s right, Dr. Evil, not $1 million, $1 billion! And for what? For designing an app that gives your picture some sepia-toned background your phone already has the built-in capability to do on its own. Brilliant! See, all you need is a good idea–or frankly even just a mediocre one–some start-up money to get it going, you slap a patent on it, wait for some larger company who’s threatened by you to buy you up, and it’s all aboard the money train.
Instagram or Camera Phone? Choose right and win one month of interest-free loan forebearance!
Speaking of patents, that brings me to my
million billion dollar idea: what is the one thing every invention needs in order to be profitable? An target audience for said invention? A workable design that does not disobey the laws of thermodynamics? A USPTO form signed, notarized, and submitted in triplicate to the appropriate federal agency? Close but you’re way off. They all need patents! Otherwise people can steal your sweet, sweet idea and, I don’t know, create a massive social media empire that may or may not have been completely honest in its book-keeping before going public.
So check this idea out: you patent a patent-making machine! That way every time someone needs to get something patented, they’re forced to use your machine. Basically you’ve got a monopoly on the toll booths that line the road to American ingenuity and innovation. God, it’s so maniacally genius I just want to punch the crap out of an ocelot.
Tip #2: Observe Successful Forms of Commerce. Rinse and Repeat.
OK, so let’s say the American Dream thing hasn’t quite panned out. Maybe your start-up never really took off, or that awesome invention you filed a patent for was in violation of numerous animal cruelty laws. No big deal. There’s more than one way to skin an ocelot–not that you can hypothetically patent any sort of device to do this, thank you very much–so why not think outside the box?
Again, not an economist here, but in my recreational study of commerce I’ve noticed that the most common form of income seems to come from some sort of labor-for-income exchange. Basically someone says “I don’t feel like doing Activity X. If you do it for me I’ll make it worth your while.” And the other person perks up and says, “I’ve long dreamed of doing Activity X. Specifically for you. When do I start?” Then a wry grin comes across the face of the first person and they respond, “You already have, my precious, you already have….”
This seems to be the traditional form of commerce, but maybe you’ve given this a shot and gotten dinged on a few job applications. Not to worry. Through my study I’ve also noticed an alternative to this labor-for-income scheme: namely, some sort of goods-for-income exchange. What you do is follow the script where you say, “Check out Item X here. You know you want it, don’t you?” To which your customer replies, “Sweet Jesus I’ve searched far and wide for Item X and that is exactly what I’m looking for. How much do you want for it?” And then you say “I’m afraid I can’t sell Item X to you, for it carries with it a terrible, terrible curse.” Booyah! You’ve got the customer hook, line, and sinker. And as a bonus, you’ve unloaded that damn monkey paw that’s brought you nothing but heartbreak and misfortune since it came into your possession.
Here’s the tricky part though. Let’s say you don’t have a monkey paw–and if so, thank your lucky stars– now you’ll need to find and/or make your Item X. I’ve heard a lot about “intellectual property,” so if you have any of that maybe you can sell off a few pieces. Or if you do but are unwilling to part with it, you could just lease some ad space there. Better yet, buy some intellectual property in a bad part of town, wait until gentrification makes its way there–you know, after the gays move in–and then flip it! You may even be able to cash in on this further with the whole reality TV craze. (Also an burgeoning form of commerce in what seems to be a public shaming-for-income exchange)
Tip #3: Live Frugally
You know that saying “A penny saved is a penny earned?” I did the math and that’s just total crap. However many pennies I may have, if I just let them sit in my piggybank collecting dust, I’m not earning squat. Not unless my piggybank has some alchemic powers it got from that one-eyed man who sold me that damn monkey paw. Whatever, the point is, it’s a stupid quote. The chucklehead who came up with that phrase probably also coined that “pot calling the kettle black” racial screed as well. Still, while saving a penny may generate absolutely zero income, I suppose it’s still a good thing to keep in mind so you don’t lose any more of the money you don’t really have in the first place.
So here’s my two nuggets of advice on moving from a student budget to a student loan budget. First and foremost, buy generic. When I’m food shopping I go right past the Goya beans (a.k.a. “beans for millionaires”) and buy whatever generic store brand they have. This may save you only like 10 cents a can, but when you subsist on a bean-heavy, hobo-inspired diet like myself, it adds up. That goes for bathroom products as well. I know we all love the soft, quilted feel of 4-ply toilet paper, but stick to the cheap stuff. 9 out of 10 proctologists agree that it gets the job done just the same.
