Student Loans: Don’t Let Them Ruin You

So it’s no secret that I’ve financially screwed myself over in the last few years. I’m sitting here watching people all around me pay off their debts, or even graduate with hardly any debt at all, while I feel like I’m sitting in the corner with a huge dunce cap covered in dollar signs.

What infuriates me, though, is when these same people talk to me about how they did that. So many of them were there with me when I was screwing myself royally, and not a single one offered any useful advice! Now they’re all like, “Well I mean I OBVIOUSLY paid the interest off every semester. Doesn’t everyone?”

No! We don’t! Because we didn’t know that was a thing that we should be doing! Those of us who are in the financial sinking ship I’m trapped in had no idea how bad things would be. I mean, I knew the basics about spending and saving and such. I read The Wealthy Barber in college, and got my obligatory copy of The Debt Free Graduate at orientation. I had the knowledge. I just had no clue how bad things could get after school was done.

Like so many others, I had the “I’ll have a degree and that will get me a job” fallacy stuck in my head. I thought that once I was working, I’d make enough money to get a dinky little apartment and start paying off my loans pretty quickly. I didn’t think that I’d be making $100K right out of the gate or anything, but I at least thought that I’d have a full-time job in something related to my degree that paid me enough to live AND treat myself sometimes AND pay off my debts.

**queue laughter**

I know, I know: I was so naive!! Looking back, I should’ve done so much more research into my finances, my financial options, and financial obligations. Obviously I didn’t, and instead relied on the horrible advice I was so prone to taking from well-meaning friends. So what were some of the things I didn’t know back in the day?

1) YOU CAN MAKE PAYMENTS ON YOUR OSAP (STUDENT LOANS) BEFORE YOU’RE DONE SCHOOL

I blissfully collected my student loans (OSAP, where I’m from) for 5 whole years. When I had a bit of money left over at the end of the semester, I’d think, “Gee, isn’t this great!  A few hundred bucks I didn’t manage to blow on energy drinks and 7-11 hotdogs! I’d better spend it now before the next loans come out.”

Dumbest. Idea. Ever.

It doesn’t matter how big or how small the payment you can make: if you have ANY money you can put towards your loans before you absolutely have to pay them back, put it towards your loans! It doesn’t matter if it’s a government loan, line of credit, or private loan. If, for whatever reason, you know you absolutely CANNOT put money towards your loan a bit early (penalties, contract terms, etc), put what you COULD put towards it into a savings account. Then, that very first payment you can make will be a bigger one with all of that extra money put towards this.

Why does this help? I mean, what’s the point of paying back money if they’re just going to give you more money anyways, right? Well, because of INTEREST, my darlings. If you get a $1,000 loan, and can pay $150 towards it right away, that leave only $850 collecting interest. Interest which you will have to pay back later. Every little bit counts when you’re trying to pay things back.

2) JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE MONEY DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO SPEND IT ALL.

Ok, so this goes back to the first point a little. I didn’t need my splurges. Yes, everyone needs to treat themselves sometimes. And I honestly thought I was doing very good with the budgeting. Every semester I would divide up my money, and only give myself access to what I had budgeted each month. I’d have enough for rent, phone, credit card bills (mostly), and other little things like groceries and transportation. I thought managing my money like this made me a Real Grown-Up.

Now, I had some friends who blew through their money fast on big ticket items. They bought crappy used cars that barely ran, a brand new mattress (when they had a perfectly good one already), state-of-the-art computers, and Texas Mickeys (those comically large  bottle of booze at the liquor store that come with a pump because they’re too big to pour from, for those who don’t know). Compared to them, I was a flippin financial genius.

But just because I seemed financially savvy compared to them didn’t mean I actually WAS. I blew money on the stupidest things sometimes. I mean, just the amount I blew on energy drinks, over-priced take-out food, over-priced lattes, and bottles of wine that were outside of my price-range……. well, I think I might just cry right now thinking about that. And all of that money still needs to be paid back!

I used to tell myself, “Well, the money is there. I’ll be able to pay it back later. I may as well enjoy myself now before I end up some corporate shrill who forgets what fun is.” Yeah, that doesn’t happen. On graduation day, you are still the same person you always were, with the same ideas of fun, but now you have that debt hanging over your head. Would I still like to splurge on a nice bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel and a pair of Doc Martens’? Oh hell yes! Can I afford that now, after racking up all that debt which was partially made up of things like that? Not a freakin chance!

