Paid off $100k in SL in 18 months; kind of depressed now


#1

Hey guys. I get that this is going to sound crazy, but I thought the people here might understand it more than, say, my friends and family who aren’t obsessed with PF.

I racked up $100k of SL just to pay for undergrad tuition (parents too rich for scholarships, but didn’t pay anything). After deferring while I got a free MS and PhD, living off of the bare-bones stipend, I got my dream job and blasted my debt in 18 months of extreme frugality, mad side-hustling, and a few lucky turns (i.e., moved to an expensive but walkable city so the proceeds from selling my car went straight to my balance).

I had been worrying about this debt for a decade, so the day I sent in the final payment, I expected to be euphorically proclaiming the good news to everyone, but instead I felt…kind of empty. I had a similar feeling when I defended my doctoral dissertation- this grueling thing was over and I should be so happy, but I found it hard to adjust to living without the obsession that had consumed me.

I don’t necessarily want to just sub in a new obsession, financial or otherwise, because maybe it was maladaptive to be this focused on something anyway. (I mean, I have a good life, but a lot of my mental space was used up by the debt pay down.) I’m already maxing out my retirement funds every year and I’m not sure if I’ll be buying a house in the DC area (bottom of the property ladder is $800k for the worst property in my un-glamorous neighborhood).

I feel bad about feeling this way, especially when talking to people (like my siblings) still under their debt. I can fake the appropriate feelings just to be socially acceptable, but I wonder if other people have felt this and what they did about it.


#2

I suggest you set your good habits on auto pilot and start living!


#3

stretch out your legs, I just paid off the last of my SL last week and am still waiting for the big emotional release. I feel lighter, but it sure seemed anti climatic compared to what I thought it would feel like.

I think you/me will be walking down the street one day and it will hit you.

Congrats!


#4

You probably got used to having a certain goal (aka, paying your debt),and now that you’ve achieved it, it seems you feel weird about it.

When my other half and I paid our debts we were soooo relieved!

Having friends who had and still have huge debts to pay may make you feel guilty you’re doing better financially, but it shouldn’t. In the end, being in debt after debt isn’t OK. Try to enjoy your “victory” and start making other plans for your money. It looks like you’re responsible enough to handle money well :slight_smile:


#5

You might be the type of person who functions and is most satisfied under pressure. Such as the pressure of your dissertation or paying off the SL balance which dangled over your head for so long. Maybe the act of pushing something to completion is more rewarding to you than the actual final step. I’d suggest throwing yourself wholeheartedly into that dream job of yours. Maybe a specific project.


#6

Congrats on paying off that debt!

I think this type of thing happens to many. We have goals that we work incredibly hard to achieve and once they are accomplished we find ourselves a bit deflated and thinking now what. That’s human nature in my opinion.

What to do about it? Well, that’s a really long answer, like anything else it’s personal and requires some inner reflection. Consider some of the suggestions above. Give yourself a break. Consider doing some things you’ve put off due to your debt payoff goal. Take time for yourself. Create new goals for all areas of your life. Live. Be grateful. Have fun. Etc.

Again congrats on eliminating your SL debt, and landing your dream job. Breathe and be proud of yourself.

Best -
Amy


#7

Congrats on such a huge accomplishment!! Honestly, I think this type of emotional response is much more common than you would expect. By having a certain goal be at the forefront at your mind for so long, we build it up to astronomical levels that it can’t fulfill. People do this with reaching FI as well.

I’m a goal oriented person as well, and I love to have something specific to focus on. I’d take some time to take a step back, reflect on your journey, and think about all the options you have now that your income can go towards, instead of having to be funneled towards SL payments.

You can also read about other’s experience to help you work through your own thoughts. Andrew from FamilyMoneyPlan had a great post that seems to mirror your experience a little:


#8

That’s a great achievement, congratulations! Sometimes we don’t feel as euphoric about our achievements as we might expect. There have been some posts by @CentsiblyRich and Mr. Crazy Kicks about the concept of Hedonic Adaptation that could be the explanation for this. I think if you remain compassionate toward others who still have debt, as time passes you’ll stop feeling badly.


#9

“It’s the journey, not the destination.” Sure, it’s a cliche but often there is profound truth in cliche’s, it’s just we’re tired of hearing them!

Try being with the feelings as deeply as you can, set a specific amount of time such as 10 minutes or 30 minutes then conclude with something that is pleasurable for you. There’s often golden insights hidden underneath these powerful feelings and we’re taught that negative feelings are “bad” or to be avoided. Instead of avoiding try seeking to understand what the message or lesson might be.

