I've made a few mistakes in my life when it concerns student loans. Earlier last month, I discussed how life was a roller coaster for me after I graduated from college. Things started to get better for me once I moved back to my hometown. I was able to find a decent paying full-time job and pay attention to my money.
I was working at a financial aid office (not my current school) as a financial aid rep. I was learning quite a bit about student loans and other financial aid, but I wasn't sure I wanted to stay in this position for a long time. I eventually figured I’d register for classes and try to get another degree.
I registered for classes and got back and became a student once again. Since I already had a bachelor's degree, the only financial aid that I was able to get was student loans. I was offered $12,500 for the school year. As I got back into the classes, I realized that I wasn't enjoying being a student again. I stayed in the classes for about half of the semester but eventually stopped going. Something else also happened that semester. I received a student loan refund. The last student refund that I received was years ago. I forgot what it felt like.
This happened in 2012. My thought process hadn't changed yet, so I was happy to get that refund. I had just moved into a new apartment a few months earlier, so I knew that money would definitely come in handy. Even though I was in more debt, I wasn't worried because since I was "taking classes," I was able to get an in-school deferment. I didn't have to make any loan payments. I was stoked. Against better judgment, I did the same thing the next semester. I knew that wasn't the smartest thing to do, but I enjoyed getting that refund. I was also getting increasingly frustrated with my job. It was the same thing every day. I started to feel like a robot. I knew I needed to make a change, so I devised a plan.
One of my goals was to travel across America from coast to coast before I turned 30. I originally planned to make that trip the summer after I graduated in 2008, but plans fell through. As I neared my 30th birthday, I realized that I had to do something. I started planning for the so-called "Ultimate Road Trip" in late 2012. The plan was to travel across the USA via Interstate 10. I would start in Jacksonville, Florida and eventually get to Los Angeles, California. I had a list of cities that I wanted to stop in.
Since my job was basically at a standstill, I figured that this was the time to make this trip happen. I decided to put my two weeks’ notice in on June 14th, 2013. On July 1st, I started my two week sabbatical. I wasn't making that much money at my job, but I used the money from the second student loan to help me fund the trip.
I must say that the trip was life changing. I'd do it again in a heartbeat honestly. I had the chance to visit cities such as Biloxi, Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. A bucket list item was finally complete.
On the flip side, I did add an additional $12,500 to my above-average student loan debt balance. That's part of the reason my debt is still high. The good thing is that it's getting lower each month as I've gotten serious about paying it off.
Since I'm working in financial aid again, I see students taking out large refunds all the time. While some use that money on clothes and cars, I know some people use it for trips like I did. I can't really fault them if they did that. In my opinion, experiences are way better than material things. I got out of my comfort zone during that trip and grew as a person.
What I can tell people if they are in that situation is to keep track of the amount of loans that they've taken out. You don't want to wake up one day with over $60,000 worth of student loan debt if you don't have to.
There are other ways to fund an adventure like that such as getting a part-time job or doing a side-hustle. You can also start saving money for it well in advance. Your student loans should technically be used for tuition expenses.
My student loan mistake added another $12,500 to my balance. While it made my debt get higher, I'm really not kicking myself over it. I have once in a lifetime type memories from being on the road for those two weeks. I want to make another cross country trip eventually. This time, it will be funded 100% by my own money, not partly with student loan refunds.