May I Say: Our worst four-letter wordI consider debt an enemy. I avoid it, chip away at it and kick it when it’s down.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
I consider debt an enemy. I avoid it, chip away at it and kick it when it’s down.
I once thought debt was my friend until I learned the lessons that only a mountain of it can teach. The main lesson: Nearly nothing justifies going into debt. This is a good time of year to consider that.
Possibly the best advice I ever heard for staying out of debt: Live like you have no credit, even if you do.
Everyone has their list of exceptions. Mine includes debt for a steady roof over my head and a reliable vehicle. Other people’s list might be longer or shorter.
I chuckle and shudder simultaneously thinking how the country’s predicament matches mine of many years ago. I learned lessons the hard way about what happens when we live beyond our means and thoughtlessly rack up debt.
Mine didn’t surpass the trillion-dollar mark like American’s collective balance, but it might as well have. I graduated from college facing $33,000 of unsecured debt.
A non-traditional student, I’d carved out an off-campus living while going to night school forever. Credit card offers poured in about the same time.
Soon I was plunking down a different piece of plastic every day.
I often used them to bail me out when I was short for food, gas, books and tuition. They also became a kind of fallback account for car repairs, clothes, furniture, occasion gifts, nights on the town, a “good watch,” travel I couldn’t afford…
By the time I learned that credit cards were not my friend, the bloodsuckers’ damage was done. I was up to my eyeballs and barely making minimum payments.
I knew I had to turn the tide and that it wasn’t gonna be easy.
Dreaming of multiple zero balances, I chose a high-paying job over the lower-paying job I really wanted, but it was the right decision. We should honor our debts, however innocently or irresponsibly we accumulate them.
I took pleasure in each blessed, steady paycheck. Every time I cut up another credit card or refused a new credit account, I celebrated a little victory.
I saved for a down payment while studying the best way to buy a car. I wanted one that would run much longer than its payment.
Back to the $33,000...It took years to pay off — about nine to be exact — with a consolidation early and a refinance later.
At times my husband (who married into my debt) and I wanted to give up, claim bankruptcy, have bad credit, whatever. I couldn’t shop; he couldn’t buy tools!
Credit’s instant rewards are hard to resist. We plop down the plastic and tote home the goods without having to think yet about the bill, with its interest and sometimes unexpected late or over-the-limit fees.
The prizes for staying out of debt and realistically managing finances are not instant. It may take years, even decades before we reap its subtle rewards.
And making things worse: We’re not patient people.
The day we paid off the last of that big, old debt brought elation and contentment. I sincerely thought I’d never see the end of it, and the sacrifice had been worth it.
We rolled with the momentum, working up to a proud day in the mortgage lender’s office, with high-scoring credit and a low-interest loan. We learned it really pays to look at finances as a whole, for the week, month, year and long term.
Staying out of debt means talking yourself out of stupid things and learning.
My husband and I learned that we must save for occasional-but-ongoing expenses and not spend on clothes, furniture, appliances or gifts if we can’t pay cash.
We figured out that loved ones are still loved ones without that extra gift. I realized that I hardly need to wear a watch anymore and if I do, it needs only to give the time, not impress other people. Nights on the town and extravagances make us feel spoiled and pampered — nice occasionally but not a way of life for most.
I’d love to save others the pain of learning those lessons the hard way. People should know that debt can be the worst, most painful kind of four-letter word.