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June 30th, 2009


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09:20 am - Debt-Free¹
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.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: jubilantjubilant
Current Music: "Spending Money", -JB

(41 comments Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:zylch
Date:June 30th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
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...wow. That is a far higher tolerance for risk than I have. I could easily pay off my credit card, but I'm paranoid enough that I don't want to have less than $2000 in instantly-available (checking+savings) emergency money. Too many people around me are losing jobs for me to comfortable with less than a few month's of expenses on hand.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:June 30th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)
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That is, I hope, where I'll end up in a couple of months. But the prospect of being "under the thumb" of debt for much longer was problematic, mostly because debt of even $1,000 can double in a matter of months if you're not careful about it (and you have a crappy credit card rate. . . I'd had mine lowered when I started paying mine off). Plus, I've been secure in my job for a while: I'm in academia and I'm pretty sure I'm doin' it right. :)
[User Picture]
From:zylch
Date:June 30th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
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being in a mortgage vs renting situation probably makes a difference as well. Although I don't plan to move out in the next couple of months, and I'm pretty sure that my landlords aren't going to kick me out, I like to have a deposit plus a couple months of rent on hand just in case I suddenly need to move (say a perfect job opportunity comes up elsewhere). It's too hard to get out of the renting-by-the-week trap once you're in it, but it's hard to avoid if you don't have a deposit+first month available.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:June 30th, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
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True, I was also able to occasionally push off the mortgage by a day or two or three and not need to worry about the landlord getting all pissy at me, and once you understand the billing cycles you know which payments you can put off with no detriment :)

The serious stability of my job goes a long way, I tend to think, toward being able to risk it all from month to month, which I've been doing now for roughly two years (I remember once dropping to under $2 in my account last year at one point, before payday).

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