Saving, investing and making money with technology

Day: April 27, 2017

What is Your Number One Tip for College Students on How They can become Debt Free during this Economy?

How to help college students trying to make ends meet in this economy to get out of school debt.

College students can become debt-free during this economy even though they think otherwise. For recent graduates, students getting ready to graduate from college know they have to pay back thousands of dollars. Borrowing from private companies or banks, especially from the State or Federal government, is having to do a minimal payment at most. In fact, most of these lenders tell the borrowers to repay within six months right after they graduate. For some students, there’s alternatives to this repayment plan, though if they don’t land their dream job right after graduating.

Steps to being debt free; to prepare for financial decisions:

One thing to do, if you haven’t already, is save $100 per month. In a year, that’s $1,200, in 2 years plus the interest which accrues while it sits there. In 4 years that’s between $4,800-$9,600 because of interest. In fact, some of the solutions a student can do to pay back is allowing their savings to sit at credit unions for instance.

Facing challenges in today’s economy can be ignored but, this is the last thing a student who received loans should do. The thousands of dollars students have to pay back will not go unnoticed. Repaying back student loans will have a tremendous amount of weight off their shoulders once they begin the repayment process.

Paying back the minimals or $10 a month to start out is better than $0. It’s not hard to gather the paperwork together online either. Avoiding it will not make the repayment plan go away either. In fact, some of the college student loans will keep you working; one great tip is that if you do work to pay for your college student debts, then paying anything is something.

One can pay monthly, weekly, or per pay period. If you have a part-time job, paying at least $10 a week, again, will add up in the long run. If you feel that you can save this amount, then do it. $40 per month will reduce the loan’s principal. When a full-time job can help the pay interest before it begins accrueing is better.

Steps in paying back a student loan:

For college students debt being relinquished as debt-free, there’s work involved. Recent graduates are either continuing their education to further it, while paying their loans, or recent graduate students opt for other alternatives to repay them. With that said, there are many options that are available.

Actually, one can be debt-free when they repay their student loans immediately after graduating from college instead of waiting the 6 months certain agencies give you or recent graduates.

First of all, the option below is the most popular three ways to repay back a college student loan.

The options for those who received a student loan from the state or federal government: – There are options for those who get in this program. One is joining the military reserves or any of the U.S. military branches as an active recruit (i.e. Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, or Coast Guard).

– Working full-time in a public servant position is another way to repay back.

– Becoming an educator or teacher to the public school system is another way to repay back. This type of repayment option is going to give you the option to repay by you teaching full-time with the option to be able to get your student loans forgiven, 100% of them as well.

– The William D. Ford Act will give the students their loans a forgiven loan that is based on your income, family size, and dependents; this include the state poverty lines and if you are married or not.

Here are other options that are either, short term or long term repayment Plans: The Standard Repayment, Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and the Income-Based Repayment. Look below at these loan repayment options:

– Income Sensitive Repayment

– Graduated Repayment

– Extended Standard Repayment

– Obama Loan Forgiveness

– Income-Contingent Repayment

– Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

– Extended Graduated Repayment

These repayment loans can be found on the website.

Finally, when you decide it’s time to take action, don’t put it off to the last minute. At times you can simply pay as little as you can, especially if you live in a state that which has a high unemployment rate. Call this number (1-800-699-2908) to get further information on-repaying Federal student loans so you can enjoy life without getting bad credit. You ultimately want to enjoy it while enjoying your work-life as well. It’s that balance that will keep you debt-free because every dollar does count towards your loans, whether it’s toward the principal portion or the interest portion, paying something, anything, is better than getting bad credit! All in all, don’t procrastinate because one thing is for sure, the government agencies will figure out a way to get something back that was lent, and this can be in the form of your income tax return, or even deducting a percentage from your pay stubs when you are, in fact, working.

I’ve reached out to some of the top personal finance experts and bloggers in the country and around the world to get their opinions about college students debt, and what would be their answers to solve this problem. I wanted to find out what their views and solutions are for college students to become debt free during this economy, if possible.

