Life and Debt in Mexico City
Laura Marie is a name I made up for a young woman in Mexico City who was nice enough to talk to me about her money and her debt.
Logan Sachon: Hi Laura Marie in Mexico City. Tell me about you.
Laura Marie: I grew up in a small town in Southern Mexico. Well it’s not THAT small but it has a very…traditional feeling — I’m 25 and my Facebook is full of weddings. I moved to Mexico City almost two years ago. I applied for jobs once I got here and in less than a week I was in my current job. That was pure luck. I work for a small public relations company basically — I run the website and do video interviews.
LS: Tell me about Mexico City! I’ve never been. I’ve heard it’s so lovely.
LM: I like it a lot. It is so chaotic and everything takes forever, but I have some days when I just look around and feel so GREAT. I am here and I did it all by myself. Also I don’t get lost on the subway anymore!
LS: Do you make enough to live comfortably?
It is EXPENSIVE, I feel like they charge me every time I go out. But that’s because in Mexico (specially not-Mexico City-Mexico) nobody leaves their parents’ house until they get married. When I moved here, I moved from my parents’ house, so I went from not paying for food or rent (I’ve paid my fun and clothes since I was 15) to paying for everything. But public transportation is super cheap, I pay 8 pesos [$0.61] in total every day to get to my office, and the subway is subsidized by the government so it costs 3 pesos [$0.23] for a ride. It is really amazing how you can get to the other side of the city for 3 pesos. I don’t have a car because I can’t drive and the traffic here is crazy.
My rent is 3,000 pesos ($287) plus utilities a month, and I live in a huge ’40s house with four roomies. I found it on the internet and I love it. I know I could be paying a lot less, but I love living so close to my job and the neighborhood is very safe and pretty, so I value that a lot. I make around 10,000 pesos a month ($763). When I started I made 6,000 ($458) and that was insane, it was even less than what I made in my hometown, but I asked for more and I got it.
I live comfortably. I can go out, and I just bought a ticket for a music festival. I can go home twice a year and do a little traveling by bus. But I used to save a lot more, since I was a teenager, and I feel terrible that my savings now are between 1 an 2 thousand pesos ($76-$152). I think about money all the time and what if I get fired or sick or something.
LS: Do you have health insurance? Or how does healthcare work in Mexico, I’m afraid I’m very ignorant about life in your country.
LM: I have insurance but I’ve never used it. I go to a private gynecologist and if I have a cold I go to the drug store doctor. Do you have those? Most drugstores here have a general doctor and they charge you either nothing or 30 pesos.
I am pretty healthy so I’ve never been sick enough to miss work more than a couple of days, and then I just work from home and my bosses are fine with that.
LS: Did you go to university?
LM: Yeah. I went to a private four-year university. I studied Communications and I did really well, but I don’t have my official degree yet because of some complicated money reasons. Basically I thought my father could pay for the school, but he couldn’t. The school let me finish anyway. They could have just not let me finish my classes, but they did. My father has some connections there, but I don’t know how powerful or if that has something to do with it. But I can’t get the degree until I pay. I am not paying the debt and the school isn’t really doing anything about it, but I know some day that will totally explode.
LS: That’s very stressful sounding!
LM: It is! My stomach hurts when I remember! I guess my option would be to get credit, pay the school, and then pay the credit, but I don’t have the money to do that. I’d have to give up my life here and live at home. But my sisters and my mom live in a two-bedroom, so living at home is not an option. So I guess my plan is to develop my career here and handle it when I earn some more money.
LS: How much money is it?
LM: Around 100,000 pesos ($7,629) for two unpaid semesters. Sometimes I imagine getting a job that pays like 50,000 pesos and just paying it in two or three months. It’s not like an impossible amount of money, but also it is.
LS: Do your friends have debt? Do they know about yours?
LM: Most of my friends come from a more wealthy background. They either don’t have debt or have a little credit card debt. My best friend has some and we talk about it. She’s trying to pay hers up within the year.
My best friends know, but it is hard for them to wrap their heads around it, because their parents would just pay their school. My boyfriend doesn’t have any debt or credit cards and he also knows about me, but we don’t talk about it that much.
LS: So you just need to pay this debt to get your diploma.
LM: I had very good grades, so I would just have to take an online course, which costs around 10,000 ($763). The hardest part would be the social service, which is something all university students have to do. It’s like 600 hours working for a nonprofit or a government office. But I guess I could do something online and some people just plain skip it, if someone can help them. The social service is a good idea in theory, but you have to do it on your last semester, when most students are already working, so you have to give up a paying gig to do almost nothing and not get paid.
LS: Is there a controversy about it, a debate?
LM: I don’t know that there is like a national debate, there is just so much to…debate abut in this country. And also the Mexican point of view is “the government wants to screw us up, how are we going to get out of this?” So you just handle it the best way you can… sometimes cheating, sometimes just doing it and complaining.
If you go to a public university, it’s more accepted like a payment for the education you got, but in a private one, the state really didn’t do anything for you, so doing work for free for them is kind of pointless.
LS: Why did you choose to go to a private university?
LM: Oh, that is a good one. Mostly I was 18 and stupid. I chose a really cheap one, cheaper than my very expensive exclusive private school that I attended from kindergarden to high school, so I figured it was fine. But then my father’s financial situation changed and either he didn’t communicate it or I refused to acknowledge it — that was around 4th semester. My mom says she warned me, I remember mostly side comments and not a real earnest talk. I loved my teachers and classes, but I could have just gone to the public one. I really regret that.
LS: How often do you think about the debt? Do you get notices from the school?
LM: Some weeks I think about it every day, sometimes I go a month. I could probably get a payment plan, because I guess they think that money is lost so they’d rather get SOMETHING. I don’t get notices, it is really weird.
LS: Have you had trouble getting work because you don’t have your official diploma?
LM: Not really. I guess it could happen if I wanted to work for a huge corporation, but even those usually ask for either a degree of years of experience, and I’ve been working in media since second semester, so I have some four years of experience.
Also it is funny because I have a certificate that shows I was the best student of my class, but I don’t have anything else that proves that I went to that school.
Now that I’m writing it down it sounds like I really should do something about it and it is stupid not to. I’ve been frugal my whole life and this is the first time that, even if I think about money all the time, I feel somewhat free…so giving that up is hard. But it will be just some months of my life and then I’ll feel even more free.