Second, what about kicking it up a notch and going “freegan.” As a recent student you should have a refined, almost sixth sense of when and where free sandwiches and/or booze are being given out. For example, I live in Washington, DC. The capital of the greatest nation on earth, and more importantly, home to the highest per-capita number of catered lectures and roundtables in the world. Absolutely every day there’s at least a dozen talks on some random topic you probably don’t care about that serves food–and if you’re lucky, booze as well–to the attendees. Just slap on some business casual attire, show up about 15 minutes before the event so there’s enough of a crowd you can blend in but still enough food left for you to forage, and feast upon the culinary incentives of whatever institute or organization is doling out to its guests. You can stay for the talk if you want–I’d actually advise this is you plan turning said venue into a regular hunting ground–but I’d also bring along some sort of bag or heavy coat to stuff some leftovers in for later. Personally, I prefer the red paisley bandana tied to the end of a wooden stick, but a briefcase or large purse will do the trick just as well.
Tip #4: Forgive and Forget
This is a motto I’ve learned to live by in both my personal and romantic life. Whether it be missing a birthday or forgetting a safety word, life is too short to hold grudges. Unfortunately, the financial industry tends not to show the same sort of benevolence. Believe me, I’ve tried. You can try going to the bank dressed as Tiny Tim and tell them, “I’m sorry, I’ve made a huge mistake,” but they’ll still likely greet you with the same attitude Ebenezer Scrooge showed before being haunted by ghosts from all over the Christmas space-time continuum.
With that said, there is hope thanks to a little thing called “Student Loan Forgiveness.” Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure how this works and haven’t gotten around to reading the fine print. There’s very little time for that when I’m working on my patent machine. But from what some friends and the ghost of student loan future told me, basically if you work in some sort of non-profit or government job for ten years and make whatever minimum monthly payment you can eke out during this time, after your decade of “do-goodery” is up the government will pick up the rest of your tab. Pretty sweet deal, right? Imagine if they did this with my bar tab?! Hey-o!
Now I know what you’re thinking. Ten years in the public sector? That means I can’t work at some big-shot corporation and make Ebenezer Scrooge-type bank. That’s true, but chances are if you have that chance or are already making a cool six figures, this whole post doesn’t really apply to you since you probably have that whole “income” thing down. So given your financial situation and what I assume is a healthy amount of disposable income you have on hand let me ask you this: do you have any spare change?
Tip #5: Can I Interest You in an Investment Opportunity?
Let’s say you’ve tried all of the above. You can’t get your invention patented, haven’t had any luck landing a public sector job, and just aren’t cut out for the hobo-rific lifestyle of freeganism. There is one last thing we can try, and like all things in life, I think it can be best explained in a dialogue from Arrested Development:
Tobias: You know, Lindsay, as a therapist, I have advised… a number of couples to explore an open relationship where the couple remains emotionally committed but free to explore extramarital encounters.
Lindsay: Well, did it work for those people?
Tobias: No, it never does. I mean, these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might, but… but it might work for us.
Don’t worry, I’m not trying to talk you into some cash-for-open-relationship sort of thing. Unless you’re into that, of course… . Sorry, that’s another topic for another day. So let’s get down to business.
Think about this: you have student loans, right? Why did you get them in the first place? Because you needed money that you didn’t have to pay for something you couldn’t afford. There’s a whole untapped market of people out there who are probably in the same exact situation! They need money for something too–education, mortgage, student loan repayments–and like you they don’t have the money. So check this out: you loan them the money they need to do this!
How does this make you a profit, you ask? Easy! You know how you have something called an “interest rate” on your student loans. Just add one to that and charge those people that rate for your loans to them! Instant profit! (note to self: copyright that name ASAP). Oh wait, you’re actually already massively in debt and couldn’t possibly front these people the money they need. Well fear not, because have I got a solution for you! I’ll loan you some of my money–at an interest rate above what I have to repay my student loans back at, naturally–and then you use that money to loan to those other people! It’s a win-win situation. Crap, except I actually have like no money to front you unless I take out another massive loan. It definitely made sense when I planned this out in a pyramid-shaped flow chart. What about this then: how would you like 12 CDs for the low price of $1?