Please read what the personal finance experts and bloggers had to say about college students debt below. Because in my opinion I think that they will inspire you to start to look at college students debt in a different way. You will want to start using the advice that they give, because it is really great advice and tips that will definitely get you out of college debt fast. But, you have start with a game plan first, if you expect to have any success in lowering your college student debt and or getting rid of your college students debt, altogether. It all starts with a budget. So I have and would definitely recommend any of the financial experts listed below for financial advice.

Now let’s see what the financial experts are saying about college students debt and what tips and advice that they have given:

David Ning

The best way to get out of debt is to have as small of a balance as possible to begin with. And to do that, you have to recognize how every dollar can affect life down the road because interest on interest can snowball very quickly. Look at every expense and only spend when it makes perfect sense. Don’t let those dollars and cents leak away or else you’ll be working many, many years trying to pay it off.

Michelle Schroeder Gardner

My number one tip would be to find ways to make extra money. There are plenty of ways to make extra money, and nearly everyone has the time to do so. If you think that you don’t have the time, I recommend thinking about how much time you waste. The average person watches over 30 hours of TV a week, so even if you could just take back half of those hours, you’d have plenty of time to make at least a little bit of extra money.

Jon Dulin

My #1 tip would be to stay focused. I know people tell you that education debt is good debt, but it still strangles you and your options in life. You might think that delaying paying off the debt isn’t a big deal, but you don’t know what lies ahead. Maybe you will meet someone amazing and want to get married and start a family. Maybe you will realize the corporate job isn’t for you and you want to go in another direction. Or maybe you want to take advantage of your youth and travel. Having school debt puts a wrench into all of these things. It will be tough to buy a house and raise a family with debt. It will be tough to take a lower paying job. It will be tough to travel. So stay focused and get rid of the debt as fast as you can so that when opportunities come your way, you can take them.

Lance Cothern

My number one tip to become debt free in this economy is to spend significantly less than you earn and use the difference to pay off your debt. You can do this by earning more money or spending less money. The decision is yours, but this is the fastest way to get out of debt.

Aja McClanahan

I recommend that college students self-finance their schooling instead of taking out a loan in the first place. They can do this in a number of ways: take classes online in the evenings as they work or run a business in the day time or even live at home as long as possible to free up resources to cover school tuition. I’ve got other suggestions on obtaining education debt-free here:

Andrew Daniels

The best advice for becoming debt free is to come up with a debt repayment plan and then get out there and start earning in as many ways possible. You are young with more free time than you realize, use it to create value and earn more money.  There are so many ways that you can make money in this economy. It’s all about being creative, and working hard. If you can get in the habit of working hard you can crush your debt a lot quicker.

Kelly McCarthy

My #1 tip for becoming debt free (and building net worth) after graduation is to use automated payments as much as possible. First, on the debt side, open a separate savings account and automate moving a certain % or a set $ amount from each paycheck into this account. Then use this account to pay off loans, credit card debt, etc. Next, automate another amount to go into an emergency fund. With your first paycheck set up a retirement account and dedicate a set amount to this fund as well. When you automate these payments from the start (even if it seems like a small amount) you learn to live with only the money left after you’ve paid down debt, etc., as opposed to trying to make payments with whatever money you have left at the end of each month. You’ll be surprised how much faster you’re able to become debt-free and build your retirement and savings accounts. You can also automate payments for utilities and other monthly bills to eliminate potential late payments.

Chonce Maddox

My best tip for college students who want to pay off their debt is to avoid lifestyle inflation and keep their expenses low. Lifestyle inflation can keep you trapped in debt and spending too much money on things you don’t need or may not even want. Just because you can afford something, doesn’t mean you should get it especially if your goal is to get out of debt. After college, I committed to continue living like a college student so I could keep my spending low and put more money toward my debt. My income has increased over time but without developed that fundamental ‘less is more’ mindset and getting into the habit of spending less than I earn, I wouldn’t have been able to pay off so much debt in this economy.

