Gambling on an Education

Once a month I have a day of reckoning—with my past, certainly my present, and unfortunately my future. That day is "bill day." When it rolls around, I set aside an entire evening, gather my "bill box" and any loose statements, my checkbook, stamps and envelopes, and scrap paper for adding. I usually put on relaxing music or some mindless television, and turn off the phone.

I am a thorough and meticulous money manager. I have to be. You see, in addition to my fixed bills (rent, gas, insurance, phone) and essential needs (food and transportation), I pay 21 percent of my income toward student loan debt.

Simplicity of lifestyle is a value choice I’ve made. I am thankful I can live out that choice on my budget. I’m grateful I have been able to find a job that reflects my values, a luxury in today’s marketplace. I realize I could find work that would provide greater financial security—at least a bigger paycheck—but my job provides me with opportunities to live out my values, my ideals, and my faith. I choose to work with an organization I love, doing work I care about and things I am good at.

But on bill day I question my choices—not for long, but I question. And this makes me angry, mostly about the 21 percent that makes everything just that much more difficult. My small amount of disposable income, in the present and for a long time into the future, limits my options concerning proper health care and unanticipated emergency expenses. I didn’t realize the consequences in my life of taking out school loans when I cashed that first check nine years ago.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1997
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