How did you acquire “$10,000” in debt? What did that debt consist of?
The $10,000 was all credit card debt. I got into it starting my sophomore year of college. It wasn’t because I was “bad” with money, but I had my first girlfriend and I had low self-esteem. I thought the only way to love her was to buy her love. So I took her to dinners and bought her things that I really couldn’t afford.
That debt stayed with me through graduation. My plan was to get a great paying job and become financially successful. But at the time (back in the early 2000’s), we were in a recession and jobs were hard to come by. I couldn’t find a job and became depressed. This led me to start buying things to feel good. As the “high” faded quicker and quicker, I bought more and more, leading to more debt.
What did it feel like to have that much debt?
It wasn’t fun. I dreaded getting the bills in the mail. I hoped to make more than the minimum payment, but most times couldn’t. I knew that credit card debt was bad, but at the time, I just couldn’t help myself and I kept spending. I felt worthless.
How long did it take you to pay it all off?
Close to a year after graduating, I took a part-time job that allowed me to at least pay a little more than the minimum each month. A few months after that, I got a full-time temporary job that lasted 5 months. I kept the part-time job and used that paycheck along with money from the temp job to accelerate my debt payoff.
After the temp job ended, I only had the part-time job for about a month until I landed a permanent full-time job. I kept the part-time job for a few more months to help pay off debt faster. Overall, it took me a little more than a year to pay it off.
What resources did you use to help you through this process?
I went through the payoff process on my own. I considered a personal loan at one point, but realized there wouldn’t be enough of an advantage to going that route. So I set up a snowball method and followed that until my debt was eliminated.
Did you face any challenges along the way?
I faced many challenges along the way. Being a finance major in college, I knew that credit card debt and paying sky-high interest was bad. My first attempt to get out of debt was to open a new credit card with a 0% balance transfer offer. I shifted all of my debt from one card to the new card. Unfortunately, I quickly started to spend on the first card again.
A few months later, thinking I was finally able to kick the debt, I opened a third card with another 0% balance transfer offer. I moved the new debt from my original card to this third card. Sadly, the cycle repeated and I started to spend on the first card all over again.
How did this affect your marriage?
The relationship with my college girlfriend ended in college and I was single again for most of the story. I did meet a new girl and began dating her near the end of my debt payoff journey. By this time I had learned my lesson and didn’t try to “buy” her love.
What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?
As I mentioned, I was in debt in college for 3 years then unemployed for close to a year. I landed a part-time job at a retail store and kept that job for a little more than a year. During this time I landed a temporary job at a finance company and when that ended, was able to land a full-time job at another finance company.
How did it feel once you paid it all off?
It felt amazing to get out of debt. But it felt just as good when I had the “ah-ha” moment that I realized what I was doing to get into debt. No longer did I feel worthless or not in control of my life.
I do remember after paying off my debt, I received a credit card statement in the mail. My heart skipped a beat – not in the good way – wondering why I was getting this since I had paid off my debt. When I opened the statement, it showed a $0 balance. I guess they sent it just to confirm with me that the card was paid off.
What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?
The best advice I have is to sit down and figure out the root cause of the problem. I thought I was just overspending at the time. But the issue was more than that. This is why when I tried to get out of debt the first and second times, I failed miserably. I never addressed the real issue – my depression and low self-esteem.
I know that it isn’t easy, or fun to look within and admit you are flawed. But trust me when I say that the pain, hurt and tears from doing this are more than worth it. If I wouldn’t have addressed the issue, I would probably still be in credit card debt today and hating life.
Next, confide in others or use visualization to help you. When I realized what I was doing, I took all of the clothes and electronics I bought on credit and piled them on my bed. I took a picture and carried it with me as a reminder of all of the stuff I bought and didn’t need or even use. I also told my best friend. He was a great shoulder to lean on too when my willpower was weak.
Finally, don’t ever give up. I failed twice before conquering my debt. I learned something new each time. Don’t be afraid of failing. Failing is a good thing because you are trying something new and growing as a person. Take the time to learn from your failure and grow as a person from it.
If you want to learn more about Jon and his story, you can follow him over at his site, Money Smart Guides.
Note: This is part of a series called “Debt Success Stories” which features people who were able to pay off a significant amount of debt. If you have a Debt Success Story I would love to hear about it. Please visit the contact page to let me know the details.