Jackie McAllister

Becoming debt free is rarely just a matter of doing one thing but rather a combination of many smaller things.  Accept responsibility of debt, spend less than you earn, consistently pay extra toward the debt (as much as humanly possible and then some) and stay motivated are some of the most important steps.  Above all else, avoid adding more debt to your name, especially credit card debt.  The added bills and high interest rates will tear you further away from being debt free, leaving you burdened financially and emotionally.  It’s important to realize debt is not normal.  If taken seriously, it can be eliminated in a few short years rather than twenty.

Hilary Hendershott, MBA, CFP®

President & Chief Advisor

Hilary Hendershott Financial

Host of the Profit Boss Radio podcast

First, you shouldn’t feel forced to attend college at all. A college degree doesn’t guarantee a high income and more and more employers are eager to consider applicants who have entrepreneurially “hacked” their education. Consider what’s right for you, your interests and your future employment. Far too many students and families have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of dollars on a degree that never gets put to use—don’t let that be you.

Second, minimize the amount you borrow for college. Don’t choose based on the brand name of the university or where you think the parties are most lively. Choose based on the Total Cost of Attendance, which, because federal student aid, grants and scholarships will vary, is a number you and your family will have to calculate for yourselves for each individual school. It’s not like Nordstrom where you pay more because you get more. Be strategic and consider each dollar spent carefully.

Third, once you know your total debt obligation, you simply must automate your finances. Set up automatic payments that will have the entire debt amount paid off in five years or less and base your lifestyle spending on what’s left. This will force you to keep your overhead low, and train you to be a successful saver if, when the debt is paid off, you simply now dedicate those funds to savings instead of spending. You’ll be light years ahead of your peers.

Scott Thoma, CFA | Research – Edward Jones

12555 Manchester Road | St. Louis, MO 63131|  314.515.0483

To me the biggest tip would be to have a strategy and build a budget. Many people really have no idea as to where their money is actually going from a month to month basis, and they would be surprised to see how much they actually spend on eating out, coffee, our technology, and a movie here and there – and how quickly these expenses add up. Taking the time to outline where they are spending their money, and then prioritizing these items, can help them figure out where there may be opportunities to make adjustments so they can not only allocate money to paying down debt, but also to both shorter- term ( emergency fund ) and longer-term ( retirement ) goals.

Michael Stith

Paying down student loan debt while you are still in school can significantly reduce the amount you will have to pay after you graduate. Most student loans don’t start charging interest until you are finished with college, so even if you are able to only pay down a small amount each semester, it can save you a lot of money in the long run. Getting a job while in college not only provides you with income, but also valuable professional experience, social skills, and relationships.

My #1 tip is to do everything you can to avoid lifestyle inflation.  A lot of us graduate from college or grad school and then immediately get blinded by the suddenly big paycheck we see.  Once you start making money from a real job, it’s really easy to forget that most of us were totally fine living like students before.  It’s all about keeping that perspective in mind.  You don’t need to act like a big shot right out of school – no one’s expecting it.  Instead, take advantage of the fact that it’s totally normal for a new grad to live modestly.  If you take a few years and keep living like a student right out of school, you’ll really set yourself up in a great financial position.

Chris – AKA, Mr. AE

On top of using college loans for actual school expenses ( a huge mistake i made ) focus on driving your income up right out of college. Use your raises to pay off debt instead of inflating your lifestyle, not only will your debt drop faster but it is a great habit to form for your future investing plans.

Feel like i need to throw this out there, check into refinancing student loans after graduation, I was unnecessarily paying over 6% for a few years before refinancing.

I’m Mo (Mr.CBB) CEO of CBB I’m a Frugal-Living Expert Dad FREE Tools+Join The MAD Networking Series &Grocery Game. RT’s W-Wide

Ontario, Canada

Any time I share tips about debt the number one question I ask is, “Do you use a Budget?”. The reason behind this is because then I have a better indication as to whether or not they know where their money is going. Students are easy targets for credit card companies on campus so avoid them at all costs. Get a part-time job for extra cash. Another lucrative side-job for many is to work from home blogging or writing for websites.

