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Dealing with culinary student loan debt and still work at a line cooks wage

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 

Here is my situation.  After cooking for years, I decided to go to the Culinary Institute of America for four years.  At this point it is a regret.  At least doing the four year program was.  I am grossing about $750 a week and taking home under $600.  I work anywhere from 60-75 hours a week.  I have no problem with my pay rate or the amount of hours I work.  I love what I do, but given those restrictions, I can't really get a second job.  So, now that my student loan payments have gone into effect, I am paying over $1,100 a month in student loan payments.  Add on my rent, utilities, car insurance for a car that I always have to fix and is currently not working, cell phone, etc. and I am as broke as could be with a take home of $2,300,  Anyone else out there been through this?  I don't know how I am supposed to continue doing what I love when it is such a low income compared to my debt.  Any recommendations on dealing with these huge loans?  I can reduce a small portion of my federal loans, but it won't impact my private loans and is just a short term fix.  How have you dealt with this problem?

post #2 of 34

Move back home.

 

Give up the car and take public transit, if it's an option. A top of the line, unlimited, regional pass here in Los Angeles is around 80-90 bucks. A lot cheaper then car ownership. I have to pay a tradeoff though. Sometimes it takes a a bit longer to get to where I'm going, but I use that for my reading/thinking time.

post #3 of 34

Your rate of pay is impressive for being a line cook. I agree with tin, give up the car, and there is never a better way to save money than to move back in with your parents, or get some roommates. Sorry to hear about your situation, but that is a really great culinary degree.

post #4 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by nebraskabeef View Post

Your rate of pay is impressive for being a line cook



Uhm, that's 60-70 hours a week.

post #5 of 34

Your problem is an income crisis. You can't work a job that only pays your 2,300 a month with 1,100 in school loans a month. You will have to increase your income plain and simple. It is sad to say but you will probably have to leave this job and go and get another job that pays better. In similar situation I have heard of people who have their masters in social work and ended up cleaning homes for $80.00 a pop because they made more money. Your other option is to get your school loans put on hard ship deferral until you get yourself a better paying job. Remember school loans are NOT bankrupt-able so you can't file bankruptcy to get rid of them.

 

Here are some things to consider

  • Read "The Total Money Maker Over" by Dave Ramsey this will help you get a solid plan.
  • Do you have a car payment? If so sell your car and get a 1,000 - 2,000 beater with no payments and drive that till you get this paid off. 
  • Face the fact you will probably have to get a different job that pays better or get a second job to deal with this. It is a mess no easy way out.
  • How much other debt do you have? Credit cards, health?
  • Cut your lifestyle to rice and beans. If you can move in with your parents for 1-2 years to get this taken care of then go for it.

 

 

Beating a dead horse, you need to find a more realistic income. If you are working 75 hours a week your are working 300 hours a month and at 2,300 a month your making about 7.60 an hour. In short you are working too hard for what you are getting paid. It is great if you love what you do but in this situation you need to get a plan and get out of debt as fast as possible. Staying at a job that pays you 7.60 an hour makes no sense even if you love where your working. Sadly you could make more at McDonalds. 

 

 

The reality is that someone should of counselled you a bit about the reality of taking on so many loans and the ability for your career choice to pay them off. 

 

 

My wife and I were in a very similar situation $65,000 in school loans, two car payments, and 4,500 on credit cards (little over 100K) when we got married. We read the Total Money Make Over and with a ton of hard work and sacrifice we were out of debt in two years (everything but the house). If you have more questions I am happy to help talk you through this. We lead a Financial Peace University class and deal with similar situations all the time. 

 

Hope that helps you.

 

 

Thanks,

Nicko 
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Thanks,

Nicko 
ChefTalk.com Founder
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post #6 of 34

Just the reason I am going back to engineering, more money.

post #7 of 34

This thread is a very repetitive one and indicative of the complete lack of basic research tons and tons of culinary students are not doing before enrolling.

 

post #8 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChefDave11 View Post

This thread is a very repetitive one and indicative of the complete lack of basic research tons and tons of culinary students are not doing before enrolling.

