Ah, Box Braids: the venerable protective style that has been a major ingredient of Black Girl Magic Sauce for centuries now. Box braids. While this style is so treasured, anyone who has had to endure the process of getting box braids knows the stress that accompanies the experience. And as a constant box-braid wearing, I've realized that the box-braid experience is much like the debt pay-off experience: both painful and long but enduring and worthwhile in the end. Let me explain.
(For my non-melanated brothers and sisters (all are welcome here), box braids are a Black diasporic hairstyle accomplished by parting the hair in individual sections (boxes) and attaching portions of extension hair that is then braided into the hair to achieve braids of varying lengths. These box braids can be thin, thick, long or short, and they can be kept in one's hair for longer periods of time to protect one's natural hair from experiencing styling damage. Basically box braids are cute and they help Black girls save their hair.)
For those of us who have gotten box braids, we know it's a commitment to a process and there are parts of that process that are absolutely the same to the debt payoff process:
1. You set a goal: You decided to get braids. You have a vacation coming up and you are not trying to wash, comb, condition your hair every day after you get out of the ocean in Turks & Caicos, so you pick a style, a braider, a date and a time because you know your goal: Get box braids for vacation. Well, the same is true with paying off debt: You decide to pay off your student loans. You want to be able to afford to go on vacation in Turks & Caicos without having to worry about Sallie Mae, NelNet or FedLoan calling you after. You pick a method of pay off and a date you'd like to be done because you know your goal: Pay off your student loans.
2. You take one step at a time: You show up with your hair out ready for your braid girl to start putting those braids in. You show her the style, and she begins the painstaking process of individually parting sections of your hair and meticulously braiding that hair onto yours. She has to go braid by braid, section by section. Same with your loans. You painstakingly set your budget, pay off the smallest loans first and meticulously, step by step, pay your loans off one loan at a time. It will get confusing and feel impossible if you try to pay everything at once. She can't braid all your hair at once, and you can't pay all your loans at once. You have to focus on one loan at a time.
3. You expect interruptions and delays: About two hours into your braid appointment, your braid girl will have to eat, use the bathroom, call her mom to see if she picked her baby up from school, do her midday prayer if you've gone to an African shop, talk to another customer in the shop who wants a style, and on and on. Basically, interruptions and delays will inevitably happen. Same with paying off your loans. You should just expect that your car will break down, your kid will need new sneakers, you'll be sent a random bill in the mail, somebody will have to go to the hospital for something, and on and on. That's the way life works. Interruptions come. Delays come. The more you understand that, the faster you'll be able to bounce back from a delay and finish getting your braids and getting out of debt.
4. You stay patient: It's hour four of your appointment and you still have a section of hair out. You're over it. You've been sitting too long, your butt fell asleep thirty minutes ago and you're hungry. Very hungry. You want to say forget this, leave the shop with a half a head, never to return again. But you know you can't do that. You leave for vacation tomorrow and you're not trying to look crazy on the streets with unfinished hair. The same with paying off your loans. It's year two of loan payoff. You're over it. You've been saying no to every event, you've been putting every extra dollar you have towards your loans and you still have a $3000 balance left. You want to just stop, move on with your life and never look back at those loans. But just as crazy as you'd look with unfinished hair is how crazy your finances look with unfinished debt pay off. So you stay patient. You wait it out a little longer and see it to the end because you want your hair and your finances to be cute.
5. You celebrate your accomplishment: It finally happens. She finishes the last braid on the last piece of hair. She trims off the stray hair, puts your braids in hot water to seal them, puts mousse on your braids and spins you around in the chair to see the finished look in the mirror. Yasssss! The braids look neat and cute, and you're super pleased with the result after your five-hour process. The same with your loan pay off. The finally comes. You hit send on the last student loan payment and you get a response email naming you zero balance and thanking you for paying off your debt! You're finally done after your three-year process! Now you can go on and be cute and debt free.
So yeah, paying off debt is like getting box braids because they're both long and painful, but they're both longlasting and worthwhile. So may your finances be as cute and together as your box braids.