Valdosta Daily Times

Business

August 25, 2013

Be grateful

VALDOSTA — I write a lot about saving money, budgeting and tearing down your debt, but I don't believe I've even written about coping with debt. Clark Howard just recently wrote about a new study in the journal of Social Science and Medicine that reports that for people in their 20's and 30's, carrying a significant amount of debt can impact their physical and mental health.

I am one of those people. Yes, I am a self-proclaimed “budget guru”, but I didn't become so fiscally responsible by choice. By my circumstances both growing up and now in my adult life, I have been forced to learn how to stretch a dollar. Sure, I am responsible with my money, but that by no means do I have a lot of it. In fact, I have significantly more debt than money because I had to pay my own way through college.

As many of you who are trying to put a child through college are finding out, it is often the middle class who get hit the hardest when trying to fund school. You make too much money to qualify for financial assistance, yet you make too little money to pay the way yourself. Your only option becomes taking out loans. This was my only option, and while it did get me a college degree, it also got me a mountain of debt that has been constant struggle and stress in my life since I graduated in 2010.

According to the study in Social Science and Medicine, researchers have found that the people in the study with higher debt had a 1.3 percent increase, compared with the average, in diastolic blood pressure. While this may seem small, the researchers noted that a diastolic blood pressure increase of just two points raises stroke risk by 15 percent.

Reading this hit home for me because a month ago, at the age of 25, I was placed on blood pressure medicine by my doctor. For the past couple of years, my blood pressure has been a struggle. While my doctors have found no underlying medical cause for my high blood pressure, I can only think that my level of stress is a contributing factor. Like many of you, my debt is my greatest source of stress.

I get desperate and read these articles about how couples reduce $50,000 worth of debt in one year, but honestly, for middle class people like me, it's just not realistic. We all don't have luxury cars and watches to sell to pay down the debt. My husband and I are also not in a position to only live off of one income and put the other income towards debt. So what do you do? Well, you get by.

I get by through shopping sales, using coupons, saving as much as I can even if one month that's only $20, and using all the other tips and tricks I detail to you every Sunday. It's all you can do because you cannot completely surrender to your debt and let it run your life. You have to have “fun” money for a movie every now and then or take a little budget vacation to the beach; not doing so is just a miserable existence.

I wish I could outline a realistic way for you to beat your debt in one year, but that wouldn't be honest. Sometimes personal finance advice isn't about telling you tricks, sometimes, it has to be the truth, and the truth is that when you have a mountain of debt, (like more than $100,000 in student loan debt between two spouses) there's no immediate light at the end of the tunnel. You have to pay what you owe every month and then do your best to be as responsible as possible with what you have left over.

It's a hard pill to swallow, but Clark Howard really put things in perspective for me in his blog. He said you have to stop and think for a moment about where happiness really comes from. It doesn't come from accumulating things. Citing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory, he said once you have the basics like food, clothing and shelter, happiness is based on things other than possessions.

When people used to tell me things like this, I would roll my eyes because clearly that's an easy thing to say when you're not struggling with debt, but honestly, it's true. Sometimes as a society, we become so consumed with what we see on tv and read in magazines. We want to live like the Real Housewives, dress like the movie stars and vacation like the financially elite. However, those things just aren't realistic. You have to learn to make your own happiness with the things you have.

I have found my happiness by moving to a city I love, waking up on Saturdays and going to the Farmer's Marker in Forsyth Park with my husband, doing yoga before I go to bed and cooking eggs over easy for dinner just because I love eggs and I can. It just really hit me this week that I spend so much energy being mad about what I don't have, that I have been ignoring all the things that I do have. Maybe you're doing that too.

So this week, I'm not going to tell you tricks of how to buy the things you don't have, I'm going to tell you to look around and be grateful. Until next week, like me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BrittanyDenneyMcClure and follow me on Twitter at @BudgetB

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