Living on $15,000 a Year

Mike: After reading some of the conversations we’ve had with high-earners, you got in touch with us and said you wanted to talk about what it’s like to not earn a lot of money. Can you introduce yourself?

Broke Person: So, I’m 25, I live in the Midwest, I work and live at a camp/environmental learning center, and I earn just shy of $15,000 a year. It’s pretty seasonal work, so I earn most of that between late April and early November. The winter can be pretty lean in terms of what we do for work, so most of us supplement it with a second job. Last year, I was a nanny for some family members, and this year I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth from where I live to where my mom lives (about six hours driving) and scrounging for extra jobs here and there.

M: The federal poverty guideline for a single person is $11,490, and you are above that, but not by a lot.

BP: Well, that is the amount I filed for last year. I think I’ll earn a few thousand more this year because I have signed up to be a substitute teacher as well. I also have an extra six weeks of work at camp because I’ve been doing some maintenance work while somebody was out for surgery recovery. Because I live here, I’m paid a daily rate, which is $80 a day. That also means that I am currently living rent-free, which makes a big difference. I made about the same before I started this job, but also was paying rent from my salary, which was rough.

M: Can you talk a little about that? When you don’t earn a lot of money, I’m sure every dollar counts. Does it help to live in the Midwest instead of say, New York, D.C. or San Francisco?

BP: Absolutely. I did live in a city during this time, but definitely not a super-expensive coastal city. I was working retail, and my typical paycheck was about $450, I think. I paid $400 in rent, about $300 in student loans each month, which doesn’t leave much behind. For the most part, I was really enjoying myself at this point in my life: It was my first time living in a city, I had been living with my mom for about a year before that working for the same company and being pretty miserable. So in general, my lifestyle was on the up-and-up. I didn’t have a car, so I was biking around and taking public transportation, which when you’re first starting to use just feels so great, until about the 8th time a stranger tries to ask if he can be your man at the bus stop at 5:15 a.m.

M: What weren’t you able to do on what you were earning?

BP: The things that really sucked about having so little cash were not being able to go out with friends without asking them to buy you food or drinks, which is pretty humbling and embarrassing at times, and something you avoid by not being social sometimes. After rent and loans, my next biggest concern was food, and for the most part, I was fine. But when you’re broke at that level, you start to get pretty single-minded about food. When my roommate (who was at a similar income level as me, but had student loans deferred due to her job) would invite me to her parents’ house for dinner, it was always a relief in addition to all the normal reactions you have to a dinner invitation. When there was free food in the break room (this would happen about once a month), you sort of plot how much of it you can get away with eating so that you don’t have to spend money on food that day, or can save your packed lunch for the next day. For example, on pb&j day in the break room, you immediately eat a sandwich, with more than reasonable amounts of peanut butter on it at the beginning of your break, so that when you make one again ten minutes later, most of the people who saw you eat the first sandwich have filtered out of the room and you don’t feel judged for taking more than your share. I also would run out of money and have no cash and no money in my bank account occasionally for two to four days before a paycheck. If we were low on groceries, I would make toast from the butt ends of bread and fry an onion to eat with it, or buy Ramen for lunch at work with change from our change jar (17 cents!).

My co-workers and I noticed when the store we worked at raised the price of a single banana to 24 cents. A good friend of mine and I quit this retail spot for new jobs at the same time, and we would text each other things about our new jobs that seemed astounding to us. One of the things she noticed at her new job was that if you came in to work on a Saturday, the boss just ordered pizza for everyone. That was a revelation. At my current job, I eat for free a lot, because we have some programs where kids stay overnight and are fed, and I gained 20 pounds in the first six months, probably from overeating, which I’m pretty sure I do because I spent that time hoarding opportunities to eat for free. I mean, the price of bananas rising didn’t make a huge difference, but it was remarkable—a thing we talked about. I don’t think I would notice that now, with all of my access to free lunches.

M: Do you and your friends talk about money? You talked about having to ask your friends to help pay for you when you go out and how humbling that is, so I’m guessing that these friends can afford to do so and that they’re living at a higher income level than you. How do you navigate these relationships?

