Debt Free(dom)

cutting up cardLike a recovering alcoholic sampling the taboo taste of a beloved beverage, I handed the cashier my plastic. The ease with which I did so, accompanied by my effortless smile gave absolutely no hint to the hesitation lurking just beneath the surface. Though the purchase was justified and the actual money in the bank, there was a tiny place inside of me that still remained uneasy.

Once you’ve climbed out of the deep, dark hole of credit card debt—finding yourself back in the black—the former aches and pains of actually digging that hole occasionally come back to haunt you. I am not proud to admit that I was in debt — having only recently brushed the remainder of that dirt off my less-than-stellar credit report. But I am relieved to say that those days are behind me.

Sifting through stacks and stacks of old mail over the weekend reminded me of those darker days. Except that while I was living them, I technically didn’t know they were “darker.” It would be awhile before I actually realized how deep I had dug. I was in fact, living it up back then! I was happily buying new furniture, clothes and shoes, paying for manicures, pedicures, salon visits, gym memberships and housekeeping services.

A close friend did occasionally ask me whether or not I should be spending so freely. But I brushed it off as them being too “conservative” with their own money and “fearful” of bad things that would “never happen.” I was gainfully employed, single with no dependents and the proud owner of a seemingly endless supply of credit. It never occurred to me to be concerned because I was always able to keep up with the payments. If I could pay the bills every month, then this was all stuff that I could afford. Until it wasn’t.

Being young and stupid, I never gave much thought to all of the uncertainties out there. I’d done my homework, gotten a degree and been blissfully employed since graduation. Things like personal illness and the company you work for going under weren’t even on my radar. Until they were.

Back then—during this hedonistic time of living like some kind of entitled Hilton or Kardashian—I fell ill with a serious case of pneumonia. On top of that, just prior to the pneumonia, I’d left the security of a lower paying government job to accept an exciting new position at a rapidly-growing publishing company and had zero sick leave in the bank. On doctor’s orders, I missed an entire month of work and wages. Suddenly making those bills was a little bit harder.

And then the “rapidly-growing” company folded. Making paying those bills all but impossible. I managed. I didn’t file for bankruptcy or anything, but I did have to move 2,000 whole miles back east to live with mom and dad, working a minimum wage job until I could find a better one. Going through the ancient mail was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. First there were the bank statements, bills and invoices… a.k.a. Evidence of All the Fun. Followed by a trickle and later a heavy stream of medical bills, debt consolidation packages and various hand-written notes of lists I’d made inventorying all of my debts and monthly bills.

But it was good for me to see how the entire ordeal had actually unfolded. What started out as a simple housekeeping exercise wound up being a true moment of reckoning. I’d often wondered, through the years, as I struggled to pay down the balances on these debts: How did this happen? How did I rack up all of this debt? And now I know. I can see it all from a distance. It was as though it had happened to someone else… because in a way, it did happen to someone else. I am no longer that person.

Thanks to the support of my parents, a couple of really good friends and an extremely fiscally responsible soon-to-be husband, I am learning the value of having money IN the bank before I have any fun with it. I still love furniture, clothes, shoes, salon visits and travel and I would LOVE to pay someone to do all of the unpleasant, laborious tasks that accompany adulthood. But since I’m neither a Hilton nor a Kardashian, I’ve lain to rest my Visa Gold & Mastercard shovel and am enjoying the freedom that comes with “living it up” — within my means.

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15 thoughts on “Debt Free(dom)

  1. We all grew through the ugliness. You came out of it much wiser. ( Some never learn.) We were able to support you without trying to “fix” it. That was your job. Parents need to learn that. Especially these days when they just throw money at their kids rather than lead them through the solution. SOOOO glad you are on this side of things and proud of you as you worked it out yourself. Here’s hoping that your story helps others. Love you.

  2. Good for you!

    A few years after getting my credit card I was “living it up,” and it wasn’t even truly that bad. There are people who run up a much higher debt, but I swore that would never be me again. I hated how it made me feel to see interest being charged for frivolous things I didn’t need. Living within your means is the way to go.

  3. Loving your post, especially “living it up within your means” – thanks so much for sharing:) I had my wake up call in 2009 finding myself laid off and unemployed. I really evaluated what was important and what I really needed in my life and made some changes for the better. That adjustement helped when I took a job 6 months later that was a decrease in pay and would require a pay freeze with no end date on the horizon. It is never easy, but I am finding a way to make do and live within my means! Have a Great One:)

  4. NM says:

    Love the post Jo!!! I am feeling the pinch myself because I’m saving up for a gift for the parents!! It is a good lesson though about money!!

  5. Great post! And it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder every now and then of how far you have come so you don’t slip backwards. I have moved back home to live with my folks too – fortunately they are very happy to have me 🙂 but boy am I looking forward to a Debt Free future!!!

  6. Wow. I did not know that you were out of work for a whole month, due to pneumonia. That was what killed my 31 year old friend, I have recently discovered. I never realized that it could be so serious. Do you take the vaccination shots now?

    Oh boy, once someone has gone down the rabbit hole of debt, you’re in there with the Mad Hatter, possibly for life or until you become a Mad Hatter yourself.

    • Yup. I was at one time, Donald. I got pretty sick and haven’t really been as strong since. I’m not sick all the time but I do battle feeling bad if I get run down… which happens very easily! I don’t do the pneumonia shot but I do get the flu vac every year. The doctor said it was necessary after battling the pneumonia and mono both. I am not going down that path of debt again! It feels good to have finally crawled out and see daylight again.

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