I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t in some sort of debt, whether it be student loan debt, credit card debt, or debt from a mortgage. And in a country that is in debt itself, it’s pretty hard to have a good understanding of money and how to manage it. Even now I’m still battling debt (although I’ve come a long, long way), so when I saw Molly’s post about her personal debt story, it gave me the courage to share mine as well.
I got my first credit card when I was in college. I was working part time in retail and the company had a store card. I figured it’d be a good way to build a little credit and I couldn’t do too much damage with the low credit limit. Instead of being responsible, I started spending money I literally didn’t have. Something new came into the store? I had to have it. It didn’t matter if I didn’t have the money in checking, because I had all the free money in the world I could need thanks to my credit card. I may not have been the “girl in the green scarf,” but I was happy to be the girl in the leopard scarf, red shoes, black dress and everything else I bought out of want instead of need.
My credit card count jumped from 1 to 3 and I started working at a more upscale retail store, so my debt only grew more as a result of my on a whim purchases. I was convinced I was getting a great bargain and that I was smart for getting clothes at discounted prices, but it’s never a bargain when you’re spending intangible money that doesn’t belong to you, money that isn’t real, money you didn’t earn.
One day, it finally hit me. I had spent thousands of dollars on almost clothes alone. I used all the money I’d made from photographing a wedding to make a credit card payment, and it still barely made a dent in what I owed. My debt wasn’t huge, but in comparison to the money I was earning each month, it was overwhelming. I’d justified shirt after dress after scarf convincing myself I needed it, paying no attention to my monthly expenses and things that were more important, like school supplies and groceries. I vowed that I would cut back and really start focusing on paying the cards down, but I still kept slipping up.
It wasn’t until I made the decision to move to Florida that I really faced my problem. If I moved, that would mean no job, and I didn’t know for how long. I didn’t want to be burdened with my credit card debt, and I didn’t want John to become responsible for my own bad choices. I also had student loan debt that I was paying down, and I’d have no way to keep up with all of my expenses if I was jobless. Then and there I vowed to myself to get rid of as much debt as I possibly could before moving.
I stayed true to my goal, cutting back on things I didn’t need and budgeting my money each month. I wrote down my monthly expenses and subtracted that from my monthly earnings so I could visualize where my money needed to go and how much I would have left over. I found writing it down helped me understand where my money was going and how much I really had leftover (sometimes hard to see on an online statement). I still had fun, but I paid a lot more attention to what I was purchasing and if I could actually afford it or not.
Although I didn’t get rid of all my debt before moving, I’m proud to report I only owe $400 today (besides my student loan, but that’s another story). I’ve learned to treat my credit card as an emergency (no, not fashion emergency) card rather than something to be used on a daily basis. As a result of going through credit card debt, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of having a budget and managing my money each month. I’ve learned that you should never ever spend more than what you make, because it can and WILL catch up with you. And more importantly, I’ve learned that I don’t always need new clothes or shoes and my wardrobe isn’t going to suffer without that amazing dress I saw at the store. Already, with two of my cards completely paid off and the third close to being paid off, I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I know the feeling will only be better when I make that final payment.
Have you struggled with debt in the past? How did you or are you overcoming it now? What did you learn from it? Feel free to comment or inbox me: firstname.lastname@example.org.