3) A DEGREE DOES NOT EQUAL A JOB. AND A JOB DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN PAY BACK YOUR LOANS RIGHT AWAY.

I was one of the many who lived under the delusion that having my BA(H) would mean companies would be falling all over themselves to hire me. I mean, I have a degree! An honours degree! I should be making the big bucks here!

Yeah, I’m a Customer Service Representative at a government -owned specialty store. And I’m not the only one with a degree working here! I lost track of the number of other CSR’s I’ve met just in my city who are educated people, with degrees (PLURAL, EACH!!!!!) who are still working behind a cash register. Not that it’s a horrible job or anything…….. but we were under the assumption that we would be a bit higher up the food chain once we shelled out all that money for a degree. At least, that’s what we were constantly told anyway.

At my current job, I make under the provincially mandated minimum annual wage to be forced into making payments on my loan. This means I make so little money, the government basically says, “Here, you need this more than we do. Keep your change for now.” I have been out of school 3 1/2 years and have not yet had to make a payment (not that I haven’t, but that’s a whole other post).  I keep a roof over my head, food in my belly, and nip on my cat’s scratching post. But not much more than that.

Even with two degrees, a college certificate, and advanced Microsoft training, the competition is so fierce for jobs that I can’t find a better paying job at the moment. I know that will change. I know that someday (soon, hopefully) I will be making enough to not only be FORCED to make payments on my loan, but to AFFORD to make them. But it’s going on 4 years now of job hunting. I know people who are 5 and 6 years in, still working retail or call centers. It sucks, especially after shelling out all the (borrowed) money. But it’s reality, Sunshine.

 

Well, it’s getting late. Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend is passed out in bed (he has to be up in 6 hours for yet another 10 hour day at work), and my baby Bowser kitten is right by his side. I’d better finish up this post, and this glass of Cab Sauv, and curl up with them while there’s still some bed left to sleep on. I know this post seems a little depressing, but it’s meant as a warning. Don’t make the same mistakes I did: let me be the terrible warning for you! You just do your thing, keep on keeping on, and try to do life the very best you can. Until next time, keep on smiling Sunshine.

What You’ll Hear While Job Hunting

Well Sunshine, my job hunt continues. Yes, I still have my part-time job, but that is TOTALLY not paying the bills. This week, I was scheduled for a grand total of ZERO hours. Next week, I’m lucky enough to get 8 hours. And the following week….. it’s back down to zero. Pretty sad, eh? If it wasn’t for my tax return, I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent and bills this month, and that scares me. I’ve been trying so had to pick up shifts, or find something a little more….. well, career-like.

But, that’s the way things go for me right now. And boy, do people have opinions on all of that!  Out of curiosity, I asked a question on Facebook the other day: if you could picture me in any job, any career, any profession, what would it be?

Of course, there were a few joke answers on there (otherwise, I would SO totally be a new Spice Girl), and a few “do X, so I can live vicariously through you” replies. Nothing earth shattering, nothing really out of the ordinary. Until, I called my mother.

Holy jumping jackrabbit turds, was she pissed at the answers I got!

“A Spice Girl? How the hell is that supposed to help you? And a hard-hitting journalist? You’re too old to start getting into something like that! What the hell is wrong with people?!?!?!”

These people were just offering suggestions. And to be honest, the journalist one really intrigued me. Coming out of high school, I had wanted to go to journalism school and travel the world writing about conflict and social justice issues.

But, everyone has an opinion on what you should be doing during your job hunt. And, at least to them, everyone’s opinion is right. You’ll hear the same things over and over again, just phrased differently.

“Well if you’re looking for a job, I hear McDonald’s/Burger King/7-11 is hiring. Go there if you’re desperate.”

You know what? I have. And you know what else? I didn’t get the job there. There are enough people who are students, or who have been working these jobs since high school and have years of experience, or who have certain qualifications that I don’t have that are applying for these jobs, that most of our resumes won’t even get a second glance.

And some people just don’t get that. They think that, because you are willing to work, you can just walk out your front door and find any job. Must be nice living in their strange little realities, eh?

“What the hell are you applying at McDonald’s/Burger King/7-11 for? Didn’t you just spend all those years in school getting a damn degree?”

