Recently married, stressed out of my mind, and living paycheck-to-paycheck with massive amounts of consumer debt weighing heavily on my shoulders, I began to search for some way (if there even was a way) I could gain control of the financial mess I had made for myself and my new wife.
For years I played chicken with the credit card companies. Naively, I fell victim to the sleek, seductive marketing techniques of the major credit card lenders– my very first credit card, a Target Visa.
You know the sh-pill, you hear it every time you check out at Target– if you sign up for the card you can get 10% off your entire purchase. Twenty-one years young and recently returned from an LDS Church mission to Venezuela and having very little knowledge of personal finance, I fell for it hook, line, and sinker and saved twenty dollars on a PS2 (what a deal)! Of course, my plan was to just get the discount and NEVER use the card again– I would just keep it around in case of an emergency, so I tucked it away inside my wallet. Months later I found myself without any cash and low on fuel. Remembering I had that Visa tucked away for an emergency, I rationalized that I would only use it this one time to fill up my tank and then I’d pay it off and never use it again. I activated the card, removed the little sticker, and swiped. Predictably, months later and multiple restaurants, vacations, soft drinks, gifts for my girlfriend, gasoline tank refills, and many more useless purchases, my emergency plan had me in $2,500 of debt (but I did save $20 on the PS2). Not much of a plan!
The bad news is that I still didn’t learn my lesson. I continued to play the game with the credit card companies. I fell for it again. I signed up for a new card– I got the free blanket and an irresistible 0% introductory rate and no interest for 12 months on balance transfers offer. I did this regularly, every 12 months for about 3 years. At the end of the introductory period, I’d get another free gift, another can’t miss balance transfer offer, and I’d transfer the balance from one card to another. I actually thought I was winning the game. Free money! No interest! This was easy! I knew how to do this. Unfortunately, those great introductory rates with no interest offers tackled me from behind and I found myself trapped in debt with little room to breathe and no enough money to pay it off. There was no offer that could help me. I found myself not only with one Target Visa with a balance of $2,500, but with a rather nice collection of cards nearly maxed out at around $4,000 to $5,000 each. There I was a lowly college student, living at home with mom and dad, making little money, and without much of a financial plan.
How did I react?
Well, I took a semester off from school and got a job (wise decision) and I applied for financial aid for the following semester (bad decision). I had a decent job and was making good money and I was able to make my minimum payments (only to turn around and use what little available credit I’d freed up). I even had enough extra money to take out a loan on a new car with about $2,000 down. I thought I was finally in control of my money.
I remember reading about an article while I was in college that said something along the lines of the average college student graduates with about $20,000 of debt. I remember hearing that and thinking to myself, “I’m pretty close to that number. My situation is pretty normal. It’s not that bad. Having credit card and student loan debt is just normal. It’s no big deal. I’m just building my credit.” Turns out I was right– debt is normal, normal is being broke, and I did have a good credit score.
The problem just gets worse…
Out of college and newly married– still buried deeply in debt (and growing), scared, barely able to breath, and worrying whether or not we’d have enough to pay our bills– we were making pretty decent money, yet we had nothing left at the end of the month and definitely not much for my new wife and I to enjoy being newlyweds– But we kept afloat, barely making the minimum payments. I’d make a payment on the credit card, and then use the card. Make another payment on the card, and use the card again. You get the picture. Not a fun plan. Not really a plan at all. Definitely not an enjoyable way of living either. The car payment was annoying. The credit cards were out of control. The student loans were a nuisance. And the unpaid medical bills were piling up. The debt was overwhelming. It was seriously weighing me down. I was exhausted, desperate and feeling like a loser. I worked my butt off and had absolutely NOTHING to show for it. My wife was stressed-out and scared, too. She was tired of feeling like we were living in poverty and worried if we would ever have money– wondering if we would ever be able to fulfill our dreams. As newlyweds we had other problems that needed attention, but they were only exacerbated by our financial situation. The debt was causing serious strain on our young marriage.
I had finally had enough with the debt, but I didn’t know what to do. Everyone with whom I consulted told me that the debt was normal and it was just part of being young and newly married. But nobody seemed very concerned about it, nor did they offer up any real solutions to get rid of the debt. I had created a huge mess for myself and my wife and I was terrified about the future.
Would I ever get out of debt? Is debt just a regular part of life? Does anyone live debt-free? Is it even possible to be debt-free?
Follow along as I go on a journey toward debt freedom. I will show you how you also can start your journey to become debt-free.
Let’s do it.