I for one would love to hear what you learn!

Be good to yourself, you’re doing great,

Mr. MoneyEnergyLife


#10

@PF_Addict

Totally normal. First time this happened to me I was really surprised. I had always thought it was the vacuum created but apparently it’s a bit more complex than that.

And I am right there with you - both physically -we are just north of DC and I just finished grad school last month (at night for years) and expected and got the down the the dumps situation. However, I knew it was coming and so I went to the transition activities that are set up just for this sort of thing (in my case attending graduation with cap and gown) even though I really didn’t want to. It helped.

While I recommend strongly against an almost million dollar house purchase as the next step I would recommend going through the motions as part of the transition.That would be mean: -giving back, doing something fun (to both celebrate and lift your mood) and reaching out to visit friends and family to check in on them since you have been heads down so much.

In my case I went to the graduation. Cap and gown, the whole nine yards. You might want to frame (or shred) your last loan statement in a ceremony.

I stepped up volunteer work (too much actually) in my community and need to scale back - but I am giving back. Perhaps you could donate $$$ to someone else loan (gasp!). Or maybe you could write a post and share lessons on how you did it to help others
Finally I am doing stuff with friends and family. This week - camping! I would have been able to do before - I am doing that now - listen for the loud campsite with laterns going - that will be me.

Also - you had burning emergencies before - now you don’t - it will take a while to get situated. I am not saying let off the gas of work ethic but you will have readjust your seat - and your job will be to pick those areas of focus or otherwise I assure you they will be chosen for you.

I have found HeadSpace very helpful for the re-ordeing of ones focus areas part of the post accomplishment blues.

PS
And the Obamas are doing the same thing after finishing their 8 year time in office- they created their own pomp and circumstance to get around it and are now on a vacation before getting back to work. From afar I wonder if they are going through the same thing.

PPS
I have noticed that an accomplishment purely for someone’s elses benefit does not have this post result downturn in mood, at least for me.

Anyway the good news it goes away - I suspect your job will have a stack of interesting and unsolved problems that you will need to tackle to help make the world a better place. Take on more of them!


#11

I had the same thing happen to me when I paid off my house. It felt weird to want to celebrate with friends and family, ie I felt like I was bragging, so I didn’t really feel like I had an outlet. It took probably six months for it to fully sink in but now I get a ton of joy knowing that I no longer have debt :slight_smile:


#12

This is a form of existential angst created by self-referential reflective thought. It’s like the famous song, “Is this all there is?” Here’s a clue; if you get busy doing something that interests you, the mild depression you describe will disappear, and it will only reappear when you start reflecting again about goals and achievements. If you want to go deeper into the issue, you’ll be faced with questions like:

What’s the purpose of my life?
What’s going on?
Why am I doing what I’m doing?
How are thoughts ABOUT what’s happening related to what’s actually happening?
Who am I, really?

Most folks prefer to stay in the shallow water, but the big issues can only be resolved by diving under the surface. Best wishes.


#13

As someone with six-figure student loans, would you like to share a little more about how you paid off that much in such a short period of time?

Thanks!


#14

Sure!

First, the frugality. I had earned ~$12,000/year as a grad student so when I got my first job out and bumped up to $50,000, I kept my previous budget and put all of the extra toward student loans (and enough to retirement to get the match). This budget, as you can imagine, was extremely bare-bones (no internet service, no eating out/processed food, no travel, etc.), but totally livable because my hobbies have always been cheap or free, like reading library books, hiking, and having friends over for dinner. I had to bump up my budget when I got my current job because cost of living is somewhat higher here, but I earn almost $40,000 more/year and my new budget is only about $10,000/year higher, so that’s a net win for my balance. I was used to living as frugally as possible as a student and have only slightly increased my standard of living now that I earn many times more per year. (I do have internet at home now, which I’m not sure is a good thing. My hobbies have taken a hit.) I’m actually grateful that I started adulthood earning so little, because I never got used to “adult” things that friends seem to have a hard time eliminating from their budgets. Now if I decide to include them, they’ll be a treat instead of a given (until hedonic adaptation takes over).

