This essay is from a finalist for the 2020 Student Loan Planner Scholarship.

Ariana M.

Picture this, I had just graduated physical therapy school less than a year prior, was, at last, a licensed, practicing therapist in the clinic of my dreams, then bam… furloughed.

It almost didn’t seem real. I had always wanted to become a PT to help others and because I was told it was a secure career path. Furthermore, they always told us in school, we would be “making the big bucks,” and this didn’t seem like such a bad job perk.

But no one could have seen this coming! The 2020 recession threw me for a loop, affecting how I viewed my approach to personal finances and student loans, but surprisingly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

About three months ago, I sat in my overpriced apartment in LA, the “city of dreams,” practically jobless. Not only that, but the reality of my couple hundred-thousand dollars of loans was starting to kick in. Without a cushion to help make those payments, it was easy to get caught up into the downward spiral of student loan negativity.

Even though Student Loan Planner helped me feel more at ease than ever about my approach to loans, when I had my call a year ago, the current economic situation was very different. I knew without a job, this plan wasn’t going to work. I also knew that, with the high living expenses in LA, I had to take control of my finances now. No one else was going to do it for me.

I began using mindfulness and meditation practices to help with the stress of graduate school, and I realized it did help with loan anxiety and personal finance stress immensely.

During quarantine, I decided to dive deeper into the idea of “manifesting” money. It seemed woo-woo, but I had the free time on my hands and I saw it working for those around me, so I figured I’d give it a try for myself. As I dove into the manifestation work of one of my favorite spiritual teachers, I uncovered some pretty bad subconscious beliefs that I held about money. These beliefs included, “I will never get out of debt,” “how will I ever find someone to marry with this amount of debt?,” and “this debt is going to hang over my head for the rest of my life.”

With thoughts like this, I knew I needed to get to the root of the issue and change those subconscious negative beliefs or I would always have a difficult time bringing in more success and money into my life. During quarantine, I began a program to complete daily meditations and journaling to help change my self-limiting beliefs about money.

It is a constant work in progress, but today I am able to look at the amount of student loans I have as an amazing investment in my career and education, rather than as a burden.

After I addressed, the subconscious negative thoughts I had playing on repeat in my head, I had to commit time and effort to learning more about personal finances so I could stop turning away from the problem. I made the commitment to listen to the Student Loan Planner podcast at least once/week. I read Ramit Sethi’s, “I Will Teach You to be Rich,” and implemented the steps necessary. I also re-read “YNAB- You Need a Budget,” and swore to myself that this time, I would stay on top of my finances and actually use this budgeting application.

And so far, three months later, I am still committed to using the app and staying on top of my budget!

After utilizing these many resources to learn more about personal finances and budgeting, I was motivated to pay down my >4K in credit card debt that had accumulated the last year living in LA. Even though I had just been furloughed, I was actually able to pay it down fully with the money that was coming in via unemployment and other side opportunities.

It also helped that the additional expenses I typically spent on, such as, $6 lattes down the street from work, getting my hair done, and bougie LA fitness classes, had all come to a halt! I was able to truly realize that I can live without these extra things. Once in a while, yes, the fancy latte with oat milk, honey, and cinnamon is a nice treat, but this doesn’t need to be a daily event.

I can honestly say this recession helped me lean into the discomfort of personal finances, and instead of ignoring it with fear of being overwhelmed, I stepped right into the discomfort by listening, reading, and using resources to learn more. I was able to get clear on my finances and goals.

Realizing that being committed to being financially free would mean making some daily sacrifices to save for more long term investments such as retirement, my wedding, and buying a house in the (hopefully in the not too far off) future.

Today, as I write this, the clinic has returned to being opened, although I am only working part-time, I am confident that I have the tools to be successful with my finances. The 2020 recession and quarantine gave me a new perspective on debt and my personal finances. It no longer feels like a huge burden that hangs like a dark cloud over my head.

Rather, it is a gift that has helped raise me up to where I am today. Without having had the opportunity to borrow the government’s money, I would have never been able to go to PT school and study a field that I am truly passionate about, I would have never met the inspiring people and lifelong friends I made whom I will have for the rest of my life, and I wouldn’t have been able to sit here today writing this story.

Finally, coming around full circle and seeing that my debt has given me opportunity, growth and experiences that I would not trade for the world. I never thought I would say this, but I am actually thankful for my debt. However, I do know, that when the day comes and my debt is fully paid down (and I know it will!) it will certainly be one of the proudest moments of my life.

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