This post is from staff writer Kristin Wong.

“If they cleaned this place up, it could be pretty nice.” –My mom’s take on NYC.

This week my mom was kind enough to take some time off work and accompany me to New York, where I was a guest on one of her favorite shows, “Fox & Friends.”

“Did you know Gretchen Carlson won Miss America?” my mom asked me when I first told her about the interview. She would then tell me this every day for the next three days.

Kristin Wong

See Kristin’s interview here.

At any rate, Fox invited me to discuss a piece I’d written for GRS: My student loan story: How I paid it off in a year.

To be honest—maybe too honest—I’m surprised at how helpful people have found this article to be. Of course I thought it would be somewhat helpful, otherwise I wouldn’t have written it. But I mostly thought it would serve as anecdotal evidence that the rules of personal finance really do work: Live below your means. Avoid lifestyle inflation. Make your debt a priority. I figured we all already knew this and my story would just serve as a cute little reminder.

But not everyone lives in the world of frugality. Not everyone’s a Get Rich Slowly reader. Not everyone finds time to put much thought into their finances when they’re so overwhelmed by them.

In fact, when I was determined to pay off my loan, it was less about financial responsibility and more about OCD. I can’t enjoy things without other things being sorted out first. When I was a kid, I couldn’t watch a movie at home unless the living room was spotless. I was a weird kid. And that weirdness carried over into adulthood with my student loan debt. Taking a vacation with negative $12,000 was like watching a good movie in the middle of a bad mess.

But back to the interview. There are a lot of issues about student loan debt that you can’t cover in a 60-second TV spot. Fidelity recently sent me a study outlining some of these issues:

  • The average college debt for recent graduates is now $35,200. That’s quite a bit more than my $12,000.
  • On average, recent grads think it will take 10 years to pay off their debt, and 7 percent of them think they’ll never be able to pay it back.
  • A recent MSN Money article discussed how college students aren’t able to pay off their student loans. Grads can’t find jobs because would-be retirees are staying in jobs longer, as they can’t afford retirement.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables that I didn’t have to deal with in 2006. I sat awake last night thinking about whether I was oversimplifying advice for these poor grads, who are probably drowning in debt and may be desperate for a job—any job.

Then I thought about the importance of financial education. We get into tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt to learn about journalism or literature or biology, and oftentimes, we go through our 20s (or beyond) without knowing anything about personal finance.

I first stumbled upon GRS after reading a career-related post. I can’t quite remember which article it was, but I’ve been reading the site ever since. In a short amount of time, I’ve learned so much about personal finance by reading the articles, considering the comments, and now writing my own stories. I’ve always been frugal, but I probably would’ve made a lot more money mistakes had I not taken the time to educate myself about personal finance.

If we’re going to get into debt for the sake of education, then we should educate ourselves on how to get out of it. And that’s where I think the basics of personal finance begin: live below your means; prioritize your debt, etc. Yes, it’s simple, but it’s a good start.

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