When I graduated from a private university, I had only a moderately useful degree in music. Oh, and a whole lot of student debt. I immediately enrolled in a master’s degree program and landed a less-than-lucrative job teaching middle school choir. A few years later, I married a man who also had his fair share of those insidious student loans. Our joint loan payments were (and still are) huge — and in some ways they inhibit us from living out the coveted “American Dream.”
We manage just fine, but while our household income is sufficient to cover our debts and bills each month, we aren’t left with much extra. In the lifestyle changes we’ve made in order to stay on top of our payments, we’ve come to see that there are indeed benefits to having a limited budget. While they may seem unconventional, they work for us, and we’ve even found joy in living with less. Here are three ways our debt has actually made our life together just a little bit sweeter.
1. We only have one car.
This doesn’t seem like much of a benefit at first glance, of this I am aware. As a family of four, sharing a vehicle can be thorny sometimes. But because my husband and I have to work together to make transportation possible, we end up being more attentive to each other’s needs as we coordinate.
Plus, because one of us often walks, we’ve gotten to know our neighborhood, stayed in better shape and learned to appreciate the subtle beauty surrounding our home that we never would have noticed in a car. The trees leafing out in spring, the way the mountains look at sunset, the cool breeze of an early morning walk — all things I failed to notice before I was pounding the pavement.
2. We eat at home.
Though we love a good burger and beer at the local brewery, we’ve relished developing better cooking skills and creativity in the kitchen as we’ve begun to cook most meals at home.
Better for our budget and our bodies, eating dinner together as a family has become a sacred ritual in our home. With two little boys who aren’t the best at being quiet in restaurants anyway, we savor our rowdy and delicious meals together in our own kitchen. I almost prefer eating at home now, an unexpected perk for a restaurant-lover dealing with debt.
3. We’re creative.
Without a ton of extra money, we’re forced to make our own fun, rather than paying for movies, museums and other expensive forms of entertainment. We frequent the river, hiking trails, parks and community pools. We have a pass that grants entrance to the zoo, botanical gardens and aquarium.
In all these places we get to experience nature and truly interact with each other. By having a slower pace of life and spending more leisure time outdoors, having adventures together, we end up with strengthened relationships and truly refreshed souls, something I never thought would be an outcome of student loans.
Originally published on August 18, 2016.