Having recently finished paying off nearly $30,000 in credit card debt, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of myself.
I also can’t help but think how strange it is to be SO proud of something that I only even had the chance to accomplish because I was SO VERY DUMB in the first place, but proud I am and I’m going to share with you exactly how I fell face first into and then climbed my way out of debt.
Step 1: Over the course of about four years, make a swift journey from debt-free to drowning by pretending you make at least double your salary. Consistently tell yourself you obviously can’t afford to spend $500 on vacation but spend that money instead on ordering in cheese fries that give you gas.
Step 2: Accept every credit increase offered to you on all three credit cards by reasoning that a higher limit will mean a lower utilization rate and therefore only help your credit score and overall financial health.
Step 3: Use all your new credit. All of it.
Step 4: Ignore your credit card statements. Pay just over the minimum due every month because your mom once told you to always pay more than the minimum due and let that convince you that you’re super fiscally responsible.
Step 5: After too many nights of tossing and turning with a racing heart and overwhelming sense of doom, decide that enough is enough. Remember that you’re capable and independent. Remind yourself that you’re the only one taking care of you and you’re doing a shit job of it.
Step 6: Pay off your first small credit card balance. Feel momentarily jubilant until you notice how much higher your other balances have risen. Realize you haven’t been spending less…you’ve just been spending on different cards.
Step 7: Start talking about your debt. A lot. Throw out lots of flares to your loved ones that things are about to be a lot different around here. (After your upcoming family trip. And after that wedding you’re going to. And probably after you stock up your shelves and buy a new pair of shoes. Basically things will get different after you prepare for a financial apocalypse BUT JUST BE READY OKAY.)
Step 8: Consider whether or not to apply for a personal loan. Wildly impress yourself by teaching yourself how to make formulas in a Google Sheet and discover that you’d actually be better off paying it off the good ol’ fashioned way if you can manage to stick to a budget.
Step 9: Give your credit cards to a trusted friend. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Read it again. You cannot be in possession of your credit cards. You have already proven yourself to be VERY UNTRUSTWORTHY and very very financially foolish. You may one day earn back the privilege, but you’re now in time out. Think about what you’ve done. For almost two years.
Step 10: Try to not pass out when a very close friend offers you a very large and nearly interest-free loan. Puff out your chest with pride masking embarrassment and say, “But I could never!” Then consult your trusted Google Sheet with all the formulas and realize that accepting the loan would shave off thousands of dollars in interest and about a year off your projected timeline. Sheepishly accept the loan with a “Yes, that would be quite nice and helpful, please, thank you, I won’t let you down.” Think about how this might actually be a key to staying on track because you care way more about your friend’s continued trust in you than American Express’s.
Step 11: Create a budget and then proceed to say the word “budget” incessantly over and over again for the next two years. If your friends were to word cloud your conversations, “budget” would be the whole damn cloud. Start grocery shopping with a calculator and stop ordering in several nights a week. Delete the “We Miss You!” promotional emails from Seamless without opening them.
Step 12: Continue talking about your journey to debt-free to anyone who will listen. Ignore the sneaking feelings of shame and do your best to push past the stigma of talking about money and debt and financial health. Not only will the people around you be incredibly encouraging and helpful and supportive, but friends will already be prepared for the possibility that you may not be able to join for events or meals out. REALLY good friends will just invite you over to hang out when you say you can’t afford brunch that week.
Step 13: Obsessively check your bank apps every day. Look it all right in the eye. Get into a staring contest with it and win. You cannot confront what you hide from.
Step 14: Organize your life and your priorities. Upcoming annual membership fee? Better budget for it! Want to go out for your friend’s birthday? You guessed it! Budget, baby.
Step 15: Consider if you have any control over increasing your income in some way, big or small. If you’re very lucky, your side gig could be as a date night babysitter for a rotation of about five or six families with criminally cute children and you could make an average of $100 a pop to cuddle some kiddos for an hour or so before spending the rest of the night reading and watching Netflix on the couch. Use that money to either make extra payments on your debt or to give yourself some breathing room in your restrictive budget. Either choice is valid and absolutely okay.
Step 16: Don’t give up. It will get hard and you will get bored and the journey will feel endless. Celebrate your mini milestones and successes (hellooooo skyrocketing credit score!) and distract yourself with a wish list of things you can’t wait to pay cash for when all is said and done. Because while you might be surviving the winter with just one pair of boots to wear every single day, you’re allowed to want two pairs of boots.
Step 17: When it finally happens, when the day finally comes and you make your final credit card payment, CELEBRATE. Mark the occasion. This is a BIG DEAL. Take a selfie, shout it from the rooftops, pop a bottle of champagne, and maybe treat your friends who treated you over and over again to a meal or a round of drinks on you. Make yourself a solemn promise to avoid making the same mistake ever again.
Americans are in debt to the tune of over $14 trillion (trillion!) and $413 billion of that is solely credit card debt. If you are carrying debt, you are clearly not alone and it does not define you. Your journey will likely look different than mine. I lost my job due to the pandemic the very same month I paid off my debt, but prior to that, I was privileged to have income security many do not see in their lifetimes. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, a push to pay down debt may not be realistic or possible for you.
But if you can, you must. You and your one singular life deserve it. The boots can wait.
If you like this article, check out: https://www.harnessmagazine.com/how-to-plan-a-trip-to-ottawa-on-a-tight-budget/