BP: I’ve been lucky to always have a few friends that I could depend on to talk candidly about money, and that I have mostly felt comfortable doing so. I think a lot of my comfort negotiating unbalanced financial relationships stems from a childhood friendship with someone whose family was much more financially stable than mine. She was always willing to finance entertainment for us when I couldn’t, and lent me money for tickets to concerts a couple of times so we could actually buy them ahead of time. Mostly, this was money her parents gave her, and I would pay her back from the jobs I worked in high school. But the important thing was that we talked about it, and that it generally was my decision to pay her back. We just wanted to do these things together, and figured out a way to make that happen.

As an adult, my close friends know that I don’t have money, and many of them are in similar situations. I think the thing that varies the most are people’s levels of debt. I do have friends who make significantly more than me though, and sometimes they buy stuff for me. Mostly this is in the form of meals or drinks out, although it has also happened when I’ve traveled to see people. I’ve told friends “I can buy my plane ticket, but you’ll have to feed me while I’m there.” I don’t usually agree to go out if I don’t have the ability to pay for myself, definitely not without saying “Hey I’m broke, I can’t really go out this week.” Sometimes, friends offer to pay so that I can come anyway, and sometimes, when I’ve gone out anticipating paying for myself, they’ll offer to pick up my tab when the check comes around. I have a few friends in particular that have been pretty generous. A couple of them know they earn significantly more than me, but have also spent time making terrible money or using all their income to pay off debt.

The thing that has been tricky to navigate is keeping these relationships honest, and not expecting my friends to pay for stuff for me. There have been times when I’ve ended up putting things on my credit card that I didn’t intend to because I anticipated somebody else offering to pick up the check and they didn’t, all because I didn’t want to say that I was too broke to go at the outset. Those nights are not my most fiscally responsible decisions. Also, some people with money are way more generous than others with their broke friends, and it can be hard to let yourself be okay with that. There are times I have to remind myself that it isn’t the responsibility of everyone around me to make things come out more egalitarian. I definitely believe that people’s money is theirs to do what they want to with–I’m grateful when that includes helping me out, but I do occasionally have to coach myself to not feel like friends SHOULD be paying for me. It can also be hard to feel and show gratitude without overdoing it and letting yourself feel inferior. My friendships shouldn’t make me feel bad about myself, even if I can’t really get them back next time. Sometimes I’ll buy when we’re at a cheap place, or just getting one round of drinks, or getting ice cream instead of food. Being gracious can be challenging, and it’s unfair (and not good for my friendships) if I say “Oh, I’m broke” with the expectation that somebody will pay for me just because I said it.

M: Can you talk about your student loan debt, what kind of school you went to and if you feel like you got what you wanted out of your education?

BP: I went to a private liberal arts school (which I doubt people will be surprised by), and I did really, really enjoy my time there. I graduated with about $28,000 in debt at a time when it was abruptly much more difficult to find a job in my field specifically, and in general. I don’t think I would make the same school choice again from the perspective I have now, but I don’t exactly regret my degree or the school I went to either. There are some things I DIDN’T get from school that I probably needed but didn’t realize at the time, though. I think more honesty about the likelihood and rates of tuition increases from the admissions staff may have changed my choices.

I had the opportunity to go to a state school in my hometown with no debt for about $1,500 a semester, if I recall correctly, but the programs, faculty, distance from home and all of the brochure-ready things from the private school were so much more appealing! I ended up paying the same cost up-front due to a hefty academic scholarship, plus the maximum amount of federal aid, but I took on a debt load that got larger every year. My first year in school, the tuition price tag was something like $27,000 a year, but by my senior year, it was $36,000. I think that even at 18, I would have known the amount of debt I had to take on to do that was unreasonable. I was aware that because it was a private school, tuition wasn’t frozen, but I had no concept of how quickly it would rise. The other thing that I think I missed out on was intentional career counseling. That was something that was available, but I didn’t take advantage of. That school costs even more now, over $40,000.

M: What kinds of careers were you considering before you graduated?

BP: Teaching, in a really crowded subject area, which I didn’t even think about or hear mentioned until about my 7th semester. I applied for jobs after I graduated—probably not as aggressively as I should have—but nonetheless, I was seriously looking, and despite graduating with honors from a regionally-recognized school, didn’t get a single interview. I know people who applied for hundreds of teaching positions at this time and were interviewed at just two or three schools. I didn’t do that, but I did consistently apply for teaching and other relevant jobs, including lots of part-time stuff and things I was clearly over-qualified for over the course of about two years before I found something part-time with the organization I work for now.

