Until about two years ago, I was a graduate student living beyond my very meager paycheck. I was working upwards of 60 hours a week on teaching, research, and writing. I didn’t have it in me to find side work for extra cash, so I ended up taking on a crushing amount of student loan debt in order to “scrape by” in Los Angeles.
The MIT Living Wage Calculator estimates that a single person living in Los Angles needs an annual income of $26, 127 to meet minimum estimated expenses for a year. This figure seems a little low to me, especially considering its estimated housing expense for a year is $10,956. That figure breaks down to $913 per month, an expense I can only imagine being possible if you’re living with at least one roommate.
As a Teaching Assistant at a major public university, I made between $16,000 and $22,000 per year. Even at my highest TA salary, I was still more than $4000 short of the conservative estimate for what it costs to live in LA. My options were to violate my university’s ban on taking additional work to make up that difference, or take out student loans. I chose student loans.
It makes me cringe just to write out those words. Student loans. Student. Loans. Ugh. I didn’t know any better. Or, I knew better but I thought it was too hard to work more. Or, I was committing my whole life to those students and to my research, and they should have paid me more because I am worth more. Any way you cut it, I could have made better choices– borrowed less, worked more.
But I don’t know if my reasons matter much now– the debt is there. All $90,000+ of it. I don’t have the heart to go into details about my own personal loan crisis right now, but the Center for Investigative Reporting did some moving profiles last year that you should check out.
Part of my goal in writing this blog is to figure out how to make sense of tackling this debt. I want to gain more financial knowledge, and in the process, become financially healthy if not financially independent. Sometimes it feels too overwhelming, but I have to start somewhere.