 


 

More indicative of the fact that the schools tend to misinform students of what awaits them after graduation.

post #9 of 34

Actually, a student loan is somehow attractive for many reasons. That is why it is a great business for debt collectors and investors. Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. The debt can also be be paid for with wage garnishments and other forced payments that are simply not available for most other types of debt. There are trillions of dollars of student loans currently in the US market, and $67 billion of that debt is in default. Though there are programs to help loans in default, federal debt collectors may not be providing those programs to struggling lenders.


Edited by Angelica Jones - 8/28/12 at 2:55am
post #10 of 34

I knew prior to checking out culinary schools, that if I was lucky I was going to be making $12.00-13.00/hour. I was talking to our Executive Chef the other week about this actually. I think one of the benefits of attending culinary school in my mid/late 20's was, I was more mature than I was after graduating high school and planning on attending culinary school. I had already worked as a dishwasher, prep/pantry cook and talked to several veteran Chefs about my long term goals, within the culinary industry. So, I knew if I was going to attend culinary school, the reality was that I would not be making much to start. So, I think it is really all about researching prior to enrolling into any culinary school.

 

I have a few friends in the industry, who all share a place together. All Cooks/Chefs. I think this is personally a great idea. Not only does it help out everyone financially, but it also brings together several different heads..all in the same boat and all a passion for this industry.

 

 

 

post #11 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by kuan View Post



Uhm, that's 60-70 hours a week.


750 dollars divided by 70 hours, that's still almost 11 dollars an hour. I have never made that as a line cook, or now paid my line cooks that much. Must be in a higher cost of living area, I suppose.

 

post #12 of 34

$750 gross is going to be around $560 after taxes, take that by 70 hours a week and that's 8 dollars flat.

 

 

I'd much rather work a 40 hour job, then get another partime job for the other 30 hours, you're sure to make more money somewhere.

 

There is plenty of money to be made in this business, even as a line cook, trust me.

 

Private dining clubs, private country clubs, etc.. all pay more money, even for cooks.

post #13 of 34

I think RJ's got it right. Go where the money is. I've been working at a country club for the last 16 years and would never go back to a regular Restaurant. I'm paid very well and rarely work over 40-45 hours. Golf, for free, when I want and get to work with the best of the best ingredients. Also your always doing something different, weddings, line service, golf events , BBQ, etc.... Follow the money

post #14 of 34

As much as i love to cook it, unfortunately it isnt always a high paying job. In fact very rarely is even after 8 years or so cooking im only making 1300 every two weeks and im working on average 120 hours during that pay period which is ok but when you have a wife and child, and your living in an area where the average cost of a 3 bedroom family home can cost anywhere between 1400 to 2600 a month. Things can be very difficult i was just fortunate to find a deal on a very nice 2 bedroom condo for my family while at the same time still enjoying the smaller things in life. My point is for aspiring culinarians would be; if your looking to make money fast this isnt the career for you. It takes years and years of hard work and stress and well... bullshit... lol, 

post #15 of 34

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by fryguy View Post

I think RJ's got it right. Go where the money is. I've been working at a country club for the last 16 years and would never go back to a regular Restaurant. I'm paid very well and rarely work over 40-45 hours. Golf, for free, when I want and get to work with the best of the best ingredients. Also your always doing something different, weddings, line service, golf events , BBQ, etc.... Follow the money

 

exactly, I love being in clubs.

 

52 hours this week was the longest i've worked since last year, by a long shot. There's always something going on, and you get plenty of downtime in the offseason.

post #16 of 34

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Flattop View Post



Quote:
Originally Posted by ChefDave11 View Post

This thread is a very repetitive one and indicative of the complete lack of basic research tons and tons of culinary students are not doing before enrolling.

 


 

More indicative of the fact that the schools tend to misinform students of what awaits them after graduation.

 

 

It is solely, completely and unequivocally any potential culinary student's RESPONSIBILITY and personal OBLIGATION to educate him/herself about the industry BEFORE even applying to culinary school.

That means working in a restaurant and speaking to chefs and cooks and culinary school grads in the workforce - NOT necessarily people associated with the culinary school as it is their job to enroll you and take your tuition money.  Many people will be straight-up with you, but not necessarily so.