1- Budget

2- Stay away from Debt or Credit

3- Think Frugal

4- Educate yourself about Finance Before school starts.

5-Don’t do it because everyone else is. You are the keeper of your money. Waste it and it’s your fault.


My favorite tip regarding personal finance would be to start saving money very early on. A lot of people have some wrong understanding of basic personal finance, and they seriously do not understand how powerful compound interest is! I so wish someone explained it to me clearly when I was younger, but there’s still time for a lot of folks out there to benefit from it. Even if retirement seems like so far for a lot of people, starting early on definitely gives you a huge boost which would take years of catching up with missing contributions if starting late!

Philip Taylor

Live within your means. If you’re not spending more than you’re bringing in, you’ll be able to avoid future debt and make plans to get rid of the debt you do have. Often times I see people try to pay off their debts before they’ve solved the spending issue at its core. To consistently spend within your means, you must understand what your “means” are. You should get crystal clear on how much income you have coming in. Then, create a realistic spending plan to ensure you spend within your means.

Dorethia Kelly

I tell college students to live as light as possible after college so they can pay back their student loans in 1 – 3 years. This allows them not be burdened with that debt for years and years. Many students graduate, buy a car, a house, start hanging out at the bar with their friends each week. When they should really get a roommate or go back to living with mom and dad if they can. Choose to drive a used car and scale back on spending until their student loans are paid off. They can begin life debt free after 3 years of living like this and have the disposable income to do whatever they want.

Dorethia Kelly, Personal Finance/Business Expert and Coach.

I am Dorethia Kelly, MBA – Personal Finance/Business Expert, Coach and Author #MoneyChat THE BOOK!  So you know when ladies and gents are looking for someone to empower them to manage their money themselves with practical, realistic steps they can take immediately? They call me ! When they want to experience next level financial success personally, in their business or non – profit organization – they call me ! I’d love to work with you.

Connect with me online @DorethiaKelly on Social Media, visit & or email

Michael Coleman

My #1 tip is to reduce the cost of college. The primary purpose of attaining a college degree is the expectation of higher future earnings. Unfortunately, the cost of college education is rising while the value of a college education is decreasing due to an oversupply of college graduates. About half of all college graduates have jobs that don’t require a college degree. College education is becoming a poorer and riskier investment, so ask yourself how you can protect the downside. There are many options today to earn a degree with a much lower price tag.

Sophia Bera

My best tip is to track your net worth. Your net worth is “what you have minus what you owe. Sophia Bera, Founder of Gen Y  Planning, Sign up here to learn all the things about money that you didn’t learn in college. Or buy ebook .Want to learn more about 401(k)s & Roth IRAs ? I have a course for that now.

Robert Farrington

My #1 tip for students is to work during college. Simple as that. I’m a big believer in working through college not just because the money can help offset the costs, but because it gives students real world job skills, such as communication and problem solving, which employers are looking for.

Sam Dogen

During college, avoid the credit cards. The credit card companies like to get naive students who have a strong urge to impress their friend with things they don’t need. Use a debit card in college instead. After college, continue to live like a college student! Keep housing expenses as low as possible, and never carry a balance. If you can’t pay for something in full, you can’t afford it.

Ron Lieber

Thanks, but I don’t think it’s a realistic possibility for many students who want to attend college full-time. More here.

Lisa Harrison

My #1 tip for college students trying to graduate with as little debt as possible would be to attend a cheap school and avoid debt along the way. If they’re already attending a more costly school, it might be worth considering a transfer or taking some less expensive gen ed classes at a community college during summer breaks. Another underutilized trick is to use CLEP exams to receive college credit and avoid taking classes altogether. You’ll need to have a mastery of the material to pass the exam, but it can save a bundle. And there’s always that nasty 4-letter word, work. Working through college can significantly offset the cost and ensure you’re not graduating with a pile of loans hanging over your well-educated head.

On top of only using college loans for actual school expenses (a huge mistake I made) focus on driving your income up right out of college. Use your raises to pay off debt instead of inflating your lifestyle, not only will your debt drop faster but it is a great habit to form for your future investing plans.