M: And since you wanted to get into education, you knew you probably weren’t going to be earning a lot of money right after graduation? Did you think a lot about what you wanted or needed to earn?

BP: Honestly, no. I had a general concept of what teachers made, especially to start, which at the time (and probably still) was about $25,000 a year. I also knew that if I worked in rural or poor urban areas, I would most likely be able to have a good chunk of my student debt forgiven. I didn’t think about it a lot though.

M: When you found the job market to be particularly challenging, and found jobs that didn’t pay too much, did you consider moving back home with your parents to save money? Was that an option?

BP: During my student teaching, I was living with my mom, and I spent another 10 months after that there as well. I moved out to go to a city, be closer to friends and have more job opportunities. I wasn’t happy in my hometown, not really because of living with my mom, but because I felt stuck in general. I worked with kids who had been my students, which did not feel great. My mom also was not in a great financial state, so I was paying her some rent (less than I did after moving) and taking care of my own expenses.

M: Do you not have health insurance now?

BP: I do until I turn 26, through my mom’s workplace, which I pay her for. Then there’s some mumble mumble Obamacare something happening at my job, which may or may not apply to me, based on some complicated stuff with hourly requirements vs. a daily salary that none of our supervisors are talking about yet, probably because they don’t have any more clue than I do whether we’ll qualify for insurance. I’m pretty sure I will have a gap before whatever that is kicks in (if it does).

So I will be figuring that out this summer. I have had a gap in insurance before, which didn’t really mean anything because I was lucky enough to not get sick, and I got insurance at my retail job before I was desperate for new eyeglasses, then some legal thing changed and I could get back on my mom’s insurance by the time I left that job.

M: Since you’re not earning a lot of money, are things like savings and retirement far from your mind at the moment?

BP: I do have some savings right now, about $1,000. I debate whether this is a good financial idea, because I also have $2,500 on a credit card. I used it to pay for incidentals on a trip to west Africa I went on a couple years ago (the trip was mostly paid for by other people, but not entirely), and to visit friends, once on each coast. I also occasionally use it irresponsibly to buy dinner or booze out when I’m out of money, but want to hang out with people anyway. I have been much better in the last year at paying it off aggressively and only using it when I know I’ll pay the amount I put on off before the end of the month. I like having savings though, because then when my car stops working, I can take it to the shop.

I feel like being poor often means all of your stuff is half broken, and I would prefer to be able to fix the big important stuff without using my credit card. I also will lose my lovely free housing if I leave this job, so I like knowing that I could actually afford a deposit and first month’s rent if I suddenly got a job that paid better, but didn’t pay better until four weeks after I started. I really don’t like carrying debt, and most of the time I have money left from a paycheck, or money that’s comes in outside of my budget (like tax returns!), I use it to pay down my credit card. It should be paid off by the end of the year, according to my Excel chart.

M: Good ol’ Excel.

BP: Yes, because I am a nerd. I don’t track all of my expenses because that is A Lot of Work, but I do auto-deposit into several savings accounts for specific things, and I made a chart to show me how much money I will have in those accounts for the next six paychecks or something. This is mostly a tool to keep me from constantly borrowing money from my savings account when I want to buy stuff. If I do, I will have to make some red numbers in my chart sometime, and watch my financial dreams of being able to replace my computer when it inevitably stops working, or taking a trip with my sister or whatever else tick back down and take another two months. I also use this handy thing I got off of the Consumerist forever ago to track my student loan payments and see the date many years in the future when I will be debt free, unless I had to buy a car or something before then. I will, probably—my car is twenty years old.

M: Can you lay out how much you typically spend on things like groceries, utilities or dining out in a month?

BP: Groceries are a total crap-shoot, because when I’m working a lot, I’m also eating for free a lot. Last month, I paid $200 for groceries, but really busy months when I’m working 12 days in a row regularly with 2-3 meals for free, it’s probably more like $50. Last month I spent $100 eating/drinking out, which is fairly typical. We don’t pay utilities because we have a fraught arrangement where we perform extra duties in lieu of rent and utilities, which are mostly reasonable but sometimes sort of crazy. I pay $35 a month for my phone, and don’t drive much because I live at my workplace, so I buy gas for about $50 a tank every two to three weeks. My health insurance costs $85 per month, and my roommates and I rotate our Internet bill around, so theoretically every four months I pay $45 for Internet, although we only decided to get it a couple months ago. I almost never shop for clothing, or anything else like electronics or whatever people at higher incomes spend their cash on, I guess I don’t really even know what people buy.

