Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Worth Every Penny

When I decided to go to Hope, it was not a hard decision. Despite the fact that it was so close to home (yes, this was a definite "con" on my list), after I visited, I knew that I would love it there. The people I met were so genuinely enthusiastic about their experience there, the classes and professors were excellent, and the feel of the place just seemed . . . right. And although it would have been kind of awesome (and a bit more adventurous) to try my hand at living in a big city, or on a coast, or in a completely different region of the country, I have never regretted my decision. I did end up loving it and met a big chunk of the most important people in my life via those relationships.

Still, it was a financial issue, a little. When I started my college search, my parents very candidly sat me down and told me they had saved X amount of money for my college tuition. It was an amount that probably would have covered the entirety of my financial needs plus some if I had gone to a state school and gotten a modest scholarship there. But at Hope, even with the scholarship I won, it wasn't quite enough. So every year, as the cost of tuition steadily rose, and as my scholarship and parental help remained constant, I went a little more into debt.

I worked every summer, and during the school year, too, and I have to say, I am proud that I didn't let the finances keep me from reaching. I pledged a sorority, I souped it up with the Soup It Up group at 8th Street Grille, I bought formals for events in Chicago and Traverse City. I even went to Europe for part of the summer after my sophomore year, a trip I made happen by working the early-morning Saturday shift in the factory at Herman Miller on top of my 40-hour summer office job.

Then Jason and I got married, moved to Ann Arbor, and started the five-year dental school saga. I started to pay the loan back, and it kind of sucked. There was never much money in the checking account, and we sure would have liked to be buying furniture or traveling or going to concerts, or whatever it is newly-married people do with their money. I was teaching, though, so at least when I wrote that check every month, I knew that the education it paid for was directly supporting my family.

Five years later, when Jason was a new associate, working two jobs to make ends meet, and I was a brand-new stay-at-home mom, writing those checks was a little more frustrating. On top of my debt, we had to begin paying Jason's dental school loans (which were obviously MUCH BIGGER), and when I wrote those checks every month, I would glare at my amount and think, I'm not even using that degree, anymore. Eventually, I signed up to have the amounts taken right out of our checking account, and the more money we made, the less I thought about the school loans from so many years ago.

Yesterday, I got a statement in the mail from the Federal Student Loan Center. It showed the total amount borrowed, the interest that had accrued over the ten-year period, and then, at the bottom, it was marked PAID IN FULL. An early Christmas present, if you will.

I didn't throw it away. I'm keeping it as a reminder of what's possible when you make decisions based on following your dreams instead of worrying about the money. I'm thinking it was a small price to pay for a top-notch education, four years of priceless memories, a cherished group of friends, and a spectacular husband. I'm thinking it wouldn't be a bad idea, no matter how much money we have when the time comes, to let our girls take responsibility for earning some of their own college tuition, so that they value it a little more. I'm thinking, it's just money.

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