1 When We Became Grownups | The Billfold

When We Became Grownups

Logan: Mike. Can I tell you a story about one of my very first adult memories?

Mike: Always.

Logan: Okay. So about two weeks after I graduated from college, I flew to LA. Some friends had a three-month sublet and they invited me to join them, and so I did that. My friend Greg picked me up in his Camaro, still filled with detritus from his cross-country drive, and we drove to meet our friends at a house they were staying in.

That afternoon we went to the bank to get a cashiers check so we could pay for our sublet. We used my bank and I withdrew my cash (which was my dad’s cash) and combined it with their cash and then got the check made out the apartment complex. It was a lot of money—thousands of dollars—more than I’d dealt with before and I remember being stressed out as I filled out the paperwork while standing in line. There must have been a deadline, maybe the bank was closing. I’m sure we were running late. That is how we do things.

I finally got the check, and I went outside and  met my friends in the parking lot. I showed Greg the check and he said: “This says ‘Five Star Suites.’” And I said, I know, “‘Five Star Suites.’” And he said, no, “Five Star Suites.” And I was like, “What is your problem, I know what it says.” And then he said, “LOOK AT THE DAMN CHECK.”

And it did not say “Five Star Suites.” It said “Five Star Sweets,” all typed out and pretty. In my haste, I had spelled, like, the third easiest word to spell in the English language wrong. I had to go back in, stand in line again, and explain my very stupid mistake to the woman. She fixed it, but not without an eye roll.  Sometimes when I’m really tired I can still laugh uncontrollably at this until I almost pee my pants.

That’s how I became a grownup, Mike Dang.

Mike: Hahaha. You should write a about post this!


Mike: Ooooooh. I did not realize we had started!

Logan: I thought the punctuation would TIP YOU OFF. And the drastic reduction of typos. I say reduction and not elimination because, well. I AM ONLY HUMAN.

Mike: I’m trying to think of when I first remember thinking, “I am an adult now,” because I’ve felt like one for a very long time. It was probably when I graduated high school and left home, and started being financially independent. I think money plays a huge role in how much you feel like an adult. Because for most of your life up to that point, your parents or someone else has been earning money and supporting you. So, I guess when I signed on the dotted line for those student loans and moved out of my parents’ house, I made the transition.

Logan: So, the Five Star Sweets thing was just one of those moments for me. I’ve had a lot of them. I’m still having them. There hasn’t been that one moment that divides the pre-parents and post-parents thing for me. I still get help from my parents in a lot of ways, and I’m sure that I will for a long time. It seems to me that for a lot of people, though, signing off on their student loans would be the first  adult step. Do you ever regret getting them? Did you know what you were getting yourself into?

Mike: I’ve never regretted getting them. And yes, I knew what I was getting myself into. But, I also think I had it better a decade ago than students are having it today, because college costs have shot up so dramatically.

The thing about my student loans is that they are there, and I have to pay them every month, but they have never prevented me from living. I go on trips. I quit jobs. I live alone in a studio in New York. I will pay them until I am in my 40s, and that is fine.

Logan: Right. I guess I’ve just been thinking that for a lot of people, they ARE the first step in adulthood, and … what a step.

Mike: For me, adulthood is more about independence than anything else. Being able to figure out things on your own. Money plays a big part in that, but also, you know, just being able to come across a problem and solving it without any hand-holding.

Logan:You seem really okay with your college loans. I know a lot of people don’t feel the same way. They feel like these things are going to ruin their lives. A friend told me today that she’ll never pay them off. Actually she said, “I WILL NEVER PAY THEM OFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF.”

How do you avoid that attitude?

Mike: Because I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When I say I am going to pay until I am in my 40s, that’s not a random thought, that’s a calculation. I’m guessing the people you know don’t see an end to them?

Honestly, if I did not go to Columbia for grad school, I would not have moved to New York, and you and I would have never met, and this website probably would have never existed. So what I’m saying is that for me, it was money well-spent. A lot of people don’t feel that way.