M: Do you think you’re finding a way to make it work, or have ideas of what you’d like to do next to start earning more money?

BP: I think so? The work I’m doing now is really great, even though the pay is terrible, and after spending my first season here just figuring out what is happening, I’ve started to get some experience managing programs and designing new stuff. I never got into teaching to make tons of money, because there is a lot of intrinsic awesomeness about hanging around kids, and providing them with cool experiences.

After not applying for jobs because I was so relieved to be here, I’ve started looking again, but in a much more direct way. I think what has been changing is not so much my odds of getting hired somewhere that does a better job of paying the bills, but that I’m doing a better job of figuring out how to develop the skills I have into more marketable things. And with some of the perks of my current position, I don’t feel like I’m drowning very often, the way I did when I worked in retail. And I do hope that I find something soon that is full-time, with health insurance, that is a job I feel good about doing. While poverty (or near-poverty) sucks a lot, I’m lucky to have some specific resources that make my aspirations to be not-poor feel attainable, if not now, then soon.


Interested in having a conversation about what you do, how much you earn, and how you make it work? Get in touch.


34 Comments / Post A Comment

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

Great post! If someone comes forward, I’d also be interested to see one from the perspective of living on very little money when you are not young and pretty well educated. So often, student (and post-grad) poverty is transitional…what is it like when it is not?

daysgoby (#3,610)

@swirrlygrrl I have a feeling those who are living in non-transitional poverty are probably not reading The Billfold :\

Megano! (#124)

@daysgoby They probably don’t even have access to the internet except at the library.

Nanuary (#3,521)

@swirrlygrrl I agree! Also, I’d like to hear more perspectives from those who aren’t necessarily in poverty, but aren’t people with master’s degrees who reside in cities. Maybe I haven’t read enough of the Billfold, but it seems like it tends to feature a lot of young, college educated, city dwelling folks who don’t have children. That is totally cool (I am one of these people!), but a lot of parents I come across in my job aren’t technically living under the poverty line, but do not make a lot of money. I always wonder how they work out financial stuff (e.g. How they manage child care, how they decide on where to live, how they decide what luxuries are worth it, etc.). Maybe this has totally been covered like 500 times though on The Billfold and I just missed it though :)

chic noir (#713)

@swirrlygrrl – if they do have Internet, they have very little time to use it between working multiple jobs.

chic noir (#713)

@Nanuary – those people are a part of “The Missing Class”. It’s a great book about those who are not middle class but too “wealthy” for governmental help and services.

olderthandirt (#3,644)

@Nanuary I was/am a disabled veteran, with a land-use planning degree from a west coast state university. I was lucky enough to be able to find a job in Washington State in 1991, when they passed a statewide planning law (the “planner full employment act” because 15,000 planners were hired in a short period). I worked for eleven years, but was forced to quit a $44,000-a-year job due to issues with my disability. I was got another job at a private Midwest development firm in rural Minnesota for about 1/3 less pay.The firm went bankrupt in 2008 because of issues related to the housing bubble burst and the recession. I having been searching for a job, in any field, since 2008. My wife and I live on ~$17,000 in disability payments I receive from the VA. We cannot afford to relocate. We pay much less than we would if we were living in an urban area like Minneapolis or on either coast. I’ve sent 1000’s of resumes to firms in the urban parts of the state, so I’m not just sitting on my butt. Technically we aren’t part of the “Missing Class,” because we qualify for HUD assistance on our rent (lost our house when we couldn’t pay the mortgage), and receive some assistance on our medical bills. Other financial stuff (utilities/internet/cell phone/food) tend to stretch our finances each month. We were fortunate to have bought a car for cash in 2007 (from savings) and paid off our credit cards (which we then cut up). Our watchword is frugal living.

Oof, this was difficult to read. So much of this seems familiar, especially the parts about food. I lived this way for large parts of my childhood and most of my adult life: 4 years as a student at a stupidly expensive school where I worked 30+ hours a week to pay rent and eat, then 5 years as a freelancer/substitute teacher/job-scrounger, then 2 years as an M.A. student (funded, so it was paid for and I got a small stipend to live off of, before I hear any grousing about the irresponsibility of broke people going to grad school). As of this year, I actually sort of make enough to live on for the first time in a decade, but it’s as a doctoral student, so it’s still not *that much* more than this. On the plus side, I scarcely have time to eat/leave my house, so the living is cheap.