Feel like I need to throw this out there, check into refinancing student loans after graduation, I was unnecessarily paying over 6% for a few years before refinancing.

How We Avoided Massive College Debt

Priceless Advice For The Graduate

How To Afford A College Education: Don’t Be An Idiot

Jeff Proctor

My number one tip to college students (and graduates) is two fold.

  1. After you graduate, automate your monthly student loan payments. Set your payments to some value above the minimum payment. That way you pay down your debt quicker, and it’s happening without you even having to think about. Getting out of your own way is really important, especially when it comes to putting more money towards something less than glamorous, like debt.
  2. Take it upon yourself to find a way to make extra money outside of your regular work/school. You’re young, and you have a lot of time after you get home from your 9 to 5 to work on a side hustle. Take advantage of this window of opportunity!

Laura Beattie

In order to become debt-free, you need a plan. Learn how to create a budget and then use it to find ways to make extra payments on your debts. Whether you find the money by living frugally or working a side job, the extra payments will add up quickly and shave years off the life of your loan.

Zack Friedman

Founder/CEO, Make Lemonade | @Forbes contributor | Former @Blackstone, @MorganStanley, @WhiteHouse | Executive, Entrepreneur, Investor | I like to build things

New York, NY

To become debt free in this economy, students should create an action plan. By developing a monthly budget of their projected debt, expenses and income, they can more easily understand the parameters of their financial life. Working during college can help alleviate some of the debt burden, as can repaying any credit card balances in full each month. Live below your means and be cautious regarding the amount of debt that you borrow. If you do need student loans to fund your education, make sure to maximize your federal student loans before borrowing any private loans.

Derek Sall

Director of Content & SEO, Life and My Finances

I hate debt. It keeps us down, makes us nervous, and is not the key to our happiness. I got rid of mine. Are you ready to get rid of yours?

West Michigan

My top tip (per my article ) is to attend school at a local state university. There are way too many kids that want to escape their parents’ jurisdiction, so they end up attending school out of state….which can be 3x more expensive!

According to the research I performed just last year, the residential tuition for the University of Michigan was $13,500 a year. Out-of-State tuition was $42,000! OUCH!

If you want to get out of college debt free, you’ve got to make the smart choice early on. Go to a local state college. Your future self will thank you.

Lauren Bowling

Blogger/Editor, Financial Best Life

Author, The Millennial Homeowner: A Guide to Successfully Navigating Your First Home Purchase

Get the Book on Amazon

Book a call with me here.

If college students want to be debt free in this economy, I recommend they live like college students for as long as they can right after school and make a dent in those student loan payments. Lifestyle inflation starts to creep in mid-to-late twenties and it may be hard to make large, aggressive progress later on.

Frederick P. Gabriel

Let’s call it the “beer factor” (my advance apologies to David Bach ).

Try cutting back beer consumption by 6 beers a week and investing that money instead. At $4 a beer that would result in a saving of $96 a month. If a 21 -year old student invested $96 a month over a period of 44 years (age 65), he or she would have $466.445.86 (assuming an 8% return).
And you might get through college without ever experiencing a hangover!
Tim Paziuk

Victoria, British Columbia       

For many students and new graduates, the debt burden that they have doesn’t seem real. For their entire education, it has been a number on a screen without any real impact on their day-to-day life as a student. Of course that all changes upon completion of their schooling, and seeing the intangible number become a real drain on finances can be disheartening and discouraging. Our advice would be to sit down with a professional and outline a specific plan for repayment that still leaves room for the day-to-day pleasures in life to ensure that you actually stick to the schedule. There is no use in creating a plan for repayment if it sets unrealistic spending limits or has a detrimental impact on your emotional well-being.

Set a realistic plan and stick to it!

