How Can I Ever Repay You?

We’ve all been there. Mindlessly scrolling social media feed, laughing at the latest political meme posted by the left-wing liberal zealot from high school, tracking the likes and hahas from our latest self-deprecating post (and wondering why that one person clicked the hug icon… maybe they think I’m pathetic, instead of hilariously irreverent, like I was going for?), when, bam! Suddenly out of nowhere, you stop mid-scroll, finger poised above the screen, staring at an image of that friend who always seems to have her sh*t together. Your insides churn with a mixture of elation for your friend (“you go girl!”), jealousy for yourself (“She’s so lucky… I wish that was me!”), and hope for the future (“Hey, I can do that, too!”). And before you know it, you’re stuffing your face with kale, planning a Pinterest-perfect birthday party, or in my case, searching your junk drawers for loose change.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in this very same mix of emotions when I came across a smiling picture of a beautiful friend celebrating her achievement of a momentous milestone. She set a lofty goal for 2020 (and this was even before we knew the dumpster fire we were all in for)—pay off her student loans. And nothing—not a pandemic, catastrophic flooding, or murder hornets—got in her way. I was thrilled for her! She did it! I was only a little bit jealous. Ok, maybe a little bit more, than a little bit. But, I was also motivated. She paid off her debt this year, and I can too! It was a little like my attitude on day one of a new health kick, when I’m ready to throw away all the potato chips in the pantry.

For a little context, my husband and I are educated, mostly successful, and comfortably middle-class. We both have good jobs (well, we did until I ditched my dress pants and heels for legging and flip-flops to stay home with our two young girls; now my husband is the sole breadwinner), and we want for nothing (except maybe a full-night’s sleep). But we also have debt (I’m looking at you, honey). Right after we got engaged, my husband and I, and our dog, moved East (well, really more mid-Atlantic, but it was East for us), where I started my first post-graduate “big girl” job, and he started his MBA. A few years later, we moved again, this time with two dogs, a baby, and a mountain of student loan debt. 

A few more years have passed, and we’re down one dog (don’t worry, she’s living happily at Grammy and Papa’s… she didn’t much care for babies), up one kiddo, and yet the debt remains. So when I saw my friend’s post, I was suddenly energized. I sprung it on my husband one bright Tuesday morning. “We can do this! We just need to tighten our belts! No amount is too small! Every spare penny is going toward that debt!” I shouted while he poured his coffee. After a few sips, when he was able to comprehend human speech, he agreed, and we were off and running.

Literally. I sprinted through the house rustling through drawers, digging in couch cushions, and emptying old coat pockets looking for loose change. And I actually found an impressive amount. Apparently, my husband has a slight distrust of banks (I mean, I didn’t find any wads of cash stuffed under the mattress or anything), because I found actual dollar bills to go with the three quarters and a penny I fished out of my car’s center console. “Let’s put it toward the debt!” I gleefully (or delusionally?) shouted (It wasn’t even enough to make a dent).

Next, I went on a selling spree. Well…sort of. I started in our basement, where I have hundreds of dollars worth of baby clothes and paraphernalia carefully packed away (and collecting dust!). “Just think of how much we could put toward that debt once we sell all of this!,” I thought. But as I looked at bin after bin full of teeny tiny onesies and brightly colored-cloth diapers, my heart broke at the thought of giving them up. I mean, there’s still a chance my husband might come around to having another baby (again, honey, I’m looking at you)… So I quickly moved on to the items with less emotional baggage—clothes (because I vow to never wear jeans with a zipper or button fly again), shoes (because let’s face it, I don’t have much use for heels now that I’m spending my days on the playground), and various household goods (because I really don’t know what I was thinking when I bought that ab roller). Now to just figure out a way to easily sell everything without interacting with a bunch of strangers from Marketplace to get 75 cents for an old kitchen ladle… Once I overcome that hurdle, I’m sure there’s a gold-mine just waiting. 

On the off chance we don’t make our fortune selling my old bootcut jeans (hey, I hear they’re making a comeback), I implemented the next phase of my plan—every time we added an item to our Amazon cart, we’ll do a gut-check to decide if it’s really necessary. And if not, we’ll put the money it would have cost us toward the debt. “This should be a piece of cake,” I thought. “What do I buy? I mean, I live in leggings, I haven’t worn makeup in months, and the kids don’t need any back to school clothes since I’m a (reluctant) homeschooling mom now (Thanks, COVID). And it was so easy…for the first 24 hours. Two nights in, I found myself pleading with my husband for some new bathroom towels. He looked at me like I was nuts. “This was your idea, remember?” They’ve been in my cart for days now, and it’s only a matter of time before I crack and click to checkout. 

Since tightening our belts was harder than I thought, the next logical step was finding another income source—maybe I need a job? Besides, I’m starting to worry that my daughters are getting the wrong idea about supporting themselves when they grow up, when my oldest commented that she wouldn’t need a job because she’ll just get a husband with a job who can pay for everything…“like you, mama” (#RaisingStrongGirls, #RoleModel). Actually, it sounds like I have my work cut out for me at home, raising these girls to learn to take care of themselves. Besides, getting a job would really cut into all my free time; you know, the seven minutes I have each day after the kids are asleep, but before I start folding the laundry and cleaning up the house. Not to mention my days will soon be tied up shaping the young minds of our next generation (#homeschooling). 

So, turns out, this sucks. And talking to my friend confirmed what I suspected—it took a lot of sacrifice and hard work to get to that shiny Facebook photo that caught my eye. Even so, we’re in this for the long-haul, and every time I don’t buy that gotta-have-it-swimsuit or killer pair of sunglasses, I’ll consider it a win (even though a little part of me will probably by dying inside). And before you know it, we’ll be the ones making a celebratory social media post. 

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