But really…I don’t know if the calories-per-dollar calculation that made every meal fraught will ever fully leave me.

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

@mirror_father_mirror i have the same feelings. I am absolutely not at a poverty level and lead overall what I feel si a pretty good life- HOWEVER- when free food is available (and it often is at my job) I find myself unable to restrain myself even if I am not hungry. In the past few months i have worked to turn down free (and often fattening, unhealthy food). I also have ot retrain myself not to order the cheapest/largest portion for your dollar (again often fattening/nutrient deficient) thing on the menu.

I attribute this to the few recession years I spent unemployed where every dollar saved= that much longer i could spend looking (but not finding) a job.

Catface (#1,106)

@mirror_father_mirror I still remember, with a mix of fond nostalgia and horror, some of the things I ate back in my straitened younger days and through sheer force of will managed to convince myself were delicious. There was a curry made with an onion, a sliced orange, and some raisins. There was a grilled spaghetti sandwich! Dark, dark days.

cawcawphony (#2,990)

@Catface Spaghetti sauce on crackers! Also Party Pizzas. Sometimes I miss them…but I think actually sometimes I miss being a twenty-something.

selenana (#673)

@Catface Spaghetti sandwiches are delicious.

boringbunny (#3,260)

I would be interested in seeing how this relationship with her friends evolved. And how did this Africa trip come about?

broke person (#3,611)


BP here! The Africa trip was a mission trip (another sort of complex experience), put together by the church I grew up in. I had gotten a lot of support from individuals from the church when I first went to college–gift money from my graduation party, largely from church members, paid the first semester out-of-pocket fees at school for me. A couple years out of school, they asked me to go on this trip (only my grandfather and the pastor were also able/willing to go). I went because a) it was an exciting chance to travel and b) it gave me a chance to feel like I was contributing something back to this supportive community. I ended up planning some significant parts of the trip, and my grandfather and I both bought some gear and split some costs for a layover vacation on the return trip).

The relationships with my friends have come about in a bunch different ways, just sort of depends on the person.

boringbunny (#3,260)

@broke person ahh that makes so much more sense. i thought, ok, friends pay for your meals but they also pay for your trips to Africa??!! But yeah, that makes sense.

I asked about the friends thing because, i dunno, how does one keep a healthy relationship like this? i would feel fine paying for my friends who earned less than me but i feel that could lead to resentment pretty quickly on either side.

broke person (#3,611)

Yeah, I’m not sure exactly, but it works out best if everyone is honest and upfront. I have this relationship mostly with friends with who I also have independent conversations about money and our financial situations. I have done plenty of self-policing on the resentment side, as well. I don’t want to feel like my friends owe me things because I’m broke, but it’s an easy mindset to let yourself fall into. I also have developed, with practice, the opinion that poverty isn’t embarrassing or shameful, which makes it MUCH easier to be frank about the fact that I am poor. That took some work though, it is not an opinion generally supported by the culture-at-large.

Clara (#3,450)

Really enjoyed this post. I’m pretty amazed at how aware and thoughtful and even deliberate about money “BP” is. I was super-broke and very underpaid at my first job in a large expensive city (SF), but don’t remember being able to articulate long-term plans or goals. I just sort of drifted along …

wallrock (#1,003)

The food thing really reminds me of when I transitioned out of college and into the workforce. I had a part-time job at an Italian deli my last couple years of school which allowed me to subsist on expired lasagne and old bread, but unfortunately the place closed (not due to my bread-taking) before my last semester. I was debt-free throughout college and wanted to stay that way so the grocery budget for those last six months was inventive to say the least. Once on the way to an interview I came across a man selling potatoes out of the back of a truck and for under $15 I came away with a 50 pound bag. I’d also get bulk bags of rice from the Asian grocery store, which I’d top with butter my father brought me (individually-wrapped butter patties, at least 250) after a charity pancake breakfast.