 

Darwinism at its finest. If you're too stupid to do proper research about this industry that you want to enter, you're too stupid to work for me.

post #17 of 34

my advice take it for what it's worth I've been out of school for 6 years and have an Exec job and the pay is decent but I still have loans... i love the comment about the "Total Money Makeover" my dad gave this book to me and I just started reading it and realizing some things I've done wrong and some I've done right. I still have student loans and the help I've seeked is to defer, with the economy the way it is it's easy to defer and I pay what I can each month without going to garnishing wages... it's not ideal but neither is the cost of a good culinary school (which after 6 years I'm still not 100% sure it was my best investment, I went to a Le Cordon Bleu school in Pittsburgh, PA)

I also am married to a wife that doesn't work but the trade is we have a almost 3 year old child so we don't pay daycare expenses.... money is a touchy subject and you have to figure out what's best for you.

I currently lean more towards increasing my 401K, savings account, mutual funds, and childs college fund apposed to paying off student loans, again just for me personally.

post #18 of 34

Just a comment for "ChefDave".... you obviously did not go to school, what culinary school does for you is give you that peice of paper that large, high paying employers want to see, it does not promise you anything but also gets you places and money faster than not going to school. Not to mention if you are in my boat of finally realizing being a chef is not a great job for someone with a family you have the opportunity to apply and accept other positions such as a sales rep.... which is what I'm currenty in the process of just to be able to spend more time with my family!

post #19 of 34

I am glad in one respect that I am not young anymore. In this day and age it is harder then it was in mine.  There were many more jobs , your money purchased more value. It was a different world. There were no credit cards. If you could not afford to buy it then ,you didn't except major purchases which was credit not credit card. The country was not trillions in debt. A few politicians wer crooked not almost all.

        I went to a movie for 25 cents and have old menues that that nothing was over $1.00.

  Today to rear a child cost the average couple about 150 to 200000. over a lifetime. First rent I remember paying was $70.00 a month 5 rooms walk up railroad  flat style....Things today are made so easy that no effort is involved, this curbs initiative and the go getter mentality... I sometime think I was lucky to be born when I was.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #20 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by RetreatChef View Post

Just a comment for "ChefDave".... you obviously did not go to school, what culinary school does for you is give you that peice of paper that large, high paying employers want to see, it does not promise you anything but also gets you places and money faster than not going to school. Not to mention if you are in my boat of finally realizing being a chef is not a great job for someone with a family you have the opportunity to apply and accept other positions such as a sales rep.... which is what I'm currenty in the process of just to be able to spend more time with my family!

 

How can you say it doesn't promise you anything, but turn around and say it WILL get you places faster? Not true at all. If a company turned down an educated person in this industry who knew the ins and outs of the entire business over a person with a piece of paper at hand, that would tell me they run a kitchen full of employees with no real hands on experience. They just spent a lot of money to meet people and get a couple good books. I'm not trying to put down culinary students or people who have went to culinary school. However working with a lot of people who have and will be in debt for a REALLY long time, they really don't even know where to turn to on the line during a busy Saturday night dinner rush fresh on the job. 

 

I think if any person is serious about making this a career, they should go to college for business, and get a job in a kitchen where a chef who knows a lot can teach them so they can learn about the business while getting real experience. If someone has spent years and years in this industry and is still at the bottom, that is their own fault for not giving it their all and outsourcing. Like a few have said, there are high paying places like clubs and what not. If money is a problem and you want it bad enough, what will you do to get there?

 

Would I want a culinary degree on my resume? Of course. 

Will I pay thousands of dollars and learn a few techniques when I can get a job with a renowned chef who will teach me more in 6 months than anyone will in 2 years of culinary school and pick up the same exact books culinary students read? More than likely not because I can take advantage of all of the ''free'' education around me. By free, I mean I am getting paid to work, but learning at the same time and taking everything for what it's worth. Also I am using that money to buy the same books and other things that will give me knowledge. 

post #21 of 34

Whenever I hired I tried getting guys or girls with practical experience and 95 % was right in hireing. Most times when I hired from CIA etc. I was very dissapointed. They thouight just because the went there they were above the others. This proved wrong in majority of situations. I am not going by heresay, I am going by my experiences and my observations. It grew to a point that I would not hire them anymore.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #22 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cookers View Post

 

How can you say it doesn't promise you anything, but turn around and say it WILL get you places faster?

