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It’s a daily struggle to pay off student loans

President Barack Obama speaks in Syracuse, N.Y., in August 2013 on a proposed overhaul of federal student aid that would link dollars to Education Department ratings of colleges and universities. Senica Gonzalez says crushing student loan debt is forcing many who financed their postgraduate degrees to struggle to make ends meet.
President Barack Obama speaks in Syracuse, N.Y., in August 2013 on a proposed overhaul of federal student aid that would link dollars to Education Department ratings of colleges and universities. Senica Gonzalez says crushing student loan debt is forcing many who financed their postgraduate degrees to struggle to make ends meet. Associated Press file

When I was just a wee lad, my school had an outing to a local skating rink with an amazing arcade filled with flashing games and wonderful prizes. One caught my eye – a knitted hacky sack of Aztec design. I coveted it so badly that I laid aside my pride and asked complete strangers for a quarter. To my great joy, no one turned me down; some pitied me so much that they gave me two! Despite the snickers of my friends, I was so proud of my new toy.

Imagine my dismay when my parents took me back to the skating rink to not only return the hacky sack, but also to hand over my allowance one quarter at a time.

While I learned an important lesson from my parents that day, I also learned an important lesson about life on my own: Sometimes our dreams seem impossible, but with a little help from some very generous people, we can achieve it quite quickly.

This year, my wife and I have a dream of paying off our student loans. By ourselves, it’s impossible. So, I set aside my pride and sent out a blast email asking for help.

Here’s the truth. I’m 32 and work as a Web application engineer. I did not go to college. My wife, 33, has her Ph.D. in community psychology. We made $104,000 last year. Being self-employed, 40 percent of that goes directly to taxes. We are firm believers in giving to others, so at least 10 percent goes to charity. That leaves us about $52,000, or $4,333 a month.

Our monthly budget looks like this: $1,110 for student loan payments, $650 for rent (we live with in-laws), $400 for health care (we don’t have insurance but set aside money), $300 for food, $300 for gas, $90 for car insurance and maintenance, $100 for phones, $100 for business expenses.

That leaves us about $1,300 for everything else. This may seem like a lot, but we are cutting corners every way we can. We don’t have kids, we don’t have two vehicles, we don’t have to pay for utilities and we aren’t putting money into retirement. I haven’t included entertainment or clothing or toilet paper – things that most people just take for granted.

If we lived a normal life, we might add $300 for real rent, $600 for vehicle payments, $400 for retirement, $300 for entertainment. That would put us at $1,600 more a month – or $300 in the hole. As you can see, it’s impossible for us to live a “normal” life.

I’m not asking for pity. I’m asking: How in this world does a couple making $104,000 a year struggle to make it?

Student loans will keep us in this state for the next seven years unless something really changes. My story is not unique. I’ve talked with others with large student loans in similar situations.

Let this be a caution to those taking out massive student loans pursuing their master’s or doctorate degrees. Make sure you know the real story and educate yourself thoroughly before committing to those loans.

Senica Gonzalez lives in Citrus Heights with his wife, Amy Carrillo.

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