Jeannette Bajalia  


( 904 ) – 824-5656

( 904 ) – 824- 5642

The number one tip I would have for students to get out of college debt is to take a current state assessment of how you are spending money. Typically, when you have debt issues, whether it’s credit card debt, student debt or other debt, usually it’s a spending issue. So, taking an assessment of how you use the money you do have would allow you to have a baseline to determine the depth and breadth of your spending habits and expense needs. For example, in my book Wi$e up Women, I offer a simple suggestion that works well but it takes discipline. Use the next 30 days and write down in a journal EVERY  SINGLE penny you spent. Yes, I mean every single penny!! Then at the end of 30 days, look at the money spent and categorize it in columns of what was essential to maintain your core lifestyle, and what was discretionary like going out to eat, recreation, etc. Typically, when you do this you will find at least $200-$250 if not more, that you can use to pay down student debt.

There is nothing wrong with the economy, there are jobs for those who desire to start working at the bottom of the ladder and grow with a company. Unfortunately, I personally believe the issue of student debt is getting blown out of proportion with the millennial generation. I am in the baby boomer generation, and grew up in family that didn’t have money to send me to college, so I worked full time and paid for my own college going to school at night to avoid student debt. What’s wrong with working to pay for school? So, if you have student debt, and you’re working, move back home and pay off debt, or get a part time job and use all the part time income to pay down debt, get on a budget and pay your debt obligations before you spend excessive money on social/recreation, figure out why you can’t pay off debt and create a plan to pay it off, and I can ramble off much more. There are ways for the committed and one of the ways is not the ” woe me syndrome “, it’s time to become an adult and assume the financial obligations of “decisions you’ve made and in the process become skilled in sound financial management.

To know that you’re going to be behind in college school debt over next six or seven years, you need to be planning for a way right now to be financially set to start paying down and or paying off your college school debt. If you want to make sure that you don’t get behind in college school debt, you should try to find work while you are in college. Because, then, you know you will be prepared, because , you will have some money to start paying off your college school debt when you’ve graduated from college. I know you can get out college school debt if you believe in yourself and work hard at it, because with God nothing is impossible you can do anything.

If you enjoyed this  post, you might also enjoy these three posts about college student debt , , .

If you are enjoying reading this post, I’d be very grateful and would really appreciate it, if you’d please help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Thank you!

Did you find any strategies of your own from these great tips and advice from this article that you can use to lower and or pay off your college school debt ? Do you have any tips to add?

Let me know in the comments section.

But in the meantime, here’s a tip you can use right away. If you’re in high school and you are planning on attending college, when you graduate high school, please make sure that you have a job. Because, then, you can save some money while you are in college to help pay down your college school debt and or pay off your college school debt, when you have graduated from college. And in about two or three years you ‘d probably have enough money from working to finally get out of college school debt.

I’ve got something big to announce next week. And also stay tuned for a more advanced post on a similar topic to the one that you’re reading now. Next week I’ll post about “ What Trump’s Presidency actually mean for Student Loan Borrowers ?

Also, please check out my ebook on amazon for ways to budget your home like a business. And mostly, I would like to thank all of the financial experts that participated in this article, because, without their great financial advice and great tips, this article wouldn’t quite be the same. So thank you all dearly and I hope to work with you all on many more article collaborations soon.

God Bless you all.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful and would really appreciate it, if you’d please help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Thank you!

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Longing for Belonging

By Gabriella van Rij  (originally featured in

Labels, labels, labels. Why can’t I just be known by “me”? Instead of by my affiliations, country, company, or religion? As an adoptee, perhaps I have felt the devastating effect of labels more strongly than others. Classmates labeled me orphan, Paki, peanut butter for my brown skin, and the list went on. And then labels I was given by my adopted family. You are Dutch now, they told me. And they tried to give me a new first name, along with their family name. Even as a small child, I refused. My name is Gabriella , I told them in broken English.