I was never in poverty – I had the support of my family and opportunities to get employment readily available. But the experience certainly gave me a good outlook on what it could be like, and I still remember it when I’m perusing the fruits and vegetables at my local co-op.

frenz.lo (#455)

@wallrock Did you have to take your fifty lbs of potatoes to the interview, and if so, do you feel like this affected the outcome?

wallrock (#1,003)

@frenz.lo No, thankfully I was driving to the interview and could stow that big bag in my trunk. And you better believe I was sick of potatoes and rice by the time I’d graduated and started working full time.

pilcrow (#1,713)

What I find appalling is that her school never said to her, hey, do what you want but know that the career in xyz teaching field is very difficult. People should (often) do what they love, but with a reasonable outlook on the possibilities!

broke person (#3,611)


To be clear, I was told that it was a difficult field, but by the time I was interacting with professors and staff who were acutely aware of that, I was well into my program, and it would’ve meant committing to staying in school longer to switch. Tuition had already increased past what I could afford, so I decided to finish the program and figure it out from there.

jessjess (#3,543)

@pilcrow I work at a college where we have every good intention of telling our undergrads this (I am not in a direct teaching or student-focused position though) and there are MANY ridiculous barriers. Some students are not in a place where they’re ready to hear that advice, or think ahead in any way; some don’t even go to career services with a resume until they’re seniors. The faculty resist implementing career-prep requirements into the curriculum because it’s seen as not academic enough, etc etc. Long story short, I think schools have very good intentions of giving this advice, but there are so many barriers it’s not surprising that so many otherwise well-educated college grads go out there with very little practical knowledge.

jessjess (#3,543)

@broke person This is also a good point — the timing of such advice is everything :/ If I had a dollar for everyone who told me retroactively to get a business related degree…

broke person (#3,611)

Totally agreed! Like I said up top, I never used the career counseling available to me, which in retrospect, etc. I don’t think anyone specifically dropped the ball on me, but by the time I was taking classes from people with specific knowledge about the field I was going into, I had six semesters of sunk costs, financially and otherwise, that would have made it pretty unlikely for me to decide to switch my major (I had already switched once and was determined to graduate in four years because of tuition hikes).

francesfrances (#1,522)

I love what she said about school, in terms of not regretting picking that school but also feeling like she’d do things differently if she could go back. That’s how I feel. That’s a liberal arts education for you!

Confused though…. is the $15,000 for the April-November work? If so, that’s just over half a year, so theoretically, an annual salary would be near $30,000. Not a ton of money, but pretty respectable for a 25 year-old working in education/nonprofits/entry level stuff.

broke person (#3,611)

The $15,000 is total annual salary, I just work a lot more from April-November than I do over the winter. No one here has really found a consistent way of getting seasonal winter work that pays as much with as many hours as we can get during our busy times.

Dancercise (#94)

Great article, Billfold! Keep ’em coming!

selenana (#673)

Yes! Thank you – more from this kind of perspective, please. I do find the rich people interviews interesting but I have lived on budgets like this for most of my adult life.

dudeascending (#1,921)

I’m late to the comment party, but wanted to chime in that this was a really interesting read, and I’d love to see more pieces/interviews like it.

I’d also love to hear what Billfold folks think re: the differences between being broke and being poor, or whether there is a difference.

Mae (#1,769)

This was great.

chic noir (#713)

This was excellent. Thanks Mike.

obsoyo (#3,629)

Am I the only person who was really bothered by this article? As someone who makes just under 14k a year before taxes, does not have health insurance, and is not supported by my parents, I found that this article in now way related to my life, or that of my friends in similar situations. So many twenty-somethings are in the same position, and while I hate/fear the instability in my life (worrying about being able to make rent, having a maxed credit card, etc.) I realize that I am incredibly privileged. I work a job I love in a field that doesn’t pay, which I understood upon getting my liberal arts degree. I have education, good health, and my “poverty” involves me living in a great neighborhood, eating fruits and vegetables, and having the capacity to work even if I can’t always find it. You have student loans and have to eat free sandwiches at work. Boohoo. Neither you or I represent those who are living on the edge. Give me a break.

olderthandirt (#3,644)

I am wondering what type of loans BP took out. If they weren’t from a private source and guaranteed by the US Dept of Education, she would be eligible for two programs I can think of off the top of my head: Income-Based Repayment, and Income Contingent Repayment. Given her income, the payment would be pretty small, and if you pay steadily for 25 years (yes, I know, a long time) any leftover principle is forgiven.

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