 

Will I pay thousands of dollars and learn a few techniques when I can get a job with a renowned chef who will teach me more in 6 months than anyone will in 2 years of culinary school and pick up the same exact books culinary students read? More than likely not because I can take advantage of all of the ''free'' education around me. By free, I mean I am getting paid to work, but learning at the same time and taking everything for what it's worth.

 

What RetreatChef posted is accurate. No culinary school is going to promise you any thing. There are no guarantees of success just because you attend school and graduate. Something like 60% of all culinary grads never spend a full year in this industry.  A degree will get you an advanced position faster on average. You can certainly make it with out a degree but the vast majority IME that think they have it all figured out and have found a way to "beat the system" by skipping school and doing the OJT route wind up spending their entire career as cooks. This industry is full of people 50+ doing the same thing they were doing 30 years ago and living pay check to pay check.  Surely some will make solid careers with out going to school but on average they will make  less $$ over their career. 

Having said that going to business school is not a bad idea but by all means do go to school!  ;)

Contrary to Ed's experiences I've hired many from the CIA. A few weren't worth the powder to blow them up and I have no idea how they even graduated. Most I've worked with went on to have very successful careers.

 

No offense to any one but IMO there's some seriously flawed math in this thread. You simply can't count net income when calculating an hourly wage. The Op said he/she is making $750 per week and they are averaging 67.5 hours per week. That's over $11 per hour. Not less than $8. Sorry but your going to have to pay taxes if your work...at least in the US. We also have no idea if the OP is getting insurance, 401K etc deducted from the gross pay.

Surely net income is what we all pay attention to however we have no idea WHERE the OP lives. In Fl that means to state income tax, in other states that tax could be very high. $11 an hour is a pittance in NYC and a killer wage in Iowa. So with out context it's quite hard to offer insightful financial advice other than to suggest living with in your means.

Student loans can be re-financed. Typically most have taken several loans so they have several payments. By re-financing that into a single payment it can greatly reduce the monthly burden. Also many lenders now offer a lower rate by a quarter to half % if you use auto-debit payments.

 

Dave

I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
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I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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post #23 of 34
Originally Posted by Cookers View Post
 when I can get a job with a renowned chef who will teach me more in 6 months than anyone will in 2 years of culinary school

Schools are theoretically geared and set up to teach with education being the primary focus; whereas restaurants have production as the primary focus with education being a being a naturally occurring by product, so it seems to follow that in any set given amount of time, you will get more exposure to different recipes, skills, and techniques from school than working in a restaurant.

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post #24 of 34
Quote:

Will I pay thousands of dollars and learn a few techniques when I can get a job with a renowned chef who will teach me more in 6 months than anyone will in 2 years of culinary school

With the way the industry is now, the degree is almost needed to get your foot in the door to learn from a renowned chef.  Some people may have connections and have an easier time of it, but it's very hard to get into top restaurants now if you have little/no experience, even if you are willing to work for free.  I dont really see a culinary degree as "an education" anymore as you really dont learn THAT much that is valid to the industry, but that piece of paper is still very important when you are trying to land those first few jobs that will shape the rest of your career.

post #25 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by cheflayne View Post

Schools are theoretically geared and set up to teach with education being the primary focus; whereas restaurants have production as the primary focus with education being a being a naturally occurring by product, so it seems to follow that in any set given amount of time, you will get more exposure to different recipes, skills, and techniques from school than working in a restaurant.

 

I agree and disagree. I can see working in a regular upper class restaurant preventing someone from learning all that they can as you would in school. However I work in a restaurant where the menu changes seasonally, we order any ingredients we want to work with, and I'm allowed to experiment with whatever I want. The only downside to that is there's only so much time in a day to try out multiple things. So I do agree if a person works in a restaurant where they don't have that accessibility I can see school being in their favor of learning. 

post #26 of 34

Education is of value, for most individuals, if the knowledge and skill learned can be applied in some manner that earns $$$, whether the education is obtained in a formal school setting or acquired through an apprenticeship or learned through OJT.

