Abbie Mitchell is a member of Circle of the Beloved in Minnesota and is currently serving an internship with St. John’s Children, Youth, and Family Ministry. I asked Abbie to share her financial experiences to give us some insight on the challenges facing today’s young adults and the role her faith plays in money matters.
As the daughter of an accountant, I grew up listening to my mother’s advice to be careful and keep track of my money. From a young age I would stash away my Christmas and Birthday cash, but for what? I was never certain. My dad would constantly rep the phrase “buy nice or buy twice” that he’d learned from his own father. When I had my first job, as a golf caddy, I saved all my money from that summer and ultimately decided to invest in an expensive new laptop for college, knowing I would need something suitable for Art and Design School. I felt rich, like all teens after getting their first job. I also felt hopeful and confident that my patience would help me to continue saving.
As I passed my 18th Birthday and prepped for college, the financial burden of what was to come became very real. Despite coming from a lower middle class family and being a 4.0 student, government financial aid and scholarships were constantly returning my applications with letters of polite refusal. I would have to pay for university with loans.
So I was off in the world of a borrower, scouring for the most reasonable interest rates and payback plans for what would be an overwhelming expense. I felt hopeless. When I turned to my family for emotional support, I was often met with the anachronistic suggestion that was “when I was your age we worked ourselves through school.” I don’t think many in the generations before me understand how much more expensive university has become since they attended. In an article published by CNBC in November of 2017, author Emmie Martin describes the statistics of tuition cost from 1987 to 2017. In only 30 years the cost of tuition at a public institution has increased 213%, and it has increased 129% in private institutions. It has since continued rising at a rate much higher than inflation.
While I would need a job to finance my student career, it would not be enough to keep my debt at bay. So I moved to a new city, along with the reality of my loans. I hopped from one cheap apartment to the next over the next several years, with a schedule that kept me busy almost 60 hours a week to make ends meet. When I began my senior year, I opened up to my Academic Adviser about my overwhelming stress. By then it was making me so sick and exhausted that I was unsure I’d even want to walk for commencement. She insisted I walk across that stage, as I was her “success story.” She would apparently tell others about my persistence in pursuing two extremely demanding degrees, all while maintaining a GPA above 3.0. She was so proud of me, and wanted to see me walk in celebration of my accomplishments. I felt so supported and realized that I have a lot to be proud of, despite feeling like every day was a burden.
Today I have 2 Bachelor’s degrees (A Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts), and about $85,000 of debt for only 5 years of higher education. To top it off, I attended my commencement alone in bed, where a robot said my name while the world was shutting down to keep a pandemic at bay. I never got to walk the stage for my Adviser, but I met with her on zoom that day and she told me to keep in touch. I know this sounds like a sob story, and it is a little bit, but to me it is a story of strength and hope. My faith has kept me strong through all of my financial disappointment.
I had faith despite my disappointment in a system that makes debt the only option and my disappointment in myself for never slowing down to stop and be proud of myself. Everytime I wanted to shed tears for having to dip into my savings account to buy food, or peek at my loan report, God was there to say “I will provide.” I have been able to make it work day in and day out. I have a roof over my head and food in my belly, despite those things always seeming like an uncertainty. I have a long way to go when it comes to feeling financially secure, but that seems like the reality of most young adults my age living in this time. God has shown me joys in poverty that I would not have otherwise experienced if my finances came without struggle. How the bus can be a place where commuters become friends with people who take the same route every morning. How a neighborhood with a bad reputation has a strong community that holds one another up when the system brings them down. How the feeling of hunger inspires you to feed others, not just yourself.
So what comes next? What are my plans for the future and for security? We all know with the Pandemic that plans seem unrealistic, and I think that’s the way they have always seemed to me. In the 2019 Best Picture film Parasite, a father describes poverty to his son after a severe weather event displaced them from their home. He says, “You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned… You can’t go wrong with no plans.” Although it seems like hopeless advice, there is freedom in relinquishing these anxieties to God and trusting oneself to make the right decisions. I have endless dreams and goals for sure, but no plan. Despite the vast infinity of what-ifs that cloud the future, all I can do is my best in that moment and that’s what I will continue to do. God will provide and I will let his plan guide me forward.
Thank you Abbie! As an older adult it is helpful to hear the younger generations experience. Your attitude and faith are inspiring.
Understanding and navigating our society’s financial systems as followers of Christ can be challenging. Maybe that is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than prayer and faith. As with most spiritual practices, we gain strength when we share with and support each other. To write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull – you never know who needs to hear your story.
Martin, Emmie. “Here’s How Much More Expensive It Is for You to Go to College than It Was for Your Parents.” CNBC, CNBC, 29 Nov. 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/11/29/how-much-college-tuition-has-increased-from-1988-to-2018.html.
Bong Joon Ho, director. Parasite. Barunson E&A, 2019.