Oddly, I find it’s the same damn people asking the first question that ask this one too. Admit it, if you went into post secondary schooling at any level, you had a small army of people (family members, guidance counsellors, TV personalities, teachers………) telling you that you needed to keep going to school, or else you would wind up working at some sort of “McJob”.

Well, we all went to school like they said. And you know what? A whole damn lot of us STILL need to get these McJobs just to pay the bills. Yes, we have degrees, diplomas, certificates, and hours of training in various things. But you can’t just show your landlord your degree and expect them to let you live there for free. We need money to pay bills, and jobs to make money.

Still, there are people out there who think that, because you went to school, you shouldn’t NEED to work one of these jobs that they look down on. You have an education!  You’re above that!

Except we’re not. There are a lot of us who will wind up in these jobs, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

“So you didn’t apply at McDonald’s/Burger King/7-11? What, you think you’re too good for a job in a place like that?”

This is something I’ve heard at least a hundred times now. Personally, there are some jobs that I will not apply for. It’s not because I think I’m above them, or I’m too good for them, or that they’re shit jobs. There are certain jobs I don’t apply for because I know I would be shitty at them.

I know for a fact that I make a horrible janitor. I worked as one a few summers ago, and was let go after only four shifts. I can mop floors, and sweep, and wash windows just find. But I was dealing with puke, and moldy food, and an allergic reaction to a cleaning chemical. I was probably just the worst person anyone could ever hire for that job. So now I know not ti apply for janitorial jobs at all.

You know yourself, there are some jobs that you know you just can’t do well. Some people can’t work an assembly line job, or an office job, or a groundskeeping job. If you know you’ll be shitty at it, and most likely get fired for not being able to do your job, then why apply?  Taking the time to apply for that job just takes away time from aply for jobs you’d actually be good at.

“You know, it’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know!”

That’s great. Well, I know you. What are you doing to help me find a job?

In the last few weeks, I have had this stupid phrase uttered to me dozens of times, by dozens of well-meaning people. How many of them have actually tried to help me so far? One. Just one. She’s my boyfriend’s mom, and I’ve never even met her in person. But she asked some friends and family in the area, and found somewhere that may be hiring soon, told me who to ask for there, and told them a bit about me. The other 20+ people who have said this to me have done NOTHING to help, even when I asked.

And I know what some of you are thinking: well it’s not their job to find a job for you. And you’re right, it’s not. But if someone is going to say something like this, then they should be willing to help you in some way. I myself do not have a lot of networking contacts locally that I can put friends in touch with. But I have gone to enough resume and cover letter workshops, read resume books, and attended mock interviewss to be of some sort of help to people.

“Any luck with the job hunt?”

Again, I know some people are just trying to be nice and make pleasant conversation. But if I did have any luck lately, would I still be job hunting?

“Back in my day……….”

These are the worst. Honestly, if one of your older relatives starts his or her advice with “back in my day” or “when I was young”, just start singing songs in your head and nod your head from time to time so they think you’re listening. Then, when they finally zip their damn yappers, just say something like, “I’ll keep that in mind, thanks for the advice”.

You see, back in the day here, you could finish high school and just walk into one of the car plants or the shops that supply the plants, and get a job. I have quite a few relatives and family friends who did just that. If that wasn’t your thing, then you went out for a few days with some resumes, passed them out to a few dozen places, and waited for them to call you.

Nowadays, to even be considered for the car plant here as a Temporary Part-Time worker, you have to be a full time college or university student. And even then, there are dozens of rules about how many hours you can work, and you get cut off after a certain age. The same opportunities aren’t around. Most places won’t even look at a paper resume: you have to apply through email or their website. Job hunting is at least 80% online now. Even the local newspaper here isn’t much help. I can remember when I fininshed high school, and you could just walk through the mall looking for “Help Wanted” signs, or check the classified section of the newspaper. Now the classifed section is maybe 8 ads on a good day, and you have to go through the mall’s website, which takes you to the websites for stores that are hiring, and apply through there.

Pounding the pavement to get a job just isn’t done anymore. But you’ll still hear older people tell you to “just get out there, pound the pavement, put your resume out there.” Of course, these are the same people who type with 4 fingers and call to ask you how use The Googles.

“Well why don’t you just go back to school. Take something practical.”

I wish it were that easy! With my degree and experience, I would love to be able to afford to go back to college, maybe get into the Paralegal program. But the almost $60,000 in student loan debt I have is kinda stopping me.

