Choosing Life Over Loans

I recently read a brilliantly written article by Lee Siegel entitled, “Why I Defaulted On My Student Loans”. In summary, Siegel recounts her choice to not pay her student loans back in order to continue living a full life that was not solely based on making money, paying bills, and dying at the end of it all. She calls out how, unfortunately, our society often looks upon one who is in debt for their education, and not doing all they can to pay their loans back as soon as possible, as someone who is irresponsible and displays a lack of good character. She argues, however, that building good character in the eyes of others requires actually living and enjoying life, seeing and experiencing the world, and nurturing relationships with others. The article is very thought provoking, and I agree with much of what she says. Take a read here:

You see, I myself have a decent amount of student loans to my name, along with 42% of my generation, and so Siegel’s article speaks to me on many levels. Now, to all my family members and close friends, please do not fret; I have no intention of defaulting on my student loans. Though, I also do not plan to work myself into unhappiness and depression over said loans. Some would argue that the wisest course of action would be to put my head down, work myself to the bone, all the while turning down opportunities for rewarding life experiences, until I have managed to pay back my loans. Maybe then, after I have paid back said loans, can I then decide to begin truly living my life. Personally, I don’t find this a wise course at all.

We are meant to enjoy life, we are meant to adventure and explore, we are meant to see the world around us and the wonders that it holds. Your possession of loans should not completely cease your ability to enjoy your life and seize the opportunities it presents you. Should you be completely irresponsible with your earnings for the sake of adventure and experience to the point where you cannot eat or lose your place to sleep? Of course not. However, I don’t think you should feel obligated to take every penny you earn and give it back to your student loans if this means passing up on the opportunity to learn and create memories that make your life actually worth living.

It’s all an act of balance. For me, there is nothing that quite enriches my life like travel and adventure. In September of 2014, I traveled the length of Italy, my ancestral homeland for 2 weeks. In that time, I had more fun than I’ve ever had, was more present in the moment than I’ve ever been able to manage, and felt more free than I’d ever had the pleasure of feeling. That trip is definitely a high mark in my life, and it inspired a wanderlust fever within me. Now, I certainly could have taken the $3000 I spent on that trip and given it back to the ever greedy Department of Education, but then that experience that made my life so much fuller would be lost and I’d still be out a few grand.

With wanderlust burning my insides, I recently began planning a September 2015 trip to Paris, another top destination of mine. Once I reached the point of purchasing my plane tickets and booking my Airbnb, however, I found myself experiencing a war in mind. On one side, the Corporate American Johnny insisted I abandon this possible venture. “Think of how much you could save by not going. Think of how much more comfortable you’d be this next holiday season if you don’t spend that money. You were in Europe less than a year ago, going back so soon is irresponsible,” he seemed to say. On the other side, the nationless Johnny, the nomadic Johnny, the FREE Johnny argued back valiantly, “Screw it all!” he said. “Who cares if money is tighter? You are only 24 once. You won’t always be single, childless, free to see the world like this. If there was ever a time, it’s now. Live your life, kid. Did you regret Italy? No. Have you ever regretted an adventure? No. Do you think you will regret this one? No! Let’s go!”

This war waged on for days. Eventually, the Free Johnny – the true Johnny – won out and I purchased my trip to Paris which I will be embarking on soon. Rather than making larger payments to my student loans that I probably could manage, I have decided to pay the smallest amount possible so that I can continue to fill my youth with experiences that make me a worldlier, better person and that make me happy. And while some may see this as a poor choice for one who is in debt like me, I know that I will be living my life in a way that brings me new knowledge, everlasting memories, and great joy.

If there is ever a time for me to experience the world, it is now. Sure, I could say I can’t because I need to pay back my loans so I need to wait. By the time that is done, though, I will probably be getting married and paying for a wedding so I won’t be able to then either. And then I will probably be having children, and even if I could afford to travel then, I still wouldn’t be able to because that would not be fair to my children.

And so, I choose to live my life now. I refuse to have my future children ask me if I have ever seen this country or that, experienced this or that, and have to say, “No, I never did any of it or anything because I was too busy trying to climb out of lunatic debt that our education system bestows upon those that grow up as peasants and therefore was not able to enjoy my life along the way.”

Finances might be tighter for me now, but I can still hold onto my freedom. I have chosen life over loans. And I would encourage you to do the same.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to feel this way.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to feel this way.


  1. Sblendita says:

    I think it’s a wise choice to go, you’re going to love Paris! My friend always talked about how we should spend our youth like currency, and I’ve always held that idea close (even though I’m no longer in my youth). You can always make more money. At the same time, I think it’s an important lesson to achieve that balance and pay back your loans, have your rainy day fund, etc. It was really empowering for me the day I paid my last student loan bill, or the day I FINALLY got out of credit card debt and got a budget under control. I think you’re on the right track – spending your money AND your time wisely. (And Paris is my most FAVORITE city in the whole world! Can’t wait to see your adventures there. You better go to Rue Claire!) Congrats on your blog, Johnny! HUGS!


    • Thank you so much! Balance is definitely important. I’m happy to make the effort to climb out of debt, but won’t let that effort consume my being.
      I’m so excited for Paris! I will definitely go to Rue Claire! I can’t wait for baguettes, Brie, and butter!!!!


  2. cjoki says:

    Great post! I’m 23 and currently trying to balance paying off my loans, while still enjoying life. My boyfriend and I are currently arguing about going to a music festival for a weekend, because he wants to save for a house, I however, don’t want to sit inside the apartment every weekend, and then look back on my life 10 years from now and think “what did I even do in my 20’s?). That being said, I did just go to Florida for a long weekend disney trip. (Perks of having a friend who works at Disney!) I look forward to enjoying your posts!


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