Logan: Right. What would you say to someone who felt like their education hadn’t given them what it promised? Someone who was still paying for it and will still be paying it for a long time?

Mike: I would say that I understand that it is a very hard thing to feel like you have this giant monster tied to your back. And that, yes, it seems like it’s unfair. It seems unfair that some of us are rich, and that some of us are poor. That some of us got to leave college debt-free because our parents or someone else paid for our educations, and that some of us had to take out enormous loans to get the same access to education. And for those of us with these massive debt loads, we have these really dark days when we resent the monster on our back.

A few years ago, during my brief period of unemployment during the recession, I lived every day in those dark moments where I resented having to pay a student loan bill every month while I was collecting unemployment money that was barely paying for my basic living expenses. I stayed up at night wondering what I’d do if the next job never came. I thought about my mother’s disappointment in my career choices, and heard it in her voice when I talked to her on the phone. I felt ashamed. It was a struggle. It felt like a terrible black hole I would never climb out of. I spent a lot of days eating beans.

But to make a long story short: I climbed out of it. The next job came. The bills were paid. The monster on my back was still there, but I didn’t really feel it there anymore. So to this person, what I’m saying is: You will fall into a hole and believe that the monster is crushing you. But you will also climb out of that hole, and realize that you are a resilient human being. You will become one of those people who understand struggle and sacrifice, and you will become a better person because of it.

Logan: But can they really? My understanding is that many people have taken out loans with such interest rates that they will never, ever pay them off.

Mike: So I think the varying degrees of burden certainly depends on what you owe and at what interest rate. My current burden is $60,000, and my interest rates are between 2.25 and 5 percent. I’ve managed to make my loan payments a less noticeable burden for me working as a writer.

There are stories of students with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt that are reported practically every other week somewhere on the Internet. Much of it has to do with the fact that they are either unemployed, or not in jobs that pay very well, so they’re mostly paying interest and very little principal. I have friends, for example, who went to law school, and now are finding it difficult to get jobs and are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And it is an enormous, enormous burden, but it doesn’t mean their lives are over. They are struggling, but they are not out on the street. They are figuring out how to make it work. And yes, half of the battle will have to be done through reform, by making repayment plans more feasible with enormous debt loads, to create forgiveness programs, and to get college costs under control for future generations. It’s something we’ll have to fix together.

And I do believe that people are resilient. I mean, when my parents were in their 20s, they escaped a war-torn country and came to the U.S. with zero money, and they’ve come really far. We come across enormous difficulties in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we don’t figure out ways to overcome them.


20 Comments / Post A Comment

WWVMD (#2,368)

I’m still not sure I’m a grownup :(

novembertea (#2,203)

All I can say is thank God for IBR…

EmmaG (#1,023)

The moment that felt most like the beginning of adulthood for me was looking for and signing the lease on the first apartment I moved into that had nothing to do with moving for school. I was finishing a degree, scrambling to line up full-time employment in a new city, and moving in with my boyfriend. It was the convergence of a whole lot happening at once that just felt… adult.

Of course, 10 months later I would be back at school again, so that first attempt at adulthood didn’t really take.

readyornot (#816)

I once wrote an email to my parents with the subject line, “I must be an adult now.” It was about how I made myself stewed black eyed peas for dinner and liked them, a marked contrast to my complete and utter hatred for any legume as a child. True story.

sintaxis (#2,363)

@readyornot I have sent very similar emails many times! My thing was always asparagus (or, as I call[ed] it: aspara-GROSS) and eating meat and bread together. I now enjoy both, and consider myself an adult.

mishaps (#65)

Logan, I have no idea if knowing this will help or not, but last week I received a check where the written number and the written out words for that number were not the same number. Like, not at all. I had never seen that before in my life, and I wondered what would happen if I tried to cash it. Then I decided I didn’t need the agita and asked the person to rewrite the check so the number and the written out words both matched the expected amount.

