Show me one person who says they haven’t sat around and thought about what it would be like to win the lottery or strike it rich and I’ll show you someone who is lying. Daydreaming is one of humanity’s favorite pastimes! Who doesn’t love to sit there and say stuff like, “If I hit the Mega Millions, I’d buy my Mom a house, myself a house, everyone in my family new cars, I’d give a bunch of money to charity, and then I’d invest most of the remaining money and live off the interest.”
Wait until the next time the Powerball lottery gets to one of those outrageous dollar amounts and I guaranty that you’ll hear those conversations going on all around you.
For those of us who graduated college or graduate school with inordinate amounts of student loan debt and have successfully completed or been engaged in a repayment plan, we have a slightly different version of daydreaming. The truth is that this small cohort of student loan borrowers doesn’t sit around and wonder what it would be like to have millions of dollars to play with; instead we sit around and daydream about what it would be like to have all of those student loan payments that we sent off to play with instead.
This isn’t one of those entries where I’m going to bore you with intricate financial statistics or complex equations talking about the amount of money that I lose everyday to interest expenses on my student loans ($3.32). Instead of all of that stuff, I’m going to eyeball a round number to indicate how much I think I’ve spent on student loan principal payments, interest payments, origination fees, transfer fees, and consolidation fees. I’m going to suggest that this estimated round number is between $135,000 and $145,000.
What this range doesn’t calculate is what I might have gained if I would have had the opportunity to invest these funds, but that’s another post for another day.
Those of us who willingly took on exorbitant amounts of student loan debt with the full knowledge that we would be saddled with a repayment obligation that we always intended to meet (lots of qualifiers in the beginning of this sentence…) get a bittersweet feeling when we sit around and think of what we could have done with years and years of student loan payments (which are usually over-payments each month). This past weekend, several of my college buddies stayed over at my place after a group of us went out to the bar. The next day when a few of us were sitting around and talking about different things, the topic of student loan payments came up and it got me back to this familiar form of daydreaming: What would I have done with all of those payments if I didn’t have these student loans?
Immediately, three things come to mind.
First, I would have a substantial savings structure including more equity investments (stocks), fixed investments (government-backed bonds and certificates of deposits), and liquid savings (regular savings account). Granted, I have different levels of these savings structures in place right now, but I’d definitely have more and more varied types of these savings accounts if I had all of that student loan money back.
Second, I would have a more secure housing situation. Now this one is a little bit trickier than just something as simple as, “I would have purchased a house by now.” The area of New Jersey where I live (the northern Jersey Shore area) does not produce reasonable real estate prices right now. Sure, I could have used some of those funds to purchase a home, but the amount, type, and location of the home that I would be able to purchase would not be as much, the type of, or in the area where I’d want to live – so I wouldn’t do it. Plus, the time period when I would have been buying a home would have put me right in the group where the value of the home would be declining quicker than the amount of the outstanding loan principal. So… I wouldn’t have purchased a home.
Instead, I would have set aside a substantial amount of money (around $20,000 to $30,000) to be my “housing reserve fund.” I would still budget my monthly rent from my monthly cash flow, but I would have these funds available in the event that I had to vacate my current place, that I wanted to move, or that I just needed funds for housing-related costs. That housing reserve fund would have provided me with the type of long-term stability that most renters don’t have the benefit of enjoying.
Third and finally, I would have either purchased or been in the final stages of building a vacation home. I know, I know – this one seems crazy. I get it. There are folks at my office who call me Mr. Austerity because of my strong discipline to strict rules and regulations when it comes to the financial aspects of our company. In other words, I hate spending the company’s money even if the company wants their money spent! And I’m a stickler for following a strict set of rules in the office because I think companies need structure and if they have that structure already in place, then they should follow it.
So… the idea of me taking some of this money and purchase a vacation home may seem somewhat insane. I assure you, though, it’s not crazy at all. In fact, there are a lot of reasons why I’d either be savings towards buying a vacation home or I would have already purchased one. Among those reasons are the fact that I would buy a home somewhere in or near the Poconos – where the real estate and property taxes are much, much cheaper than in New Jersey. Plus, there are a lot of beautiful areas in that part of Pennsylvania where you can have a wonderful home with gorgeous, wildlife views. Don’t get me wrong – I love living on the Jersey Shore, but I also really enjoy the peaceful feeling of being surrounded by nature.
I’d also be looking to get that vacation home to host group gatherings. In other words, it would be a nice place where my family could gather for events and holidays, where I could host barbeques and parties for my family and friends, and where I could host other events (planning sessions for my team at my company, annual strategy sessions for some of the nonprofit fundraising work that I do, etc). With respect to regular usage, I’m lucky that my company allows me to work from home on Fridays, so I would probably spend most weekends (weather permitting) up in the vacation home, especially during the summer months when the traffic down the shore is incredibly annoying.
The distance between my office and the general area of the Poconos is about an hour, which is a little bit longer than my daily commute so the distance isn’t a big deal at all. I could easily leave my office on a Thursday afternoon at 4:00pm, head to the vacation home for the weekend, and be there by 5:00pm. Then, I could just as easily leave the Poconos and get back to the office on Monday morning. In the event that I opted to do something like this, then I would probably move out of my current area of the state and, instead, move somewhere a little bit closer to my office. Not too close, though – I’d still like to be within close proximity of the northern Jersey Shore area due to attending Monmouth University basketball games, teaching at the local college, and attending other events in the Long Branch/Asbury Park area. My new apartment wouldn’t have to be too big or costly, either. A standard efficiency arrangement would be fine given that I’d have most of my nice stuff (like high-end electronics) up in the Poconos.
In short, I think I could definitely make that type of living scenario work out. And I’ve given it a lot of thought so I’m sure I’ve thought through most of the difficulties. Oh, and I wouldn’t worry abo-
Those are just the daydreams from someone in my situation. You know, someone who has pushed more than $135,000 into student loans over a 6 year period; someone whose 12-month budget shows a whole lot of additional money getting pushed into student loan payments to finish these things off. And here’s the kicker of the whole situation: I might be 12 months away from being free of these students loans, but that doesn’t mean the financial daydreams you read above would be kicked into high gear. Not at all.
Instead, once my student loans are paid off I can then just begin to think about budgeting to start saving to meet just one of those daydreams.
And that is a splash of ice cold reality in the face of some fun daydreaming, don’t you think?