One’s country, culture, and religion are already very heavy labels, but then as we grow up, there are more and more labels… from whatever stupid thing you did in childhood to all the mistakes that played out publicly. It is very hard to navigate in a world without a label, both for ourselves and others. Some people want labels so that they can belong. Other people want labels so they can put others in a box in order to feel safe. Our society is so used to labeling that we don’t know any longer how to function without it… even in the days of my grandparents, you were the kid of the butcher, or from a rich family, these and other labels gave others a way to categorize you and know in their minds who you were…

But what about those who feel that no labels properly describe who they are? Like I say in my talks, when we have too many labels, it is always to the exclusion of others that do not fit the mold. Just because you do not want a certain label that you were born with, you are still faced with the universal problem of needing and wanting to belong to a group or a family, which is instinctive and very primal… And then what happens when our social interactions are severed and you feel like an outsider looking in?

I am boldly stating that I believe devastating things occur in our society when this happens. We need to feel belonging somewhere. If we cannot find it in our families, we will roam the world until we find belonging! Loneliness can drive us to find belonging in unexpected places because when you feel like an outsider that grass looks greener inside the group. It really feels like others have families, it feels like they are all happy and have jobs and are not struggling, which is an emotion outsiders often face.

You begin to look at these things:

– other cultures different from your own

– other religions different from your own

And when you start searching, you find that other cultures and religions have different sets of rules than what you are used to and you are learning to broaden your horizons, which in today’s diverse world is indeed a good thing. Now when we explore other religions, why do we do that? I believe we do this in hopes of finding an ideology to attach ourselves to.

Now the two similarities that I want to talk about is when one person finds the religion of Islam and another person finds the Catholic church as their salvation. What is the difference? Both people find something that makes them feel they belong… They finally found what seemed missing. Their loneliness and rudderlessness have been replaced by religion. And they have finally found a renewed purpose and meaning in their life.

The two people I am talking about: one is my mother who found solace and comfort in the Catholic Church, particularly during the time she lived alone from 1977 until her death in 2007, almost 30 years. That is a very long time, and you know what? Most of us would agree with me that this was great for her and that this religion gave her a renewed sense of purpose and a reason for living.

The other person I am talking about we will have a much harder time accepting. CNN recently ran a feature story on Michael Delefortrie, a young Belgian man who converted to Islam. He is not much different than my mother because he thought this specific religion was going to make him part of something greater than himself. He gave an interview and said; “I am no longer a Belgian, I am a Muslim.

There are a couple things that come to mind.

The young man finally feels belonging and part of something but is it going to give him what he is looking for? Does he realize that he replaced one label for another?

Because now I need to let you know that this young man then decided to travel to Syria to join ISIS. So he became what we call an extremist. Now here is where I make the connection…

My mother, of course, would not be considered an extremist but she suddenly went to church more often than she ever had before and she was someone who always talked about things in the Bible, etc… So in my eyes, I would say she became intense about her ideology, just like this young Belgian man did. Both were roped in slowly but surely… A new idea, a new concept and then slowly the group takes your arm and then you are part of them and somehow you feel whole and complete. And then in the case of the Belgian man, when asked if he would execute someone if asked, the answer was that yes, he would obey Islamic law.

What I find so devastating is that things happen to all of us while growing up, but not all of us can stand being alone, or feeling like an outcast, year in and year out. Whether it is because you are a divorced lady like in my mother’s case or whether you are this young man. Both followed an ideology that made them feel less alone, one obviously was violent and had to do things that the other did not have to. But both found solace within the group. And that is my point here…

It saddens me that religion filled that hole of loneliness in my mother and it saddens me that this young man had experienced such pain in his own country and in his own religion that it led him to look for belonging elsewhere.

I am not immune to this desire for belonging either! But because of my life experiences, I can see clearly how this desire drives so many people’s life stories and the extreme lengths people will go to to feel accepted. I have one leg in the East and one leg in the West and I am more than OK not to belong to either.

In our society, we must teach that there is room for those who feel that they don’t belong, that there is room for them to exist without a label, without having to go to such extremes to find belonging and connection.

Gabriella van Rij ( is a speaker, author and activist whose latest book, Watch Your Delivery, explores how we often fail in communicating. She began her life as an orphan in Pakistan, and today is a frequent guest on TV and radio. She also is the author of I Can Find My Might and With All My Might.

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