There is nothing that has been a more consistent element in my depression and anxiety in my life more than financial worries. A lack of financial success has contributed to my stress, my lack of a social life, and in some ways my lack of what could be considered progress in life.
In Spring of 1999 I applied for and was given my first credit card. It had a $200 spending limit. I would use it when I needed to and I always paid it off. Then I got another card with a bigger limit. Then I got another one and another and another and another. It kept going. I kept using the credit I had available to me. I had a MasterCard, Discover Card, American Express, more than one Visa, and a few store specific cards. By January, 2010 my credit card debt was close to $40,000.
I had to do something about my debt. I had looked into bankruptcy as an option. I had looked into debt settlement agencies, only to read about how it could actually negatively impact my credit rating. However, I didn’t really need to worry about the settlement issues because it’s not legal in my state. But that didn’t stop the person on the other end of the phone from suggesting I set up an address in another state. Sounds like a reasonable organization, right? But, I’m getting off track…
I did get in touch with a debt counselling service based on someone’s recommendation. They told me what they could do for me and what the conditions were. It was pretty clear. They negotiated with all of my credit card companies and got my interest rates lowered to reasonable amounts. All of my accounts were closed or suspended. I had to pay off whatever I owed, there was no forgiveness. And by no means was I permitted to use a credit card during while I still owed anything. I accepted the terms and got on my path to financial freedom.
Less than one year later I lost my job. I was able to collect unemployment, but my income was not what it used to be. I decided to make a drastic move and I cashed out my 401k. I put all of it towards my debt and made a significant impact on it. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. My 401k was for my future, and you’re right. But with that debt hanging over me, I had no future. I needed it gone. The 401k did not finish the job, but it made it manageable again. I was able to lower my monthly payments and get by with what I was collecting.
Over the course of the next year or so I sold some stocks that I had invested in and put them towards my debt as well, and also I did end up with another job. It paid me less than my previous one, but it was a job. I filed my taxes in early February, 2013 and saw the amount that I was going to be refunded. It was more than I owed. The day that money was in my account, I called the debt agency and let them know I wanted to make an extra payment. When I was asked how much the payment would be, I replied “every last cent I owe.” That was the best phone call I had ever made. They let me know that I would not see the results IMMEDIATELY, but within a few weeks everything would be settled. I checked my account on their website daily. Sometimes I looked at it multiple times in a day.
On the morning of March 12, 2013 I was at my gym. In between sets I used my phone to look up my account. It said “DEBT FREE.” I sat there for a few seconds before it sunk it, and I wept. The burden was gone. I could finally say that I owed NOTHING. I went back to my house and took a picture of ALL of my credit cards, since I had saved them. I then shredded ALL OF THEM and took a picture of them afterwards. I posted those pictures online, because well…
isn’t that how we all announce good news?
It’s now been two years to the day since I’ve been debt free. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I don’t have much money to my name at all. I live hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck. I have a new job that actually pays me less than I’ve been paid since I started with the credit cards to being with. Very often I am completely struggling to get by. I’ve learned the importance of coupons and rewards cards.
But here’s the big difference in my financial burden now and my burden from a few years ago. If I can’t afford something, I don’t do it. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is how much I’ve feel I’ve missed out on due not being able to afford it. However, the flip side to that is how much more I appreciate anything and everything that I am capable of doing.
Of course, while I do have the appreciation, I still have the sometimes overwhelming feeling of hopelessness since I’ve not been able to get ahead at all. Don’t think I’m not putting forth an effort. It’s just not easy.
I recently read an excellent book called “Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America” by Linda Tirado. Yes, that’s where I got the “hand to mouth” line that I used. The book about her struggles with fiances, depression (due to finances and not due to finances), stigma of being poor and depressed, and just coping with all of it really got to me. It showed me that I AM NOT ALONE. That’s something I’ve tried to convey to people struggling with life’s issues. They’re not alone and sometimes I need to be reminded of that myself.. And reading about her problems gave me some comfort. Not that I am glad she struggled, or that anyone is going through similar issues, but I still got comfort knowing that there’s others like me.
I seriously recommend that book to anyone with financial struggles. And I also recommend that people read the original article that got her noticed, which I will link to HERE.
In summary, I spent most of my 20s building my debt and burying myself under it. I spent most of my 30s paying it off and climbing out of the hole. But here I am, two years removed from credit card debt and still way under the poverty line and still very close to being completely broke. If I want to look at the bright side of it, I’ve never been in a better financial position in life. I can also say that there’s never been a better time for me to be broke, because I have no debt. But looking at the bright side can only get me so far. Looking at my bank statements brings me back down to reality in a flash.
But like any other struggle I deal with on a daily basis, I’m still fighting. Because like any other struggle I deal with on a daily basis, I can’t give up. Because like every other struggle I deal with on a daily basis, I’m determined to come out better.