Retraining and getting more schooling is damn expensive these days. You used to be able to work part-time all year and afford to pay off your tuition. These days, unless you’re lucky and either have a damn good job already or get a metric butload of scholarships, you can forget about that. Tuition is so damn expensive, it’s out of reach for a lot of people. And even if you can afford to go back, what do you take? The job markets are so saturated these days, you need experience more than education to break into pretty much anything.

 

 

Basically, everyone has a damn opinion on why you haven’t found a job yet, and they’re all experts in giving job hunting advice. At least, they all think so. You are going to hear the same crap over and over and over, no matter how little any of it helps you.

Don’t let it get you down though, Sunshine. These people, for the most part, mean well. They honestly think they are helping you. Try not to focus too much on them. Nod your head, thank them for their advice, and you do what you need to do to get yourself out there. Focus on the people who are actually helpful, the ones who give you a little hope that there is a job out there just waiting for you to apply. These are the people, the diamonds in the rough, that will be there when your nerves are shot, you just want to curl up in a ball and cry, and you feel like the world’s biggest failure. These are the people who will cheer you up, hug you, let you vent, help you figure out your next step, and will never once say, “You know, when I was a lad we pounded the pavement for days looking for work” when you’ve been looking for a real job for months. These are the people to keep close.

Happy hunting Sunshine!

 

Do What You Love and…….. Starve?

Sound pretty shitty, doesn’t it?

For years growing up, I was told that if I do what I love, then money would follow. The thing is, people didn’t seem to care what I actually loved. What did I love way back in high school? I loved writing, and reading. Even once I finally went back to University (almost a decade later), marking papers and reading student works were the only things I loved more than writing papers.

Who the hell can make a career out of any of that though?

Turns out, plenty of people. When I was told to “do what I love”, people assumed that just meant me sitting in a room, writing. I would be a writer, first and foremost.

But there is so much more to all of this than just writing.

I could have been an editor, or a professor, or a ESL teacher. I would have been happy researching for a company, or a lawyer, or a researcher. I could have become a private tutor, helping students with their academic writing.

None of this was made known to me, way back in high school, before we really knew how to use this whole Internet thing. Back in the days of dial-up, you didn’t have The Googles (as mum calls it) to search for “careers in writing”, or “what can I do with an English degree”. Nope, we had bare-bones web surfing back then: GeoCities for making web pages dedicated to hot celebrities; IRC chat rooms; AIM or ICQ for instant messages; and Hotmail for our email. That’s it. Somewhere out there was porn, but we couldn’t access it at school (believe me, we tried).

Point is, all I ever knew was that I loved to read and write. I still do. I’m broke as all hell, and I just ordered three new(er) books from Chapters this week (damn you Celia Rivenbark for having a book out there that I don’t own!!!!). I was always told that I would be a writer, and needed a career to fall back on.

Well that’s a crock of shit if I ever heard one.

Yes, things are rough out there. Believe me, I know that as well as anyone. I live in the unemployment capital of Canada, where getting 9 hours a week is considered “gainfully employed” to make statistics look good. I know the job search scene, and the toll it takes on you.

And I know what it’s like to feel like a total bitch, because you’re looking at jobs and thinking “well, I need a job, but do I really want to do THAT?!?!”

I am a writer, at heart. I sit at a desk, type things, organize things, research things. This blog is one of many things I do related to my craft, in addition to my part-time job. I know damn well that I would be horrible at certain jobs, because I would spend too much time hating them. Hell, even knowing that, out of desperation I have tried some of these jobs! That is how I know that I AM the world’s worst janitor (it only took me throwing up in a garbage can 7 times in an 8 hour shift to prove that to myself).

My desk-type personality tends to lead me towards other desk-type things. I went to secretary school, and worked in an office for a few years. I went to University and worked in research offices. I am a desk worker. But even that has its limits.

I know that right now, I can’t support myself with my writing. VERY long story short, after being forced out of it for many years, I am only now getting back into my craft. That means no portfolio, no old blog posts, nothing for reference on a CV. I need a job to pay my bills and get the hell out of this house (don’t worry, I have enough Roommates From Hell stories to last a lifetime on here for y’all). While there are a lot of things that I would be horrible at, I KNOW that I can rock a desk job like no-one else. Not a telemarketing job, not a soliciting job, not a call centre job…. a straight up desk job.

