Lessons Learned From Paying Off $28k in Credit Card Debt — PART 1

Goodbye, credit card debt! You can kiss my husband's pasty white butt!

We can’t talk about balls without talking about money.

Your financial choices say a lot about your psyche, insecurities, world view, strengths and weaknesses. By bravely examining mistakes and unhealthy spending patterns that have put you in credit card debt, you’re well on your way to a more balanced and beautiful life.

So today I’m going to be (painfully, very painfully!) honest about how my husband and I got into $28k worth of credit card trouble.

Let’s start with the 3 reasons why it happened:


1. Memories of the past dictate our spending habits in the present.

Landing your first well-paid job is kind of like arriving at college and discovering that you live with peers who are hormonal horn dogs just like you are.

You go a little buck wild. You overcompensate for your new found sense of freedom. You do a lot of stupid stuff simply because now you can.

For example, my long-standing identity crisis cost me a fortune. I grew up a major tomboy until the age of 18, dragging my mom to the men’s department to shop for clothes. My wardrobe consisted of sweatshirts, cargo pants, baseball caps and some long-sleeve-shirt-under-a-short-sleeve-shirt combinations. (Think front men for Green Day & Nirvana.)

But while I was bad-ass on the outside, I was a frightened and insecure little thing on the inside. It wasn’t until I hit my quarter-life crisis at age 25 that I discovered I liked women’s fashion, and that maybe all my life I was too discouraged and too intimidated to tap into my feminine side. And so, I went on a mission to be reverse things: be more outwardly feminine and inwardly bad-ass.

However, I spent way too much money on this reformation because there was an emotional component to it. And it didn’t help that I used to work near a string of high-end boutiques in Brooklyn where you could easily spend $60 on a pair of mittens. (Oh, but what fabulous mittens they were!)

A similar phenomenon happened for my husband Brian. In his mid-twenties he was finally earning enough for us to rent a spacious 2-bedroom apartment and buy his dream car. A spare bedroom and a brand new vehicle were luxuries, not needs. But after a life of compromise and no money, he went all out. He didn’t want to be a starving artist anymore– he wanted to be an artist whose lifestyle reflected his level of his talent and hard work.

But the bottom line was that we were living a lifestyle we could barely afford. And a lifestyle you can barely afford is actually a lifestyle that you can’t afford. It pressures you to maintain the good life, and before you know it, you’re whipping out the plastic too often and not saving a dime.

People who find themselves in debt tend to spend money based on memories of their past, not their financial goals for the future.

2. College Is (Often) A Huge Rip-Off.

The short version of my story is I went to the wrong college, started too early, went too many times, and finished each degree at a very fierce pace.

I’m not saying that college is a complete waste of money. (After all, college got my parents out of poverty in the Philippines and into a fancy Long Island suburb with top notch schools.)

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to pursue higher education.

Here’s the full story:

At age 18, my 3 siblings and I took out huge loans (mine were the biggest) in order to pay for college. We majored in areas that our teenaged brains thought might bring us happiness and fulfillment throughout our professional lives. (As if we had a clue!)

But only 1 out of 4 of us formed a career out of our first degree. And I’m pretty certain that if we had lived life a little more (i.e., experimenting in different fields of work) before putting all our eggs into one expensive basket, we could have escaped with no degrees and no debt — or at least not until our late 20′s when we had a better sense of who we were.

Another problem is that I went to college too many times. I have 3 degrees. It’s kind of ridiculous.

  • I got my bachelor’s degree in Education from an overpriced private school (because I assumed that a grown-up salary would easily pay the loan back).
  • I paid out-of-pocket for a master’s degree in Education from an affordable school (because I needed it in order to keep my job as a high school English teacher).
  • I got a second master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from an incredible school that rocked my world (because after 3 years of teaching I realized I cared more about the kids’ emotional health than their test scores).

So while other young adults were establishing their careers and savings accounts, I spent over 10 years borrowing money and charging my credit cards.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. And I can see how my “mistakes” eventually led to a very fulfilling career as a bereavement counselor, Psychology professor, therapist in private practice, and blogger with carpal tunnel.

But I’ve learned the hard way that there are many ways to build the career you want, and college (or at least diving right in at age 18 and paying full price for it) is just one of them.

Unless you get the timing right, scholarships in place, and the right school for your budget and major, college fails to prepare you for the real world — it simply makes the real world less affordable to live in.

