Expelliarmus debtus! Magic tricks for facing student debt


OK, theres no spell for veterinary technicians or vet tech students to cast and make student debt disappear. Believe me, Ive tried. However, the tips and tricks Ive found along the way are pretty magical indeed.

Abra cadabra! Your tips to money mindfulness are here! (Photo: Shutterstock.com; Illustration: Roxy Townsend)

Money mindfulness-in other words, being really intentional about your spending, saving and acquiring or earning-means setting up a plan to be as smart as possible with your finances. This is especially true when it comes to the matter of student debt, and is an issue I hold close, because it's often the barrier that gets in the way of an individual taking that first step to go to school. It's a conversation I often have with colleagues that work in my hospitals. For me, I'd love nothing more than to help them get over the initial fear of “school” and “debt.”

And while there's no easy trick to erase the debt incurred by following your dreams, there are ways to work through it ... mindfully. I wish I could say these will magically solve all your problems, but they're more so reminders and actions that veterinary technicians or soon-to-be-techs can take to be intentional about debt while achieving their dreams. Let's get started.

Make a plan

Just like with any big endeavor, it's smart to go in with a plan. Start by asking yourself the basics. How long will school be? How will I fund the debt? The reality is, there are sacrifices to be made to follow your dreams. And, truth be told, we don't get into this field for the money … we do it for the passion!

A helpful tip can be to go through your finances with a fine-toothed comb. Where can you cut back to put more into your schooling? Make lunches at home rather than eating out-do you really need that daily (insert expensive coffee house establishment drink) or can you make coffee at home?

Areas to consider cutting out? Cable TV, any print or online subscriptions, anything extracurricular that will take away time better spent on school. Remember, it's short term, not forever, and it's so entirely worth it!

Work in the field

My best piece of advice-something I have shared with my students over the years-is to get your foot in the door. While there will be externships that place you in hospitals, that time is designed more for gaining experience rather than finding an immediate job. I have employed students straight from their externships-so the possibility is there, yet still not a guarantee. Find an entry-level position in a hospital or clinic as soon as you decide that this is your path.

You may wonder how this helps with money mindfulness. The biggest tragedy I see is when students spend money (a lot of it) and so much time in school on a path to live out their dream of being in veterinary medicine only for it not to be realized, or to later decide to change their mind.

Getting your foot in the door can help you see if this is truly what you want to do and can help you start to work your way up and hone those skills needed, so that when you do finish school, you're in a much better place financially. You'd be surprised at just how flexible your hospital or clinic will be with your schedule knowing that you're there to get your license. A little secret: Today, there are countless practices that will actually help with tuition costs, partial reimbursements and covering the costs of your license and testing fees! It's a win/win!

Don't wait

OK, vet tech students, listen closely to this one. Are you ready? Sign up for your Veterinary Technician National Exam immediately! Please don't wait. This is the part where fear takes over and we question ourselves and lose some of that confidence.

“Am I ready?” YES!

“What if I forget everything!” YOU WON'T!

“I'm not prepared, I have to wait … ” YOU'RE READY!

This is one thing that breaks my heart. Students put in all this effort and work and then don't test right away. All the knowledge you'll have is right there … I promise you! Trust yourself. The longer you wait, the more knowledge slowly leaks out. I could provide you with tons of testimonials that speak directly to this.

With that license comes a much-deserved (and quite equitable) pay raise, and you're worth it! You can also now start putting larger chunks toward your debt. Did I mention that most companies (including private practice) will pay for your testing and your license fees? Seize the moment and take that test now.

Pay against the interest 

This may seem like a small one, but it can make a huge impact. You've heard it: “They'll get you with the interest.” Most loans will allow you to separate out how you pay against your loan. While paying your minimum, pay an additional amount onto the interest portion of your loan.

Another good tip is to choose a time of the year to make an “extra” payment directly to the interest portion of the loan. You can also negotiate a lower interest rate on your loan after a specific amount of time. Do your homework.

My last bit of advice? Reach out to a financial advisor. We don't do this enough. Financial advisors can be your little genie in a bottle. Use your network. There's always someone who knows someone, so all you have to do is ask around. My absolute best connections have come from mutual friends.

Torry Chamberlayne, RVT, is a San Diego, California, Field Director for Banfield Pet Hospital. She's been an RVT for over 20 years, all while being a busy mom of six kiddos, two doggos and one guinea pig (guinea piggo). She loves to practice and teach yoga, especially to colleagues in the veterinary field. Fun Fact: In high school, she volunteered at a teaching museum and trained red-tailed hawks to teach the public about how interact (or rather NOT interact) with them and how they behave out in the wild.

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