Getting out of debt is a very emotional process. Today we have Jon from Money Smart Guides here to tell us all about his emotional journey out of debt and the lessons he learned along the way.
When I was in college, I got myself into credit card debt. But it wasn’t because some unscrupulous credit card company sucked me into getting a credit card and I couldn’t control my spending. While I did get my first credit card my freshman year of college, I knew how to handle it. I only bought a few things here and there and paid off the balance in full each month. This good use of credit lasted through to the start of my sophomore year, but then the wheels fell off.
The wheels didn’t fall off because I had huge medical bills or anything like that. It was because I had low self-esteem. You see, I met a girl and after a few weeks of dating, we were officially a couple. For me, a late-bloomer, this was my first real girlfriend. Not realizing it at the time, I didn’t love myself.
My Initial Debt – The College Years
For those of you reading this that have heard of the saying “ you can’t love someone else until you love yourself”, this saying is 100% accurate. I didn’t love myself and questioned why this girl loved me. As a result of this internal doubt, I thought I had to show her I loved her through buying her gifts. I took her out to dinner a few times a week. I bought her gifts here and there.
In her defense, she never asked for or expected any of this. It was all my own doing. By the end of my sophomore year, I found myself a few thousand dollars in debt. I went home for the summer and got a good paying job. In previous years, I used my summer income to pay for books for the upcoming school year and to make sure I had money to live off of throughout the school year.
This summer though, I ended up using a good portion of the money to pay off my debt. At the time, it made sense, but I wasn’t thinking long-term. When I went back to college my junior year, I had a lot less money in my bank account than usual. In fact, I barely had enough money to buy books for the year.
Sadly, this didn’t stop me from buying love. Fast forward to the end of my junior year, and I found myself right back where I started, a few grand in debt. That summer, I took the same summer job, but this time, I didn’t pay off all of my debt. I made some progress on it, but knew I needed the money I made to get me through my senior year.
By the time I graduated, I no longer was dating my girlfriend and I graduated with a few thousand dollars in credit card debt. I moved back home and began looking for a job.
More Emotional Issues
When I graduated, we were just entering into a recession (back in the early 2000’s). As such, I couldn’t find a job. I thought upon graduating I would land a great job, make a boatload of money and be on my way to the high life. When this didn’t happen, I got depressed. To make me feel better, I started to buy clothes and electronics. I quickly found myself in close to $6,000 worth of debt.
Having a good understanding of personal finance, I knew what the interest was I was paying on my debt. I ended up opening a second credit card to take advantage of a 0% balance transfer offer. I was finally going to take control of my finances!
The Debt Spirals Out Of Control
Unfortunately, I never did take control of my finances. I started to spend on the original credit card again. Next thing I knew, I was in debt over $9,000. After a few months, I finally had enough and decided to take control for real this time. I opened a third credit card (note I still didn’t have a job) to take advantage of yet another balance transfer offer. It pains me to type this, but I began spending on the first card again.
Things Begin To Change
As I crossed over the $10,000 debt level, I ended up landing a part-time job. I felt good about this and slowly began to repay my debt. As I was doing this, I finally had my “ah-ha” moment. I was shopping for a jacket when the light bulb went off and I questioned why I was buying this jacket. I had a couple sitting in my closet at home already, some of which I never even wore. I put it back on the shelf and did a lot of thinking on the drive home and over the next few days.
I realized just what was happening and who I was. I realized I had low self-esteem and that I was also depressed. I began to work on loving myself and working on getting over my depression. I also took all of the stuff I bought and piled it on my bed. I then took a picture and kept that in my wallet. It helped to remind me of all of the junk I bought that I never needed.
Within 3 months, I landed a temporary job at a finance company that lasted for 5 months. I then landed a permanent full-time at another finance company. During this time, I made it a point to keep my part-time job.
I set up a snowball method to start paying off my debt. The addition of my part-time job really helped me to knock down the balance. A little over a year later, I was finally able to declare that I was debt free!
Takeaways From My Debt Story
Like so many others that struggle with debt, I failed many times. Why was this? I never got to the root of the problem. Many might think they simply have a spending problem. Most likely, they don’t. The issue is deeper than that. Trust me when I say that while it is not easy to look inside yourself and admit you are flawed, it is the only way you are going to get out of debt once and for all.
It’s the same idea if your car leaks oil. Sure you can just keep adding oil every few weeks. But you are going to have to keep adding oil until you look under the hood and find out why your car is leaking oil in the first place and fix that issue.
Another key to my success was putting the picture in my wallet. I love to use visual reminders to help me reach my goals. I started with that picture in my wallet. I have since added a custom picture to the home screen on my phone. Every time I check my phone, I see the note to myself as a friendly reminder.
If you don’t use visualization to help you out, then you should confide in others. A good friend will not judge you or put you down when you confide in them. They will do the exact opposite- they will lift you up and motivate and inspire you to push through to reach your goals.
Lastly, don’t give up. I failed a bunch of times before I found success. Chances are you will fail too. Don’t get down on yourself and don’t give up. Learn from your mistake and vow to not make it again. Eventually, you will find success, but only if you don’t give up.
Jon blogs at Money Smart Guides , a personal finance blog that helps readers get out of debt and start investing for their future. There he provides actionable steps so that readers can reach their financial goals and dreams.