On having negative money (or why you should embrace student loans and invest in yourself)

It’s an odd thing to know I am worth less than zero dollars.

My net worth in four years time will be in the ballpark of negative $0.5million, which is a staggering amount of non-money to consider. Even after maxing out my student loans to cover tuition costs, my parents support me with my living expenses. It feels almost like attending high school again— except with interest.

The consoling factor against the comical amount of loans is my eventual earning power as an active physician: no matter the specialty I enter, I know I will be financially stable. But, a discord arises when I consider my future salary against my current financial situation.

Every secure adult around me, from counselors to my parents, gives the advice of living like a student now, so that I can pay off my loans quickly and enjoy my earnings later. I know so many fellow students that are purchasing food products on the basis of price, not quality— an incredibly understandable calculus if you put yourself in the mindset of “I need to save money now” rather than “I need to invest in myself now”.

Under the conventional approach, I would avoid on the basis of cost: bodywork in the form of massages, sensory deprivation therapy in the form of float tanks, and dietary supplementation in the form of daily micro and macronutrients. I would treat my meat-suit like a rental car that just needs to get me to the next checkpoint, rather than the physical manifestation of Eugene. This feels like a terrible waste– the idea of sacrificing a unique window of time, a short opportunity where I can develop skills and habits during my medical education that will serve me well throughout my medical practice.

For example, food quality seems a fundamental expense to ensure my meat-suit can run most effectively. Buying locally raised and pastured animal products such as beef, poultry, or dairy, costs significantly more than the supermarket varieties. The additional price is offset by the long-term benefits of a better fat profile, decreased antibiotic exposure for both the animals and yourself, and knowing that the funds are supporting sustainable livestock practices. The same shade of argument can be made about leafy greens and tubers, as well as fruits and seeds.

These avenues of self-care and holistic maintenance could be seen as luxuries that can wait, but I argue that the financial debt accrued by such activities is nothing compared to the dividends that will pay off from this investment in my personal health and well-being. A few early dollars put into Apple or Google stock would be well worth the loan repayments until the investment bore fruit.

My ability to have faith in the future, to know that these expenditures will yield a valuable harvest when I’m a practicing physician, stems mostly from my parents. They have struggled mightily as immigrants to find financial stability and comfort, and they are supporting me greatly throughout my medical education.

This is also where much of my guilt originates— I know that I am essentially spending my mother’s money, that she earned at her job of almost twenty years, to buy expensive ground beef, massages, and supplements. It would be one thing if it were all loan money, and I knew I’d have to foot the bill in a couple years. It’s another thing to receive monthly stipends from a loving parent and spend it on what is considered by others to be an excessive luxury.

Of course, I’m presenting a false dichotomy: either live as a poor medical student, counting pennies now to minimize loans and eat low-quality foods, or get all the loans so that you can invest in yourself. There exists a middle ground, one where I can spend money wisely and cultivate habits that will benefit me in the years to come.

And so, I write this to convince myself as much as to persuade others. Fiscal responsibility oozes with many do’s and do not’s, but usually skirts around the what could be’s and what ought to be’s. I am my own best investment, and I believe I should not wait to start putting money into my meat-suit. Waiting for the right time to plant a seed only means that you’ll reap the harvest that much later.

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