 

Schooling, apprenticeship, or OJT  may impart knowledge and develop skills, but unless the knowledge imparted and the skills developed are seen by an employer as worth $$$ or can be applied to create a successful business where customers are willing to part with their money for the services or products provided, schooling, apprenticeship, or OJT is worthless.

 

A diploma, certificate, AA/AS, BA/BS, MA/MS, or even a PhD gains value only when the knowledge and/or skills acquired are put to use!

 

IMHO, a cook is a tradesman, a chef is a manager.

 

It does not make economic or financial sense to pay excessive $$$ to learn a trade.

 

For a cook to become a chef, one must learn personnel management, inventory management, business finance fundamentals, business law basics, and business management in addition to the trade skills of a cook.

 

Is it worth the money to learn to be a cook? Probably not.

 

Is it worth the money to become educated to manage some form of a culinary business? Probably.
 

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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post #27 of 34
Thread Starter 
I had almost completely forgotten about this post. It turned up on a Google search. Anyway, things are not really any better. My girlfriend is in a similar situation as myself. Thank you for all of your replies. I have not left the kitchen yet. For the record, I didn't just jump into school with glorified Food Network thoughts. I had been cooking for almost eight years. I knew the reality of the work. When I started school I was given a large discount, but as new semesters began, it was "get a private loan or go home." Even my "estimated federal payments" where about 50% off. My words of advice, if you're a "rich kid" or your local government is going to pay your way like a lot of people I went to school with, go to The Culinary Institute of America. If you have little to no help like me, don't. In an attempt to better myself, I have destroyed what was once a pretty comfortable life.
post #28 of 34
Thread Starter 
Also, as far as CIA goes, but I am not sure about other schools, African Americans and single mothers that I have spoken with about their debt got a lot of assistance and were not in bad shape.
post #29 of 34
Thread Starter 
My last remarks for the time being are on two subjects. For the person who posted that most of the CIA grads they have hired have been a let down, I could not agree with you more. They hurt the reputation of my degree. I have coined them "CIA Brats" and I think that they make up the vast majority of grads, but there are still some great ones. I had to contact my boss many times to get a trail where I work now simply because he didn't want to hire a CIA grad. I proved myself and got the job, but my degree actually made it harder. Also, does anyone understand why big name chefs are not speaking out against the costs of these schools or starting some charities for relief? Instead they are promoting the schools, coming onto campus for demos and publicity shots, and even becoming board members?
post #30 of 34
Thread Starter 

As I continue to read other people's posts, I have more that I want to say.  First let me start by saying that yes, I could make more money in management, but that is not what I put my life on hold to do. I did it to further my career as a cook.  The system is really messed up.  I had a very good education.  I am not sure if any other culinary school could have given me a better education.  I walked out with a lot of knowledge.  Some of the chefs are jokes and should be fired though.  I had one who gave the class a demonstration on tamales.  During the process, he cut himself and did not notice.  He continued to smear blood all over the masa.  Once he noticed, he simply washed his hands, put on a bandage, and continued the process of working the blood into the masa.  The problem, he tried to feed it to us when it was done!  So, there are flaws.  Lots and lots of them, but a lot of the chefs and professors are very skilled.  Maybe,  they would have a better staff if they didn't lock salaries while giving the president a 250k a year raise.  Which gets me to my point, the President.  Our first day we get a big lecture from super CMC PhD President Tim Ryan (who received a vote of no confidence and still remains).  It is referred to as "the carrot peeling attitude" lecture.  It consists of a lecture how once we are graduates, we should be more than happy to spend a year just doing menial prep work like peeling vegetables.  I could not agree more if your goal is to work in the best kitchens in the world.  The flaw, is that it isn't possible to attempt to take this path, the one most of us were there to achive, and work with the best chefs when you have to make enough money to pay huge loans if you aren't a "rich" kid.  This is a school that was created to out help veterans find work.  Do you think, that at this point, when tuition seems to rise twice a year, that they care about people who are looking for a good profession?  No.  Had I known all of this at the time of his "carrot peeling attitute" lecture, I would have taken my CIA standard issue peeler, the huge and heavy POS that it was, that would leave you with a toothpick of a carrot left, but it was fancy so they could charge us more for it, instead of a great $3 peeler, I would have thrown it at his head!

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