Credit card debt is like a dirty little secret we carry around with us and don’t want anyone to know about. Like if we don’t talk about it it’s almost like it doesn’t exist. On the surface it looks like we have our sh!t together and life is grand. But in reality, we cringe everytime we have to face our account balance- we have no extra money and the thought of fully paying it off feels impossible. It wasn’t always like that though- at first we felt in control, only really spent what we had or what was on its way, and paid it off each month. Then our budget gets tighter, emergencies pop up we don’t have the cash for, we get used to seeing a regular CC balance and start only paying minimums each month. We thought we were more responsible than this and could manage things better, then the feelings of shame and disappointment settle in. I have gone through this and felt this way for years now until finally I was ready to face my secret head on.
In this post series I am going totally transparent with you to share my own experience and advice on overcoming. I realize this is opening myself up for criticism and being viewed as irresponsible, a failure, immature, the list can go on. But I know I am not those things, even though certain choices I’ve made in the past may have been. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s how we reflect on them, make changes and grow in a positive direction from them that shows who we are. I hope this resonates with anyone who has found themselves in a similar situation, and if you aren’t making changes already make this your “sign” to do so.
Some of you may be thinking, OOO so that’s how she went off traveling through Europe! I can proudly say that trip was completely paid for by me, no credit cards allowed. By that time I was already frustrated with my debt situation and was determined to not let the amazing Europe experience be tainted by the regret of more debt later. I was extremely frugal 90% of my time overseas and spent cash I actually had. I could have eaten out WAY more, gone to the bars at night, done more shopping or stayed at nicer places. I treated myself once in awhile, usually my last night in a city, but day-to-day I was a total cheapo! If you think you need a lot of money to travel Europe, you’re wrong.
My Dirty Debt Story
Like so many others I already had/have student debt from college. I’ve been working since I was 15 (technically 12 if you count babysitting) have been 100% on my own since I was 18, put myself through college, paid for all my art supplies (can you say $$$), my own rent and all of my own bills. I used to be jealous of friends of mine whose parents were able to put them through school, who didn’t graduate with a huge burden on their shoulders, who didn’t know the feelings I was feeling. Maybe if I had that I wouldn’t have been so tight financially and wouldn’t have been “pushed” into “needing” a credit card to get me by (notice the quotation marks because it’s total BS what we tell ourselves sometimes). First of all jealousy is a wasted feeling- we are all different and you should never hold negative feelings towards others who are simply in a different situation than you. Second of all, instead of feeling sorry for myself I should have been feeling proud, how freaking badass was I for making it happen all on my own all those years. I remember calling my mom for money ONCE- I was $50 short of making rent and had no other option. Another time I almost ran out of gas driving, I had no money to get gas until I worked again waiting tables. The only money I had was a tiny amount in a savings account I only had access to via a written check, which gas stations don’t take. I didn’t have a smartphone yet to transfer money right then and there, I just sat there in the parking lot feeling helpless. Luckily my car made it home, barely, and I was able to transfer some cash from my computer and get refueled. Definitely some poor planning and a learning experience. While it was hard, really hard sometimes, I look back now and see how it pushed me to be resourceful, a really hard worker, to be more determined, and it instilled in me that your life is YOUR responsibility. But towards the end of college and after, when I should have really been budgeting, I made a different decision.
When I first got my credit card it had a $800 limit and for a while everything was just fine. Now it has a $14,000 limit, even though I never asked for or approved a limit increase. At some point I should have told them to stop periodically increasing my limit, but I ignored it and just let it happen. I got to the debt breaking point when it reached around $10k and knew I couldn’t continue to block it out of my mind. I don’t even want to know how much interest I have paid now, it would just be depressing. I would say around 25% of the debt came from things I genuinely needed but didn’t have the money – things like mechanic bills to fix my car and keep it running. The rest, it amazes me how so many small things can get out of control. If you know me personally you know I am not strutting around in the latest fashion trends, designer clothes, perfectly manicured from head to toe, or have a nice, new car. So where did all the money go?
After college I got my first Jr. Designer job, and was slowly climbing that designer ladder (which as you can probably guess usually is not a high paying one by any means, until later… maybe). I learned quickly if I was going to be as successful as I wanted I would need to push my career path into another direction, but more on that later. A few years later I got my own apartment and was roommate-less for the first time. I have such mixed feelings about this now- on one hand living alone was one of the best experiences for me. I absolutely loved it and feel during that time I learned so much about myself and really grew into my own. In a lot of ways I became someone I am truly proud of during that time. On the other hand, I was not financially ready, and so the snowball of debt seemed to pick up speed from there. I already was carrying some CC debt that wasn’t paid off beforehand, now add on all the expenses of living alone, with a less than impressive income, while keeping almost the same spending habits- not a good recipe. I really don’t regret living on my own, but I should have had a well constructed, strict budget instead of ignoring it.
I 100% got accustomed to and was maintaining a lifestyle I could not afford yet. It’s the dinners and drinks with friends at cool places around town too many times, buying a round of drinks when I had no business doing so, taking uber too often, going on a few little trips and paying for airfare, car rentals and dining out.
Shopping a little and telling myself because it’s cheap and it’s a deal it’s fine, when in reality, it’s NOT a good deal when you’re charging it to a credit card you have no ability to pay off.
None of it was extravagant, but when you’re in CC debt anything extra is outside your means. No one likes being the cheap friend, the one who has to say no. The one who maybe should eat at home before going out and just come out for a beer instead of that o-so-yummy glass of N.Z. Sauv Blanc you really want… which is twice the price of a beer… which you order anyways… and then order another… and then maybe another. At some point something’s got to give when you’re living outside your means, but at the time I was not ready to give it up yet.
When the debt reached around $10k and I started to be honest with myself about the problem I was in the midst of transitioning my career into what I really wanted. Working for myself remotely, with freedom to take the business wherever I chose instead of being confined by an employer- waiting for that next step up or the next little raise. Also around this time I was preparing to leave for 3 months in Europe. I am sure many would wonder how I could been considering going to Europe at all in my situation, but I had this overwhelming need inside of me to experience the world. I knew I could always use money as an excuse to not go and it would never happen. I made sure I was so careful to do it without the help of credit cards and working remotely along the way made that possible. I made a promise to myself for those 3 months abroad I would keep my minimum payments going, but when I returned my focus was getting rid of that debt and changing my lifestyle. Literally the best decision I ever made- the trip changed me, added so much richness to my life beyond any amount of money, and I returned feeling so fulfilled and ready to knuckle down.
While overseas I remember feeling so disgusted and frustrated by the amount of money I was being drained of by debt each month. Partly the credit card but also the student loan debt- just all of it. I was robbing myself of feeling successful because so much of my income was gone immediately. I would think about all the things I COULD be using my earnings for, but I had to pay off my bad choices before being able to live that way. In part 2 of Dirty Debt Secrets I’ll be sharing with you what has truly helped me make big changes towards CC debt payoff, and debt payoff in general.
Have you found yourself lost in the debt downslide? Are you in a similar situation now and continue to ignore it? Maybe your debt is much smaller than mine was, maybe it’s WAY bigger. Regardless though make this your time to start making positive changes in your life to rid yourself of that burden. Comment below with a declaration of change for accountability, or reflect, be honest with yourself and stay tuned for Part 2.