That person who wrote me the check is a middle-aged man with a house and a car and kids.

Being a grownup does not mean you stop making dumb mistakes! It just mostly means they cost more.

readyornot (#816)

@mishaps I’ve heard that if there is a discrepancy between number and words, it’s the words that are the actual amount of the check. Not so convenient in the age of ATM check deposit scanners though!

ennaenirehtac (#199)

@readyornot Really? I’ve always heard it was the numbers that are counted.

readyornot (#816)

@ennaenirehtac It was a history teacher who told me that back in high school, so I doubted my memory and his knowledge. Just googled, though, and sure enough, the Universal Commercial Code says words over numbers prevail. Reference here. And there are sad stories of people paying bounced check fees when their handwritten amount was wrong and higher than the numbers.

kellyography (#250)

@readyornot That’s true. I once read a story about a company that was used as a vendor by another company, and Company B wrote a check where the words were more than the number. Company A deposited the check into some high-yield savings account (when such things existed), and when Company B realized the mistake a while later, Company A returned the excess amount, but had made a ton of interest on the original deposit.

pizzatourist (#2,449)

I work for a very small office – there are only two of us. So, when it comes time to do the paychecks I write them out myself and a Board member signs them. Recently, I wrote my own paycheck so that the number amount and the written amount did not match. I did not realize this and deposited it in the ATM for the number amount (the number amount was the higher and correct amount). The bank called me to say they had deposited my check but because the two lines did not match, they have to deposit it for the written out amount. I shorted myself $200! I was able to get it back by writing a supplemental check the next pay period.

mishaps (#65)

@pizzatourist @kellyography @readyornot @ennaenirehtac well, I have learned something from this thread! And I am glad that I asked for a new check, because it was the written-out amount that was incorrect, and incorrect by a LOT less than what I was owed.

Mike Dang, you are a lucky man indeed if you’re only paying interest rates between 2.25 and 5 percent. I’m between 6.8% and 8%, and I count myself lucky as compared to people with private loans.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Saralyn@twitter I consolidated and locked down the five percent rate many years ago. The 2.25 percent is a variable rate, which means it can shoot up at any time.

I have the same interest rates and was thinking the same thing! Mike, thanks for sharing how you got the 5 and 2.5%.

Fig. 1 (#632)

I think I realized I was an adult when I was old enough to realize that being an adult didn’t always mean you behaved like one. This was after talking with my grandma who lived in a retirement community, when she revealed the behaviours people exhibit in high school are displayed throughout the rest of life, not just a feature of high school (i.e. bullying, intimidation, ignorance, intolerance, pettiness and just plain mean.)

I was kind of a sheltered kid, I guess, and had no reason to not trust adults before.

allreb (#502)

I’ve had sporadic moments of feeling like an adult (the first time I filled out forms to get my own insurance, first adult job, second adult job, first apartment…) but for me the BIGGIE was when someone tried to rob my apartment. I was home and me screaming sent the attempted robber running off, thank god. I freaked out a bit, but still called the cops, the building manager, the super (to come change my locks), etc etc. It took a few hours during which I was shaken but okay and able to get shit done. Then everything calmed down, and THEN I started sobbing incoherently and freaking out. But I felt like I won at adulthood by holding things together until everything was under control.

Mike, your paragraph about dark moments worrying that the next job will never come and resenting your student loans is the spot I’m in now and it makes me feel so much better to know that sometimes the next job comes and people only feel this way temporarily even if they did not go to grad school for pharmacology or engineering.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Amanda@twitter Stay strong, Amanda.

I’ve had a lot of those over the past year. I think my biggest one was when I got my own health insurance. That was the only big expense in my life I was still relying on my parents for, so to have to worry about deductibles and copays and in-network doctors for the first time was definitely a wow, I’m an adult moment.

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