Sounds pretty entitled, doesn’t it?

Well, I’ve got the education. I’ve got the office experience. And I am a desk worker. I thrive best sitting behind a desk, typing at a computer. I am a data entry clerk, or a dispatcher, or any other position where I type a lot and don’t have to make phone calls.

And the thing is, doing stuff like that is what I love.

From what I was told for years, even for decades, if I just strive for that, then the money will follow. So where is the money, Sunshine?

Schedules and Work

Knowing how much I have to get done this week, I had planned on writing and scheduling a whole bunch of posts for the week, to act as filler when I’m too busy to write. I was going to sit at my desk all day, with my research and my notebooks, and do up a bunch of recipes and some much longer posts. Basically, I’d sit down and never get up. So, Saturday night I decided to have a few glasses of wine after the whole broken microwave fiasco.I figured that, if I was just going to be sitting at my desk all day, I could handle a hangover if I over-indulged a little bit.

Bad idea.

You see, on Friday evening, while I was starting my shift at work another co-worker was ending hers. While I was on my register ringing up a line of very chatty customers, she stood a few feet away in the office doorway, shouting questions to me. In order to work on Sundays, you have to sign up ahead of time and hope that no one with higher seniority gets one of the very few Sunday spots. There’s always the chance that someone could call in sick, or the schedule could change, so I sign up for it even if there are already three higher people signed up. So on Friday, my co-worker was yelling at me, asking if I had signed up for this Sunday. I said I did, but there were already three people working that day, and another person above me signed up too. I figured she was just asking to be sure, since we have had some issues with scheduling and availabilities lately.

Anyway, my Friday shift ends, and we all go home. Saturday, I get my phone fixed, pick up a few Christmas gift-basket things, and jump up and down with a bunch of kids in excitement in front of Santa’s Village (long story there, and I freakin love the holiday season). Come home, we have our microwave issue, and I try to teach grown-ups not to put plastic in the oven. After that, the wine started. Oh geez, did it ever start! I work surrounded by wine, and like to take my work home with me sometimes. I always have fixin’s for mixed drinks, more than enough to make a kick-ass Manhattan, and a small variety of both red and white wine, including a box of cheap white wine in the fridge. I may be poor, but I know how to buy when things are on sale and stock up on essentials! Anyway, I put a pretty good dent in that box of white wine on Saturday, waited up for the boyfriend to get home from a fraternity event and a birthday party, and wound up staying awake until after 4am.

On Sunday, just because my co-worker had asked about my availability on Friday, I work up somewhat early, with a hangover that could drop an elephant. I lounged around, waiting to see if I would get a call from work to come in, and I didn’t. About an hour before the store opened (11am), I laid back down for a nap with the kitten. Not two minutes after the store opened, I got a call from the co-worker who was there opening: apparently I had been put on the schedule for noon! I was supposed to be there right then!

So, with my hangover making it damn near impossible to move, I ran like hell for the bathroom. No time to wash my hair, I opted for pigtails and contact lenses. A little mascara and blush and about half a tonne of concealer (for the giant circles under my eyes), I was running out the door so the boyfriend could drop me off at work. Those 4 1/2 hours were pure hell. I had to wear sunglasses for part of my shift, I constantly felt like puking, and my head was pounding the entire time. And to make it worse, I missed both the Bears AND the Lions game!

I could go on, but I doubt you need to hear more about just how crappy I felt. The point it, no one has any idea when the schedule was changed. Usually, if there is a change to the schedule written in, then a manager has to initial them AND write in the date the change was made. That wasn’t done this time though. Someone just crossed out the co-worker’s shift and wrote in mine. One person is claiming it was done Friday night while I was still there. Another says it wasn’t done until Saturday morning.

The point here is to always double and triple check your schedule. If I had checked the schedule on Friday night before I left for the night, then I either would have known that I was working yesterday, or would have known for sure that the schedule had to have been on Saturday when I wasn’t there. I would either have known not to drink like I did on Saturday night, or I would’ve had a damn good argument for why I was 45 minutes late for my shift.

So always double check your schedules, whether it’s your schedule at work, or your syllabi for classes. It is so much better to find out fairly last minute about something (shift change, essay due, quiz) than to have to thrown in your face, as happened to me.  And be careful with the damn boxed wine! There is nothing worse than a cheap wine hangover, sunshine!