Our Journey to Becoming Debt-Free
My First Credit Card
I got my first credit card from a credit union right before I went away to college. It felt like a right of passage and the limit was only $1,000. I did not foresee myself every using it much. Little did I know that I would take it up to the limit and pay it off a couple of times. I initially used the card for items for school, like books, etc. I didn't really start getting into trouble with credit cards until after I graduated from college, though.
School Loans and More Credit Cards
Upon graduating from college, I found myself up to my eyeballs in student debt. While it was deferred for a while after I graduated (a few months), that was soon over and I had to start making payments that were extremely high. I was trying to pay my rent and also pay about $300 a month in student debt. I got a job in an office, but my commute was far away, so I used up a lot of money in gas. I always felt poor, and felt guilty for any purchase I made that was not absolutely necessary.
When the recession hit, I got laid off from my job, along with several other employees. Cutbacks were being made company-wide. I ended up getting another office job closer to home, which paid significantly less. Because of my depression over not having much money, I would get angry about not being able to afford certain things, and that led to me charging them on my credit card (because I felt I should not have to go without, which was wrong). I was not really making enough money to meet my expenses. But because the work itself was a good fit for me and it was a Christian company not far from my apartment, I stayed there (and did dumb things, like used my charge card to get gas to make it to work). I remember going to the grocery store and buying $1.00 meals from the frozen section that I would eat for lunch at my desk. They were so small, and I was still hungry afterward, but I spent all my money on my student loans and credit card payments, so that was all I could afford. Looking back, I wish I had tried to get a better paying job so that I could afford to buy gas, without having to charge it. I also charged groceries sometimes, and since I was already charging and didn't want to deny myself, I would throw something else on the pile, like a People magazine and a carton of ice cream. Then I felt guilty, knowing these were extras that I shouldn't be buying. It was a vicious cycle. If an event like a birthday party or bridal shower came up and I needed a gift, and didn't have the cash, I would charge it. I hated feeling guilty over using my credit card, but also didn't know a way of showing up empty-handed. Nowadays, I think the new me would rather show up empty-handed than charge the purchase of a gift. It's just not worth it.
Store Credit Cards: One of My Vices
I watched the movie "Confessions of a Shopaholic" today. It's one of my favorite movies. I have to confess that I relate quite a bit to the main character, even though most of the items I've charged have not been very extravagant or expensive like some of hers were. However, I have definitely charged things because I was shopping out of depression, boredom, loneliness, and so on. Now that I'm older and have done some soul-searching and some praying about the situation, God has revealed to me more and more my true motivations behind shopping. I'm learning how to be more content with what I already have, to "shop my own closet", so to speak, and work with what clothes and accessories I have already, etc. And although I would love to go out and charge the latest home decor to decorate our apartment with, I now know that going to my favorite store, Kohl's, and charging up my credit card on items I can't afford just isn't worth it. It's not worth the heartache, headache, and turmoil that would result in my marriage and even within my own heart! I would much rather pray about what I would like to purchase, save up the cash for it, and then make the decision to buy it, without interest or guilt! In the past, I charged Christmas presents on my Kohl's card without a second though. I racked up my limit all the way up to $700. Now, I know better. I know that my family and friends would rather get a handmade gift than have me and my family go into debt to buy them something. And the truth is, we have so much abundance in this country that adding more possessions to someone's already cluttered closet (and life) is not really a blessing most of the time anyway!
Progress: Paying Off Debt, Slowly But Surely!
Today, I am married and we have a three-year-old and a six-month-old, both boys. Of the four credit cards I have, three of them are now paid off! We used our tax returns and any extra funds we had over the years to pay them all down, and now I intend to keep it that way! Now we just have my husband's one credit card, and my one credit card, to pay down, plus my student loans. I am hopeful that we will make more progress on paying down our total debt this year, using Dave Ramsey's system of snowballing debt. My husband has a J.Crew credit card and also a Gap credit card, but they are paid off as well (I put a small amount on his J.Crew card recently for his birthday, but now that is paid off). I have a Kohl's credit card that I recently paid off and cut up, and thew away! I have cut up all but one of my credit cards (for emergencies). Being in debt is definitely not worth it. I can't wait until we have finally paid off everything and can start saving for our future.
Update: April 2018--Moving in With a Generous Family Member
Our family decided to move in with my aging grandfather in order to help take care of him (he has moderate dementia) and also to expedite our debt payoff. We moved in February 2018. So far we have paid off two more of my student loans (totaling in three student loans paid off!) Now we only have four student loans left and some credit card debt. Although the larger loans are going to take more time and that can feel somewhat discouraging, it's already going a lot faster since we don't currently have to pay rent. Dave Ramsey says to live with a generous family member for a time if you possibly can, and I'm really glad that we decided to take this step. By the middle of May, we should have another student loan completely paid off, meaning only three will remain. It feels so good to get the debt monkey off our backs! After we have all our debt paid off, we are planning to start saving up for a house. It will be so exciting once it's all paid and we can actually start saving!