June 30th, 2009



Today, I come to you from a wonderful place: completely debt-free. I dug myself out of the minor hole that I was in in just under six months as a result of a promotion, keeping naked cats in my attic for nearly a year, and being absolutely, downright miserly over the past year.

My dad would be so proud of the way I've handled money and opportunity recently. Actually, I know he is.

No matter what the debt is, it has a way of looking like it's way, way too big to overcome, especially when you're sitting under what looks like a mountain of it. I know the statistics, and I know that I wasn't anywhere close to the "average" debt people carry on their credit cards alone (the mean credit card debt was around $9,000 last I heard, with the median being closer to $2,000; it's probably higher now), but even the small sum I had seemed insurmountable less than a year ago.

Heck, there were times when I thought it was hopeless while I was in the middle of paying the damn thing down. . . even as recently as last month, I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to meet the expectations I had set for myself, that I would be unable to make it to the end of the month, and that I would end up spending even more time in debt than I had originally planned.

I found myself religiously checking my bank balances, my credit card statements, and adding up every penny I spent. I didn't buy anything I didn't need unless I was positive that I could manage to meet the expectations I had of myself, and I went without a lot of things in order to ensure that I was staying within budget.

I'd originally gone into light debt when I bought the house in 2002: there, I was making enough, but didn't have enough cash on hand for repairs, improvements, and painting. It's said that the average home-buyer pours an additional $5,000 into a house in the first year of ownership, and I probably did about that. Then my car finally died, and I had a car payment that was completely unexpected on top of my new mortgage.

There was a time when I figured it up, and I was spending a few dollars more each month than I was actually making at the time.

So things ballooned a bit, no matter how careful I tried to be. Soon, I was finding that even my modest debt was looking entirely uncontrollable. I didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel, and I didn't know that I would ever be able to pay it off. I quickly understood (and understand even better in hindsight) just how frightening debt can be, and how amazingly stupid it can make you feel. I now understand how people carry such balances for so long: there comes a point where you accept debt, and where you feel you will always live with it; and it comes fast and out of nowhere.

It wasn't until the car payments were complete this past December that I was able to start paying the debt down in a significant way. Then I picked up my promotion. Then I scrimped and saved and put everything I had into getting out of debt, buckling down at work and making things happen. And here, with planning and work, I stand now: debt free and finally really proud of myself.

Now I just need to make it to the end of the month without a relapse, and my next paycheck will become a cushion, not a "make ends meet" sort of thing. Given that I'm in better shape this month than I was last month (and have been seeing that trend since January), I think a relapse is very unlikely.

There's a light at the end of the debt tunnel: I'm living proof. While my debt wasn't grossly enormous, it also wasn't actually manageable. I carried it for nearly six years until the cards fell right. I'm not one to say that "anyone can do this if they just work harder. . ." I know, because I did work harder, and sometimes that's not enough. But I am one to say that it can be done, with a little luck, a little faith in yourself, and a lot of work and discipline over a long haul.

To all those who helped me out when I needed it, thank you. I promise to pay it forward.

¹ - except, of course, for the house. But the elimination of other debt makes my mortgage entirely affordable.