Floor 14: Declare Independence

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
  • HBO
  • 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.


3 thoughts on “Floor 14: Declare Independence

  1. Judi

    I agree with this post entirely!! When I tell people that my husband and I are rapidly trying to get out of debt the first reaction is always someone asking why. We love our lives and our jobs right now but everything in life is transient, and it could change at anytime. Also, good for you for emancipation yourself from bleak friend conversations! I find that negative attitudes are contagious, unfortunately my husband had to give up meeting with his law school friends for a drink for a similar bad attitude. Except their attitude was mostly connected to rants about how law schools had “tricked” them into taking out student loans on top of undergrad student loans making them slaves. It’s hard when people take the victim mentality because they can’t see options present in their lives and just drag you down.
    On a happier note, can you even imagine what you would do with your standard monthly student loan debt payment when you’re done? It is a sizeable chunk of change each month that will instantly be for whatever you want. Do you have another financial goal after you reach the top of the Empire State Building ;)?

  2. DebtFreeJD Post author

    That’s a good question, Judi! It’s seems so far in the future – even though we’re halfway done with paying down my loans, it still somehow seems like forever until we’re done. At some point, we’d like to buy a house, although we’re hoping that our monthly mortgage payments will be equivalent or even less than what we’re currently paying in rent. I’ll have to devote some thought to that – what about you?

    1. Judi

      Owning a home is pretty awesome, and that’s where our future goals are too. We have a little house in the heart of our city right now, but after the debt payoff we want to buy land in the mountains and build our own home. Nothing fancy just a cabin in the woods where I can read and drink coffee in the morning without seeing another person and walk the dogs off leash through the trees. We’re pretty lucky because the mountains are only a 10 minute drive/30 minute bike ride from the university we both work at.

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