Gen X Student Loan Debt – How I Got There

I’ve been reading a lot about how Millennials handle their student loan debt. There are tons upon tons of articles and blogs out there documenting how the younger generation has successfully managed and paid off their debt. 

And I think that’s awesome. I would be ecstatic if my son would take a page from any of those books, so he can eventually implement a creative strategy of his own. 

But that’s a story for a different day. It’s not my story. 

Since I’m not a millennial, my story starts a little earlier than that. So I guess I’m not too far off, only by a few years. But I fall into the Gen X category — that awful, grungy, apathetic lot who complained about reality biting and adults being Clueless.

I graduated high school in 1992 and attended a private college in the south that today commands annual tuition of nearly $45,000. At the time, tuition was a lofty $25,000, including room and board — which was a pretty big chunk of change back then. 

I finished third in my high school class (damn that B+ in Physics!) and delivered the commencement address.  Because of my accomplishments, I garnered multiple scholarships and grants that proved extremely helpful. 

I also qualified for an impressive amount of financial aid to supplement that.

I grew up in a single-income household, as my mother had a long-time illness. And my father lost his job just going into my junior year. 

As difficult as this time of my life was, I am eternally grateful for having benefited from the federal, local, and private programs that allowed me to attend the college of my choice.

I graduated college in four years (is that almost unheard of nowadays??) with a Bachelor of Arts degree. I accepted an entry-level customer service position four months later at a modest salary. 

And that was a good thing. I knew the real world was just around the corner, and student loans would be coming due.  While I hadn’t amassed a huge amount of student loan debt compared to what it could’ve been, I still had to take out several loans.

And these loans would be entirely my own to handle. 

There was to be no help from anyone else in my life. I couldn’t move back home and live rent-free while I got my bearings. I didn’t have a relative to help with payments if I came up short. 

This was reality. 

My mother had passed away in my senior year. My dad had finally secured another job but moved out of state to rebuild his career. In addition, he was now saddled with thousands of his own debt from all of my mom’s medical bills. (No job = no medical coverage.) 

Reality bites? Why, yes, it does.

At the onset of my career, I budgeted, prioritized, spent wisely and barely squeaked by each month.  I followed the corporate conga line, studied the playbook, remained positive and slowly moved up the ladder. 

My student loans were paid off in 10 years, per the outlined payback structure. I was debt-free.

I had a steady job with a promising career progression. But, just like the good little “straight-A student” I always had been, I was playing entirely by the book. 

And I assumed that’s the way the rest of my life would play out. The expected progression of things — build a career, meet someone special, buy a house, build a family, and everything else tied up with a neat little bow.

You know what they say about the best-laid plans; nothing ever turns out the way you expect it to. No surprise there, right?

My debt issues started after I was a struggling college student or a young professional just stepping out. I was a bonafide, full-fledged adult when debt came around and bit me in the rear.

So here’s my point —

Everyone has hard times. Everyone has highs and lows. Life throws you a challenge; you hang on for dear life and get through it.  And you learn from it. But then, guess what? 

There’s another challenge lurking right around the corner. 

What’s important is how you react to each one and move forward from it.  And regardless of our generational gap, I hope to tap into the thoughts of the younger mindset, gain perspectives, and offer my own experiences. 

Just don’t call me old, okay?

So what do you guys think — do we have some similarities, or am I totally off base? Student loan debt does have its own uniqueness, but debt is debt.

Feel free to comment or drop me a line.

Robin