As for the side-husting, the major categories were short-term extra jobs/consulting in my field (which actually helped my career growth too), pet-/house-sitting, and selling books and random stuff on eBay/Amazon. I fell into the latter by accident. When coworkers would retire or move to a different job, they would often leave quite valuable books behind for free, just to be spared the bother of moving them. I always made sure that nobody else wanted them before I sold them. I would also sell my own books and flip books I found at garage sales (but not library sales, because I felt that violated the spirit of things). A single flipped garage sale textbook often yielded $30-$60. Downsizing before my last move, I sold a decorative object from IKEA that I bought in middle school (for like $15, I think) for over $100 on eBay. I really dislike the selling process, but between the two sites, I probably made $5,000 over a few years. (I could check my records for exact numbers.) I also disliked the pet-/house-sitting because I’m a homebody (and picking up poop- yuck), but it helped out people I knew and paid between $200 for a few days and $1000/week, depending on the client/number of animals. I also did random gigs as they popped up; I made a few hundred for participating in a friend’s dissertation study under some very uncomfortable laboratory conditions. All of this money went toward my principal.

Any extra money (cash gifts, credit card cash-back, tax returns, cashed-out unused vacation time, quarters I found on the ground, etc.) went 100% to my balance, too. I was surprised to see how many little occasions like this happened.

As for the actual mechanics, I paid my eight loans off highest-interest to lowest-interest. I had minimum payments automated to get the interest reduction, then made a bonus payment the next day on the loan I was currently attacking. I had a minimum bonus payment budgeted, then included any extra. I made a spreadsheet tracking my loan balances, interest rates, regular payments, and bonus payments so everything would be spent as intended. Any categories I underspend in my monthly budget meant a bonus payment, which made it really motivating to cook out of my cupboard or ride my bike rather than drive somewhere. I would also put any extra money in my checking account (beyond my comfortable cushion) at the end of each month toward the balance. I think the slow and steady progress of the automated stuff was key, even if the giant extra payments from side-hustles, etc., moved the balance a lot faster.

This sounds really obsessive so I do want to restate that I had a good life through all of this, with friends and hobbies and satisfying work. It just felt better to, say, cook a pot of soup with friends and make a bonus payment than eat out at a restaurant and spend my weekly food budget in one meal.

I hope that’s helpful! Let me know if you have any other questions. And good luck with your debt paydown! It feels so overwhelming at first but I promise that as you make progress, it really feels like it’s snowballing and getting easier and easier. Getting from, say, $80,000 to $70,000 felt like a monumental effort, but I barely noticed the last few $10,000 chunks because everything was automated, I had so much momentum, and so many of my previous interest payments went toward the principal. You can do it!!


#15

I just went through the same thing. Paid off the house in April after being laser focused on it for 6 years. I thought I would feel free but I feet kind of depressed. I still needed to go to work, and actually feel less financially free because we just had a child and my wife will no longer be working.

In the last 30 days I’ve been doing some soul searching to set some new goals. That is helping to re-orient me and get me focused on new things I can be excited about. At the top of my list is working towards building passive (or semi-passive) income do that I don’t have to work a day job and then I can spend as much time with my new baby as possible.


#16

I have a reversed version of your success story for you - maybe that could put things into perspective!

I knew a girl who owed about $25-30K in student debt but because she worked throughout her teen years she had exactly enough in her savings to pay it all off. She told me she submitted the final payment but the next day she logged in and canceled her payment because “she didn’t feel any happier or relieved.”

She then took that money and brought a new car with it. 3 years later, she still has her student loans in full and managed to add on another $40K on top of that (including the car loan which is now underwater).

I think that’s the real kind of depressing ^

You’re doing amazing IMHO but yeah it’s normal, I feel ya. I just wrote about something like that today: http://www.thefrugalgene.com/find-meaning-before-you-find-wealth/


#17

I wouldn’t fee bad at all about how you are feeling. I was the same way (as Matt showed in that post). It does get better. I found that it was my expectations and lack of a new goal that were bringing on my “down” state. Once I found a new focus things got better quickly.

Plus now that all the debt is gone I feel much better. There have been several times where we have had expenses come up and they don’t phase us because there is extra money thanks to the no more debt thing and it’s really nice. I guess what I’m saying is it gets better, but there is always a let down after you achieve a goal.
Congrats on paying off your debt. That’s a huge feat!


#18

You are not alone, my friend. When you have a huge goal to accomplish you focus solely on doing that. Once the goal is gone it can leave you feeling empty. Many of the comments have mentioned the same thing which is to set a new goal. If you paid off 100k, whats to say you can’t save that?? You know what it takes to pay it back now turn it around and pay it forward. We are with you every step of the way. :slight_smile:


#19

Thanks, everyone!


#20

You should join our DC group