Do you have a spending problem? Chances are you don’t.
Whenever I hear people talk about how they are in debt because of a spending problem, I tell them they don’t have a spending problem but rather a personal problem. What do I mean by this?
We overspend because something is missing in our lives. Maybe we aren’t happy with our job or relationship status. Or maybe we have other personal issues going on like low self-esteem. That is what got me into debt.
My Debt Story
I first got into credit card debt back in college. Up until this point, I was good with my credit card. I paid the balance off in full each month. But during my sophomore year, I met a girl.
Now the overspending didn’t happen because of who she was, it happened because of me. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had low self-esteem. Even though she loved me, I didn’t love myself. Because of this, I didn’t think someone else could really love me. I thought I had to buy her love and that is what I did.
I took her out to dinners and bought her stuff. By the end of the school year I found myself in $2,000 worth of debt. I went home for the summer, landed a job and made the decision to pay off my credit cards, since paying interest and being in debt is bad.
On the surface, this plan makes perfect sense. But it didn’t for me. I only had that summer income to cover me for my upcoming junior year. By paying off my debt, I had virtually no money for books!
When I got back to college, I quickly found myself back in debt, both from not having the money for books and other expenses, but also because I was still trying to buy love.
The next summer, I didn’t pay off the $3,000 worth of debt I accumulated. I instead made the minimum payments so I would have money to pay for my books. It was a smart move and coupled with the breakup of our relationship, my college career ended with me in debt $2,500.
The Happy Ending?
This is where you expect me to tell you I move back home, land a job and get out of debt for good. But that isn’t how this story goes. I moved back home, but couldn’t find a job. We were in a recession at that time and landing a job in the finance industry was near impossible.
I had the idea in my head that I go to college, land a good paying job and the rest will take care of itself. When this didn’t happen, I became depressed. My outlet was to buy clothes and electronics. Not a good idea for someone with no income.
I was nearing the limit on my credit card when I made the decision to stop overspending and get out of debt. I opened up a second credit card to transfer my balance to so I could take advantage of a 0% interest rate offer.
In theory, this was a smart move. But again, I never addressed the elephant (or in my case, elephants) in the room. I found myself growing a balance on that first credit card again.
A few months later, I decided enough was enough again and decided to change my overspending ways. I opened a third credit card (how I was getting approved with zero income boggles my mind to this day) to take advantage of another balance transfer offer. But once again, I stared spending on that first card all over again.
My Ah-Ha Moment
Then one day it hit me. I was out shopping for a new jacket and when I had a moment of clarity. I asked myself why I was buying a jacket when I already had two at home and I never wore the one. I put the jacket back and drove home.
I did a lot of thinking on my drive home and admitted that I was depressed. When I arrived home I piled up all of the clothes and electronics I bought onto my bed and took a picture. I put that picture in my wallet as reminder to think before I buy.
Then I started down the path of overcoming my depression as well as my low self-esteem which I also realized I had. This wasn’t fun and took a long time to overcome. But I knew it was what I had to do, otherwise I would just continue the debt cycle.
Debt Free And Loving Life
After I got real with myself, I put the credit cards away and started to get out of debt. I created a debt snowball plan and used money from a part-time job I found as well as a full-time job. I worked both jobs for a little more than a year to get out of my $10,000 worth of credit card debt.
So what are some lessons I learned from being in credit card debt? The biggest one is that you have to get real with yourself if you ever want out of debt. As I said at the beginning, most people in credit card debt don’t actually have a “spending problem” in the sense they think. Most times there is a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. Since it never gets addressed, the cycle of paying off some or all of your debt only to rack it back up never ends.
I know it’s not fun or easy to admit we are flawed, but it is what has to be done. You will learn so much about yourself and will come away a better, stronger person.
Another lesson is that getting out of debt takes time. Sorry, it won’t happen overnight. Most likely you didn’t wake up with $20,000 worth of debt. It took months and years of overspending that got you into the situation, so it will take you time to get out as well.
Lastly, understand the power of reminders. Having that picture in my wallet worked wonders for me. There were times I was still tempted to buy something that I didn’t have the money for but that picture reminded me not only of my debt, but the additional embarrassment that being in debt brought on. Keep reminders in places where you will see them so that they can act as an additional layer of protection.
In the end, I’ve been debt free now for over 10 years. I strive to improve myself all of the time and I never forget my past. I am so thankful that I learned to look inside and got real with myself when I did. Otherwise, I would still be in that cycle today.
Photo by frankieleon
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6 thoughts on “Digging Deep Inside to Get Out of Debt”
I think it’s fabulous that you’ve remained debt free for so long. I think our society doesn’t lend to being debt free because of the buy buy buy mentality. And because everyone is okay with debt, we rarely see people going without, so it creates a culture that says something is wrong with a person who IS going without. There’s definitely an emotional aspect to it.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for reminding me that getting out of debt takes time.
That was a smart idea taking a picture of everything you had bought and sticking it in your wallet. My biggest debt mistake was college loans. I would say to anyone that wants to go to college, either get scholarships or pay for it out of pocket. Never, ever take out loans and mortgage your future. I should have left college at the end of my second year, when they cut-off my grants and work-study.
You should also check out thedebtproject.net. It can be cathartic hearing other people’s stories wrestling with dragons of debt.
It’s wonderful that you had an “ah-ha” moment and then followed it up with a plan and perseverance. I’m a therapist and never used to talk to my clients about money but in recent years I do explore it because I’ve found that so many people spend to avoid other feelings. And some people get hooked on the momentary pleasure of buying yet another unnecessary object or outfit. But as you’ve discovered life can be fulfilling when you figure out the underlying issues and unshackle yourself from the debt.
This post truly resonates with me.
For me, my credit card debt actually started when I got a better high-paying job and had a chance to have a car loan at work. It was the moment when I felt that I can just buy buy the things that I want or my lovedones want since I now have a higher income job.
That mentality continued for months, until it came to a point when I realized that my monthly income was not enough to pay the bills and the worse to pay my credit card debt.
Having a car through a loan aggravated my situation. The stress and sadness (or depression) was unimagineable.
Until I realized that I needed to go back to my simple way of living. Live frugally and pay off my debt slowly.
Now I am getting better. In one month I will be debt free finally! I agree with your tips, that it boils down to setting priorities and tremendous discipline.
I think that it is a great story, but I don’t believe your situation will work for everyone. Some people have worked their whole life two or three jobs and own next to nothing due to a series of unfortunate events. Some people like me have worked hard their whole life but just when you start getting ahead another devastating uncontrollable blow hits. Some people might just be able to pull themselves out of debt by learning to deal with the unfortunate obstacles placed in front of them, and forcing themselves to adapt to the always flawed system of capitalism. I mean I have d debt, but none was from overspending or buying love. It stemmed from medical bills, house fires, not earning enough to offset the cost of living. I have never even owned a credit card and have been in debt