3. Between Cheap And Easy, People Tend To Choose Easy.

When I walk into my local Chinese restaurant, I’ve barely made it through the door before the employee at the register looks and at me and says “Steamed shrimp dumplings and vegetable spring rolls?”

I smile and nod. She is always right.

My weakness as a 25-year-old spender was clothing. My weakness as a busy 30-something with three jobs and no kitchen skills is restaurants. This convenience costs us hundreds of dollars per year.

Oy.

Sometimes it’s perfectly reasonable to throw money at a problem in order to maintain your sanity. But after a while the debt starts interfering with life. So at some point you’ve got to learn a new skill, or become more disciplined, or get creative, or grow a pair.

Don’t worry folks — this sad story has a happy ending! Stay tuned for Thursday’s follow-up post on how Brian and I got out of 28k in credit card debt (and what big life lessons we learned along the way).

In the meantime…

Your Turn: What were your biggest financial blunders?

 

(Note: You can read Part 2 of this post here.)

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16 Responses to Lessons Learned From Paying Off $28k in Credit Card Debt — PART 1

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  8. Moz says:

    Gutsy post. I definitely identify with number 3. I need to learn how to cook.

    Looking forward to part 2.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Ahh…learning how to cook. A lot of people tell me they learned how to do it after getting married, when suddenly cooking and sharing that meal with someone every evening adds joy to your life. I think my husband and I are late bloomers.

  9. I’m waiting to see Thursday’s post before I drop my pants on this one.

  10. Steph says:

    Amazing piece! (as per usual I must add, my awesome friend!)
    I dodged the credit card bullet, but only because I saw a loved one do the same thing and learned from their mistake. The other two parts, overpaying for a masters degree and paying (in cash, but still…) for easy over cheap I’m still living with on a daily basis. I think this is characteristic of so many in our generation (and god help the poor souls growing up after us lol). I look forward to your Thursday post

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      I think a lot of people have mixed feelings about their school-related choices. But it sounds like as far as debt goes, you guys are definitely ahead of many of our peers.

      …Now go buy two houses next door to each another (one for you, one for us), and make sure ours has an in-ground pool. (Please.)

  11. Sheryl says:

    My personal biggest financial blunder was university. Not that I would take it back, not that I regret going and studying something I loved … but I wish I’d brought some common sense to it and maybe some money management as well.

    I mean I have a freaking BA in Philosophy. Which gets you exactly nowhere. I studied because I love learning, and because philosophy filled a very deep emotional need for me. But, uh, would it have killed me to minor in business instead of filling my electives with Great Books/Liberal Studies and history and English classes? Especially seeing as I went to a school with one of the best business programs in the country? I kick myself for this.

    It also would not have killed me to buy a few less pairs of shoes, or bundles of books (or a few less two-towns-over overnight party trips) in university, but instead of thinking about my loans as “what I will need to pay off at the end of this” I thought about them as “this is my money for the year and I can spend it how I like once my necessities are taken care of”.

    I still have somewhere in the nature of about $25K in student loans to finish paying off. I’m more than capable of paying it off, and have fast tracked my way out of quite a fair bit of other debt, but it hurts to think about too much.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Yeah, the thing about college/ university is that really, most people have no idea at age 18 what will allow for fulfillment (and stability) in the future. I mean, we try to give it a good guess based on our limited life experience, but a guess is all it is. Also, you don’t realize what $200 or $400 or $600 per month on student loan repayments feels like for your wallet until later in life. I assumed it would be easy to pay off. And yes, I’ll be able to do it. But it’s at the cost of, for example, owning a home.

      I’m glad you enjoyed your course work and social life — college memories are certainly priceless. But in retrospect I realize that between ages 18-25 life is one long and wonderful experimental period for most young adults no matter where they are– one that just so happens to coincide with the time society expects us to go to college. And an experiment should not cost tens of thousands of dollars!! I think joining the Peace Corps or doing some apprenticeships/ internships is a great (and affordable) alternative to college.

      • Sheryl says:

        As a first year university student, the numbers were irrelevant. They just don’t seem real. Worse for me, I didn’t qualify for government loans the first couple years so I dealt with banks … and I definitely had a few stupids that screwed with my credit. Ugh. (Finally to the point where some of them are going to be off my record – that feels so good!)

        When you consider that the people making these decision are, generally, too young to drink (even in Canada, with our lax laws, lol) because at that age people are not believed to be able to make “responsible” decisions and have brains that are still developing …. it’s something of a wonder that society expects that age group to make informed choices about the rest of their lives when it comes to education.

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