A Temptation Back Into Debt

               DD1 = Dear First Daughter
               DH = Dear Husband
“Sweetheart, I want you to quit your job and apply for a student loan.”  It’s hard to believe that Prudence Debtfree would utter such words, but I did – in speaking with DD1 on the phone this week.  Ramsey warns that as soon as you swear off debt, something will happen to tempt you right back into it.  For some, it takes a major car repair; for others, a child who needs braces.  I know what it has taken for me.

DDI’s Story

               DD1 is getting her master’s degree at a university on the west coast.  I have many reasons to be proud of her – academic and athletic achievement among them – but I would have to say that recently, given my newly acquired obsession with debt, I’m most proud of her money management.  DD1 was about ten years old when our financial ship started sinking.  The background to her teen years was her parents’ financial drowning.  Our anxiety filled the air, and she absorbed it.
               She excelled in athletics in her early teens, first as a competitive swimmer, and then in a sport that involved swimming.  As an older teen, she started to compete nationally and even internationally.  Throughout these years, DH’s career suffered its multiple wounds from the hi-tech bust, stalled, and then came to a dead stop before DH slowly found his way to his current business.  We didn’t have the funds to send our daughter around the world for competitions.  Nevertheless, she did compete in fifteen different countries on three different continents.  DD1 had a coach who believed in her and allowed her to train younger athletes instead of pay fees; she had a mother who found sponsors to provide her with air mile points and cash; and she had an incredibly positive disposition that made her believe anything was possible.  And it seemed everything was.
               In grade twelve she worked hard for scholarship grades, and she got them.  Through her undergraduate years at a university in our city, she worked hard for more scholarship grades while participating in two varsity teams as well as her main sport outside of university, and she got them.  She’s about to enter her second year of a master’s degree, and she doesn’t have a cent of student debt.  Our education savings plan paid for roughly half of her undergrad education, but none of her graduate studies.  She’s managed the balance on her own.  DD1 is passionate about a new sport now, but she continues to coach swimming as a means of income. 
               At the beginning of this summer, she was surprised by a tuition bill.  She thought that she had the choice either to continue studies through the summer or to wait until the fall to resume them.  Due to the conditions of her main scholarship though, she actually didn’t have that choice, and she was faced with an unexpected bill for $1,600.  She was able to pay it!  My cup runneth over.  How did I – steeped in a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of debt – produce such a child?

DD1’s respiratory problem

               But enough of this brag-fest.  Here is the point:  DD1 started to notice a shortness of breath two years ago during her first summer with a full-time job coaching swimming.  It seemed to come and go, so she didn’t pay much attention to it at first.  After several months, it was still in evidence – though not always dramatically so – and she decided to seek medical attention.  Just before she flew out west to study, she saw a specialist in our city.  She had already left by the time the results came in.  Her lung capacity was limited.       I was dumbfounded and aching with worry.  This young, athletic, non-smoker had a respiratory problem?  DD1 was not to be derailed by such news.  She was confident that a diagnosis would be found and a treatment provided.  Visits with specialists came at an agonizingly slow pace.  The respiratory specialist.  The vocal cord specialist.  The throat specialist.  There was scarring on the lung tissue.  There was constriction in the throat.  More appointments.  More specialists.  A year later and there is still no definitive diagnosis and no certain treatment. 
A week ago, DD1 had to stop mid-way through a practice because her breathing was out of control.  She’s had to eliminate a certain aspect of her training due to breathing stress.  It’s getting worse and it’s impacting her more directly.  Even her own golden optimism has been rattled.
               As for my anxiety, it skyrocketed. I talked about the issue more often and with more people.  I prayed about it.  DH has always been adamant that the cause of her troubles has been her exposure to chlorine.  No doctor has acknowledged it as a possible root problem though, so DD1 has been convinced that it’s not.  I, on the other hand, have learned over the years that DH’s convictions are worth listening to – doctor or no doctor.  DH isn’t always pleasant in being right; it’s just that he so often is right.  Two people phoned me last week-end to tell me that they’d researched or had heard of or had witnessed evidence of chlorine’s detrimental impact on the respiratory system.  Furthermore, one of them told me that the pool in which DD1 first trained was notoriously bad for high levels of chlorine and poor air circulation.  So I made my call to DD1 and urged my unlikely advice.  Quit your coaching job!  Get away from chlorine!

DD1’s level-headed wisdom

She said, as I knew she would, that she couldn’t abandon her swim team in the middle of the summer season.  But she did agree not to coach through the fall and winter.  It’s no small deal for her.  She’s gone through hoops to get qualified; the pay is extremely good; and she enjoys her coaching job.  “But,” I said, “we’re talking about your health, and nothing is more important.  Just get a lower-paying job and work as much as you can.  It’s great the way you’ve managed to avoid student loans so far, but it won’t be the end of the world if you end up needing one.”  No, said DD1, she wouldn’t need to take out a loan.  She would put her name out there as a tutor and get paid at about the same rate.
               Why didn’t I think of that?  Tutoring is a pretty obvious option for a graduate student.  I think it’s because I have the mind of the debt-ridden.  The automatic answer to any problem is a loan.   The synapses of my brain have created a well-worn path to debt as a solution.  DD1, on the other hand, long ago resolved never to sink into the debt-hole of her parents, and the geography of her brain is marked by different pathways. Her solution is better. 
               I feel very good about this proactive step on her part.  The diagnosis is not yet defined and the solution is still uncertain, but I feel hopeful that this action plan will prove DH’s conviction right yet again.  In the meantime, I will strive to make DD1’s standard my own.  Full of hopeful possibility, and out of debt.

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  1. We who are in debt got here because our default IS to go into more debt rather than find alternatives.

    Chlorine exposure isn’t good for anyone apparently and so I applaud the decision to encourage DD1 to get out of the pool. What a treasure she is – and so smart about money, too!

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