Maaike quickly repaid her immense student debt: ‘A burden fell off my shoulders’

Maaike quickly repaid her immense student debt: ‘A burden fell off my shoulders’

For years, Maaike Wind (39) was ashamed of her sky-high student debt. She paid off the minimum and tried not to think about it too much. Until her desire to have children surfaced and the debt began to weigh down on her more and more. The switch was made. Within two years, she paid off her debts. Now she blogs about her experiences and helps others who also want to speed up their repayment.

Photograhy: Liselotte Schüren

“Having a hefty student debt is a huge taboo. For a long time I was ashamed of that debt. Friends knew I had borrowed a lot, but I never mentioned the exact amount. Even my parents didn’t know that my debt started with a five. 51,759.61 euros, to be exact.

“Strangely enough, borrowing money is not a taboo subject at all. How often do you hear that a student debt is not a bad debt at all? That you can pay it off as soon as you start earning? Not a realistic picture, as I now know.

“When I was a student I didn’t worry about it very much. I studied cultural anthropology in Utrecht and then an additional Master’s in Journalism in Groningen. That Master’s program was so intensive that I couldn’t work alongside it. I borrowed to the full, so it went very fast. Fortunately, I found a job quickly after my studies, so I thought: that’ll be fine.”

A financial failure

“At 30, my relationship broke up. At the end, that relationship was no longer fun for either of us, so it was good. Financially it was a tough time. We had a house together that had to be sold in the middle of the financial crisis. What remained was a considerable residual debt. So then, I had a student debt and a debt to the bank. Looking back on it, I sometimes think, gee, that could have been a reason to stay in that relationship. That is something I really should not have done!

“I started looking for a rental apartment, started paying off that residual debt and temporarily stopped paying off my student debt. Meanwhile, I was getting more and more frustrated. Many people around me started looking for a house with a garden and started thinking about having children.

“I felt like I was stuck. I didn’t know how to get rid of the debt, thinking about the future made little sense. I felt like a failure financially. Then I just resigned myself to it. Money doesn’t make you happy anyway, I told myself.

“I paid off what I had to and spent the rest”

“The realization that I really wanted a child provided the turning point. I went to a fertility clinic, because I had decided to do it alone. Treatment is largely reimbursed, but not completely. I had to contribute a few thousand euros myself. Money that I didn’t have.

“It was the first time I started to understand the whole concept of, ‘all your salary doesn’t have to be spent, put some aside.’ Because I never did that. I paid off what I had to and spent the rest. But for this I was going to try my best. I had a good reason and it went amazingly fast. Really, in just over three months I had saved up about four thousand euros!

“Fine, because that allowed me to do that treatment. But I also thought: was this so hard? It wasn’t that bad actually, I simply had the money. Then I suddenly asked myself: but why am I paying back the debts so slowly? The seed was planted.”

Living at welfare level

“At the end of 2018, just pregnant with my baby son, I visited a friend in Seville. That’s where the change really happened. Walking through the city, I thought: what if I just start paying off superfast? One thousand euros a month, plus holiday pay and the thirteenth month, then I can do it in two years. Then I’ll be debt free when my child is only one. Yes, I thought, I’m simply going to do it!

“On January 1, 2019, I started. From then on, the salary I earned as a journalist at Dagblad van Het Noorden, then about 2550 euros net per month, went mainly to my rent which is quite high (930 euros) and to DUO. Other than that, I really lived at welfare level, with the big difference that I chose to do so voluntarily, of course. I taught myself how to budget and kept to it strictly.

Photography: Liselotte Schüren

“At the beginning it was hard with friends, I used to go everywhere with them and now suddenly I did not. I really missed traveling. I really enjoy traveling, so I missed that a lot. At the same time, I discovered unexpected advantages that helped a lot. I bought almost nothing and I really liked that. All the things I used to buy, a fancy coffee machine, new clothes, they only brought me momentary happiness. Suddenly I felt super satisfied with the stuff I already had.

“In the last two years I have felt satisfied much more often, than in the thirty-six years before that. That was a very nice observation. This just makes my life more fun! Soon I felt that a burden had fallen from my shoulders; I dared to fantasize about the future again.”

‘Fuck that student debt’

“Space was created for a desire I had had for a long time: to start a blog, but I never knew what about. Suddenly I realized that this might be the topic I had been looking for. Because more people should know that paying off debts can feel great.

“The kick-off was a personal story in Dagblad van Het Noorden. After that, I continued blogging about my experiences under the name: Fuck Die Studieschuld (Dutch only). It was exciting to share my story under my own name; I immediately got many reactions. I still do actually.

“Most of them are positive thankfully. A lot of people say: oh it’s great that there’s someone else like me, simply admitting it. Or: I thought I was so stupid, it’s great to read your story. People who never dared to talk about their debt and are now doing so.

“I quit my job”

“The moment I finally paid off my debt was pretty crazy. I expected it to be some kind of exuberant moment of jubilation, but it was actually very quiet and subdued. After I transferred the last amount, I actually sat in my chair a little quietly like: okay, and now? It’s quite nice when you have a big goal that you are very convinced about.

“Tackling something big with good results, that is something that gives you self-confidence. It gives you positive energy and an appetite for new things. Recently I quit my job as a journalist and started working as an entrepreneur. I offer training in paying off debts and that’s how I earn my money.

“If I hadn’t made that decision over two years ago, I would have been paying off until I was forty-six. No way would I have dared to quit my job to do what I really want to do. It’s exciting, but it’s exciting in a positive way. It’s ‘ooh boy I am alive’ exciting.”

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