My journey into debt happened slowly. I didn’t just wake up one day, in a money hangover, owing close to $60K. It creeped up on me, one credit card swipe at a time. And now, I’m just sick of it. It’s time to take back my money. So how did I get here?
Like so many others, I graduated from college (and graduate school) with credit card debt. But that was my only debt. I had no student loans, no car payment, nothing. I was set up for a nice, secure financial future. I had a stable government job with lots of earning potential, retirement savings/pension, and a little bit of savings. I was living with my now-husband in a ridiculously affordable apartment, paying down my credit card balance. I was $2K away from being completely debt free and then…I got fired.
Yes, I got fired from a government job. I’m still not quite sure what happened, or why I was fired, but that was the beginning of my descent into debt. I had to pay for my COBRA, I needed to pay for groceries, I needed to pay gas. It all went on my credit card because I didn’t know what else to do. In my mind, I didn’t have the cash. I knew I had unemployment and a tax refund coming in but that money was pretty much obligated. I had to pay for my fixed expenses like rent and the phone bill and electricity but, being 24 with no dependants, I just could not give up some of the luxuries to which I had become accustomed.
Suffice it to say, at this point in my life, I knew nothing of cutting back, using all cash and living on a budget. I knew the concept of making cuts and sacrifices but I didn’t think I had to. I understood the concept of a budget but I didn’t think someone like me needed one. I thought that only poor people used cash; it wasn’t for people like me. For someone with a Master’s degree, I sure was ignorant of managing my personal finances.
Somehow, I always seemed to have enough money but after getting fired, I didn’t. It was hearbreaking. My then-boyfriend now-husband was willing to help but since we weren’t married, I had my bills that were my responsibility. I never, ever shirked my responsibilities. If that meant spending all my money on bills and using credit for everything else that I refused to give up, then that’s what was going to happen.
Confession time: Looking back, I have to admit that I did have enough money for my needs. At the time, though, I just didn’t differentiate between needs and wants. If I wanted something, I needed to have it. They were one in the same. And that is a very slippery slope that I happily, blindly and stupidly went down. Not only did I go down it, but by the time I landed, I had spent close to $60K, on everything you can think of, including a car.
Of course, during all of this, I did look for work. I even spent over $100 on a train ticket for a job interview in Washington DC. I eventually was offered two jobs and, being the practical person I am, I took the full-time job, rather than the temp-to-hire.
What happened next will be explained in part 2…