Debt, especially credit card debt, has a way of sneaking up on you.
The first time I paid off a chunk load of credit card debt, I didn’t intend for it to ever happen again. I also didn’t intend for it to happen again after my parents bailed me out the first time this happened. No one ever does.
The mistake I made the time my parents bailed me out was not fixing my income problem. Even without the debt, I struggled to pay all of my bills, and that is before I did anything fun at all. I had cheap fun back then, I had to, but even $10 for a weekend movie was putting a strain on my budget.
So, the next time I had a mountain of debt, we fixed my income problem. How could it possibly happen again, right?!
I made several mistakes this next time. One of which was not cutting up ALL of the cards. The other was moving just a couple of months after paying off those cards. I put building up my emergency fund on hold because I needed a few new things for my new place, of course! New pillows, new lamps, a new desk! The desk was only 40 dollars and the lamps were 50% off, but those purchases add up.
Also, I sold my laptop when I was getting out of debt, and while I had a desktop computer, as a writer, I needed a laptop for those few times a year when I’m away from home! (cough)
Most of the things I bought were with cash that I was supposed to be saving into my emergency fund. The new laptop was the first charge I made, but I paid it off two days later. Seriously. So, things were fine, right?
Nope. A girl had lost her mind. A month later, I decided to charge a smart phone. The minimum payment was ONLY $20, and I was like, “What’s $20? I’ll pay if off later!” So I charged more things because I could “afford the minimum payment.” And after three months, I had charged $3500 worth of STUFF – clothing and shoe stuff, hobby stuff, collectible stuff, electronic stuff – and I was paying it off to the tune of $100 a month. What took three months to build up would have taken me over three YEARS to pay off at that rate – and that was only if I stopped charging crap.
I had a spending problem to be sure. But the second problem is that I was so used to having credit card payments that I had gotten used to not having that money. It was just another line on the budget form that I didn’t pay attention to. I never gave myself a chance to adjust to being out of debt. I had minimum payments on a credit card again almost right away.
I definitely knew better. I had no self-control. Credit cards made it way too easy for me to keep my room booked at the broke people bed and breakfast. Something that wouldn’t have been a problem if I had shut the accounts down in the first place.
Those minimum payments were like a pet – a pet that got bigger and bigger every month. It was insanity. I hope I never forget how hopeless and stressed and depressed I felt the night I finally sat down and really looked at how much of my money was going to minimum payments. After paying my bills and buying groceries, ALL of it was going to credit cards. ALL of it. I finally realized that I couldn’t keep acting like I had an endless supply of money, because I really, really didn’t.
But lesson finally learned. Which meant shutting down and chopping up all of my credit cards, all 7 of them and 3 store cards AND a stupid line of credit. I also finally paid off the remaining balance on my shaggy pet student loan. I did initially, for the sake of the stupid FICO score, keep my oldest account open. But it’s not worth it. That mess is never happening to me again.
To stay out of debt, I had to pay attention and stop playing with credit cards like they’re Halloween candy and I was ten years old. It didn’t mean I had to stop collecting stuff – it just meant I could no longer live above my means and spend $900 at one time. I had to grow up a little, exercise some patience and self control, and spread the purchases out.
Recently, I brought a prop replica of a sword from the Lord of the Rings franchise. See? I can totally still buy shiny stuff I don’t need. 🙂
In hindsight, those two and a half years of horrible stress I felt while I suffered under the weight of my horrible decisions and then ran like mad to pay it off – it was good for me. I wish I didn’t have to learn the hard way, but some of us are too stubborn for our good.
Just because you can “afford” the payments, doesn’t mean it’s okay to drag your credit cards, loans, and car payments around like a pet. That’s money that isn’t going towards meaningful experiences, emergencies, or your future. It’s our money – it should go towards the things we care about. We shouldn’t throw it away and stay enslaved our entire lives.