You may be wondering why I begin many posts with “Step [X]”. This blog is about the steps on the ladder I’m climbing to get out of debt.
You could also think of it as an elevator going to the top of the Empire State Building (appropriate, since I’m trying to pay off my loans in the time it took to build it). With each floor – and there are 103 of them – I’m a little closer to the top. What do I think the view will be like from there?*
Well, a little freer.
Here’s the thing about law school loans. You’ve gotta keep paying them, so you’ve gotta keep working at a job that makes a lot of money for as long as it takes you to get done. That’s not a problem for me right now. I like my job, and so it’s not really a hardship to send money each month off to the loan company. But let’s fast forward a few years. Say we have a kid who suddenly needs my full-time attention for whatever reason, or a parent who needs more care than I can give with a high-pressure job. Say for career reasons, Mr. DebtFreeJD needs to move to a part of the country where finding a high-paying job is out of the cards for me. If any of those things happen, I want to be able to say “I’m here for you” without hesitation. But if I’m still struggling with another five years of debt to pay off, I can’t do that. And that just doesn’t work for me.
I’m going to get on my soap box here. If you’ve got law school loans, I think you should do the same thing, if you can.
Here’s my frame of reference: I was incredibly lucky to go to Harvard Law School. I graduated with all these amazing, brilliant people (not really sure how I slipped through the admissions net and got let in!) Most of them went to BigLaw firms in New York, D.C. and L.A. From time to time, I’ll catch up with a friend from law school who went this route.
99% percent of them are miserable. New York seems particularly bad, but the trend is pretty universal. For a while I was going out with a group of classmates for dinner which would be (a) incredibly expensive and (b) just a litany of complaints about their jobs. I finally had to stop because neither my wallet nor my spirit could take it.
Every time I’ve gently probed as to why, exactly, one of my intelligent, capable, and ambitious classmates was working in a job that they hated and which was preventing them from seeing their spouses, their kiddos, and their beds, I almost always get the same answer: they’ve got loans to pay off.
I don’t claim to have it all figured out. Heck, you don’t want to know how many times I’ve realized at the last moment the need for Emergency Laundry so I can wear clean underwear the next day or how many overdue library fines I’ve paid or the current state of our kitchen sink. But Mr. DebtFreeJD and I aren’t doing anything magic over here. With our salaries combined, we still make less than any one of my classmates at a top BigLaw firm. And yet, we’re making serious progress on paying down my loans.
Really, here’s the question I ask. Is:
- Daily Starbucks coffee
- Daily lunch out
- Five course tasting menus
- Exotic vacations
- A great view from your apartment
- All of the above
worth a job that you hate? I don’t claim to know the answer for you.
All I’m saying is that if the answer is “no,” if you’re working at a BigLaw firm you’re not stuck where you are. You can get rid of your loans in a pretty short period of time. We’re doing it over here. I might not make in the one year and forty-five days I’ve challenged myself to do it in. But the thought of having the independence to say “yes, I’m here” if a call comes to me that means I have to walk away from a high-paying job is incredibly motivating.
Maybe the way I’m tackling this problem doesn’t work for you. But if you’re in a high paying job you hate or even feel ambivalent about – I hope you can think of a way that will, and declare your own independence.
*Since I kind of like this analogy, I’ll start my posts as “Floor [X]” from now on.