Sunday, May 21, 2006

Owe, Owe, Owe Your Boat...

I woke up today thinking about debt. It would actually be more appropriate to say that I woke up this morning with that heart-pounding, sick-to-my-stomach feeling about debt. This is, in large measure, because Mr. Fluff and I have just bitten the bullet and bought plane tickets to go to a Very Old European City, which set us back more than we had expected. And there's no doubt that we'll pay it off, and have a fine time, and we'll just tighten up the old corset in the meantime. It's the placement of that charge, however, on top of the already-accumulated debt that gives me the old "just drank too much caffeine, feel like I'm running a marathon" feeling.

So, yes, it's true. I've owe a bundle to multi-national corporations at the rate of 3.9%APR, for a good long time to come. And it's certainly my fault--I'll venture a guess that if I looked at how it all happened, the majority of it would be in small increments over years of time, not in large installments like my damn plane ticket. A pair of shoes here; a box of books there; a new computer when my old one was fritzing during the final chapter of my dissertation; ooh, and then there were the appliances, 50 gallons of paint, major expected and unexpected home renovations (here's where it really got out of hand, I think). And in this, I'm certainly not alone: according to the WaPo, I'm in good company with much of middle America (I won't even quote you the horrifying figure of the median debt for families--it's too crushing). Here, they cite the rising costs of housing, health care, and education. And while my own listing above certainly pushes on the first, and I'm lucky enough to have decent coverage that alleviates, to some extent, the second, it's the third that seems utterly underexplored to me.

To wit, in my surfings of late, I've come across two intrepid bloggers on either end of the spectrum, the first--la lecturess, who explains that the copies of her bound diss and her total loan amount from Sallie Mae arrived on the same day. The second--writer Daniel Nester, who happily scanned his final letter from the same company.

I'm going to hope that those who commented sympathetically at Lecturess don't wander over to Nester's place, because what we see in the first is that the ladies who read are being asked to think of themselves as ladies who lunch (the suggestion at hand is that one should consider that big, shiny degree as a "luxury item" and not as an investment in the future). To which I say: What the HELL?! The torture and growing pains I invested in acquiring the body of knowledge loosely attached to a scrap of hairless sheep's hide is nothing like the Oprah-sized rocks I could have bought for the same amount of moola. Should you be tempted, here, to compare the pleasure or soul-enlarging benefits of each, just zip it. It's not the point. The point (should I still have one) is the wretched state of the educational system if we have professors pulling a mountain of debt behind them with a class of students acquiring that same mountain in front of them. Surely no one would say that those students should think of their education as a luxury item, but the amount of debt is the same, if not more. If we were busy racking up Everests to contend with, our students may well be building their own personal Denalis.

In a cruel twist of psychology, this realization makes me, a citizen, enraged at Congress (who, as you probably know, just enacted the perfect double-Whammy: raising the current rate on student loans, and eliminating the feature that allows students to consolidate those loans later for lower interest rates). Pay more, and then pay more again. Fire up the rage engine!

At the same time, this all makes me, the debt-raddled individual, feel less alone in climbing my own personal Mount Everest. Warm fuzzies to all.

So much for the intersection of personal and civic life.


Blogger Daniel Nester said...

Dear Ms. Fluff --

I still get letters from Sallie. I wave a finger -- guess which one? -- over every envelope.

A friend-of-a-friend is working on a doc called

The Garnished Life, where people tell their student loan stories.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 8:55:00 AM  
Blogger kfluff said...

Mr. D--
If all of the fingers given to Sallie Mae were laid end to end, how many times do you think it would encircle the globe?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 9:31:00 AM  

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