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Debtgiving update

In an effort to get my financial affairs in order, I’ve signed up for Mint. I signed up for the service prior to attending law school and didn’t find it that useful. In its prior iteration,  Mint just seemed to provide graphs of my bank account balance, which I didn’t have much use for. It’s improved a lot in the last few years. Now, it provides budget tools, spending updates, and offers a quick, convenient overview of where my money is going.

I’ve also started using YNAB again. Like Mint, I used this before going to law school. After graduating with my JD, my law school loans seemed so large and insurmountable that it seemed useless and depressing to keep track of spending and pay off my loans, but I’ve since rejected this unproductive mindset. Even if I have to live on water, ramen, and live with my parents into my late 30s, it’s worth it if it means freedom from law school debt in the end.

Some of my budget challenges currently include:

  • Take the bus to the train for my work commute instead of paying to park my car at the train parking deck
  • Pack lunch EVERY day for work
  • Change from a $20/month gym plan to a $10/month plan
  • Avoid meeting friends at bars. Beer expenses add up

Here’s where my law school loans currently stand as of 11/28:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total
$22,000.07 $15.79 6.55% $22,015.86
$35,451.08 $29.72 7.65% $35,480.80
$23,437.53 $456.71 6.55% $23,894.24
$44,022.11 $27.69 8.00% $44,049.80
$24,300.94 $27.69 6.30% $24,328.63
GRAND TOTAL: $149,769.33

I’ve been making an effort to keep the level of accrued interest low, so at the very least my total loan balance will stay static. My current balance is $1,067.14 less than my last update on Nov. 4, which is pretty solid.

When I initially went to law school, I thought I’d be earning a high salary and generally enjoying a solid middle class lifestyle. Dumb, I know. This entire process of incurring debt and struggling to get my career going has made me question my values and goals. I think I’ve finally come to the understanding that family and friends are the most important aspects of life. As I’ve found out, a total lack of money can put a severe crimp on your life, but chasing after money doing something you don’t inherently enjoy is also a miserable way to live and life is very short.

I constantly run images of my past through my head – graduating from undergrad with no debt, having a beautiful girlfriend, thinking law school was just the next step in the golden road ahead, etc. Unfortunately, that all went the way of the dodo in a surprisingly short period of time. I incurred an ungodly amount of debt, my law school performance was not as good as I wanted, I never landed a good law job, and I’m turning 30 and live with my parents.

I know replaying an idealized past isn’t good for my mental health, and it’s a habit I’m working on changing. My current situation is fairly grim – I admittedly had medium grades from a top law school, which means I’m ineligible to work at large law firms that pay the large salaries the public thinks every lawyer makes. I didn’t enjoy studying law, I didn’t enjoy the people I met in law school, and although I think I perform very competently and much better than many lawyers I interact with, law has just never felt right for me. This may sound like first world problems whining, but I think it’s fair to say it’s impossible to excel at a discipline unless you derive some inherent satisfaction from it. It might be because law has not been profitable for me (at all), but it could also be that it’s not profitable for me because I don’t enjoy it – a cart before the horse problem.

In the next couple years, I have to decide whether to continue hacking it in small law firms, where the pay is often in the $40,000-$60,000 range (from my personal experience at least). I’ve been exploring some other career options, specifically marketing, programming, and writing to make some more money to pay toward my loans. I don’t have family or relationship obligations and since I’ve only managed to make in the $40,000-$60,000 range in law and I see how much other lawyers (even very experienced ones) struggle, so I don’t feel like I would be walking away from anything good if I were to leave law behind for another more-profitable and personally-satisfying career.

In any case, I don’t want to complain too much, but I want this blog to provide a fairly unvarnished portrayal of my life. I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving! Keep paying off those loans!

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4 responses »

  1. Oh man, if you’re not enjoying law *and* you’re only making in the $40-60K range, I definitely encourage you to explore other options — I wonder if you might invest in some career counseling? I’ve been wishing I’d done that in my 20s myself; there must be someone who can work through your options with you (“I need to make $80K, I have a JD and bring x, y, and z other skills and interests to the table, what should I be doing and how do I get my foot in the door?”) I know spending money right now seems like not what you want to do, but maybe take that beer money and use it for this?

    In other news, congrats on dropping your balance that much in a month 🙂 I assume you’ve looked into consolidating at a lower rate and it wouldn’t work for you? I know it often doesn’t because of DTI issues. Maybe after you’ve paid down more. Your six-year plan looks ambitious but doable…and I’m nearly 36 and only *just* am getting out of debt. Granted I have some career and (non-existent) relationship issues of my own, but hey, if you get to my age and are in shouting distance of killing off this debt, at least you won’t be any worse off than I am!

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  2. I hope you are able to explore other career options. I’m sorry that I don’t have more concrete advice to give you, but it looks like staying in law is going to keep pressing on you. I do agree with Cecilia (The Single Dollar) that some career counseling can help. Are there any ex-lawyers you know who have made career changes, or can anyone direct you to some of these people? Do you have contacts from law school or your undergrad who can help you with some leads? I think it is important to know that nothing is set in stone. A side hustle could help you to generate some income. As I said before, you are a great writer. You are honest, candid, and possess that wry sense of humor too. Anyway, don’t be discouraged. There are many stories of young people out there who have persevered and have made hefty inroads toward debt payment. You will too!

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  3. I’ve seen several friends struggle with the decision of whether to leave the law. It’s a tough thing. There’s no reason, of course, why having a law degree means you are stuck in the field of law. (Sometimes I feel like having a JD is more impressive to non-lawyers than it is to lawyers!) Still, it’s a hard thing to walk away from law after putting in all that effort to become a lawyer. Very best of luck as you think about what will be a good fit for you.

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  4. There’s absolutely no shame in leaving the law. It’s unfortunate that we can’t really answer that question until we’re in law school or actually in practice. I do think, however, once the answer is clear to you, you should do what you feel is best. Best of luck!

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