19 March 2010

Credit Debt Obliteration...and debtstory

The thought of nearing financial solvency excites me.  Each time I see the amount I owe on my credit card decrease, I get a little giddy, not too giddy, mind you, I still have a ways to go, but soon, my credit debt will close in on one paycheck.  That's right, if I keep up my current rate of contribution, in a couple months, 1 paycheck will be all I need to absolve myself of all credit card transgressions.  It feels good but it's also scary to think about how I got to where I am in debt.  

In the words of the ultra-talented Steve Martin, "I was born a poor black child."  Actually, that's not exactly true.  I'm pretty sure I was born into an up and coming 'buppie' family.  Replete with a house by the beach, good schools, a doting mother, a nanny and a philandering father.  Several years later, my mother decided that her dignity was worth more than remaining married to save face and the financial storm began.  

The house had to be sold, cars had to be distributed.  My brother and I were my mother's divorce get and we all moved back to my mother's childhood home, in East Palo Alto with my three cousins, my mother's boyfriend, his daughter, my aunt and her boyfriend.  Full house to say the least and despite the fact that there were four working adults in our household, we lived hand to mouth.  I can say that from the time my parents divorced until the time I graduated from college (nearly twenty years) we lived a hand to mouth existence.  No one talked about saving because no one had much to save.  In fact, I had been taught that a savings account was a trick.  The bank could keep your money and lend it to others and pay you almost no interest.  You could achieve those kinds of results keeping your money in your pocket.  
East Palo Alto was becoming less and less like Pleasantville.  My mother didn't like the idea of bullets whizzing by while we were playing double dutch so she bought a home in rural California, far north.  Her boyfriend followed, bringing his daughter along.  He soon became my stepfather.  Home ownership aside, we were still living hand to mouth.  When I was old enough to get a job, I saved a little money.  Nothing to note really.  I bought my first car with  a loan from my grandfather and paid him back in $10 installments.  A minimum wage job enabled me to buy my own school clothes and gas, pay for car insurance and maintenance but not much else.  I'd say I kept a steady $25 in the bank.  That was my buffer.  Then came the credit card offers.  I'd paid off a car loan.  I had a job and Providian wanted me. 

I was smart enough to get my first credit card from my credit union at a reasonable interest rate.  A $500 limit was more than enough for a country girl like myself.  I realized that this stiff piece of plastic was my ticket out of the age of deprivation.  I could have anything I wanted, right now, on Visa's dime. Of course, I paid my bill regularly, built up my credit, even picked up a number of department store cards along the way. My credit limits increased, as they were wont to do in the swingin' nineties.

Between gentleman friends, fellowships, student loans, my mother's refi and credit, college was doable.  For about 5-8 years I enjoyed the 'buy now, pay later' lifestyle my credit cards enabled.   I enjoyed it until I realized that life would extend past twenty five, and so would my bills. I realized that I wanted to have a family and that I'd need money for my family, but how I desired to live was completely incongruous with  how I was able to live based on my income.  So I kind of ignored the fact that I had more credit debt than I could repay in a reasonable amount of time.  I wasn't buying extravagant things, still, I wasn't putting as much money toward credit debt as I could have.   I paid my minimum payment times about three still, paying only 6% of what I owed kept me in a pretty deep hole.    

Somehow, when I met Ashkenaz Spice, he made it clear that he didn't intend to throw this fish back into the sea.  I started to feel guilty about all the debt I was holding.  I thought it wouldn't bode well for our future together or our future family so I began to:
1. Pay my credit cards down aggressively.
2. Use my credit cards less aggressively.
In the past three years my credit card balance has gone up and down.  Then there was THE WEDDING  but fortunately, by then, I had turned a corner.  Somehow, miraculously, my net debt post wedding was less than pre wedding.  And. it. keeps. dropping. (knock on wood)  

I've gone without fancy dinners and new clothes and new shoes (I've walked holes in two pairs of shoes for the first time in memory).  When I moved into my own apartment a lot of my furniture was 'found'.  When we moved in together, we had this found furniture *and* made some serious bargains on Craigslist.   When the car broke, we didn't get a new one (we didn't want to be hobbled by a car loan before the credit debt was paid).  Instead we take public transit and use Zipcar.  When we moved and sold our 200lb TV we didn't buy a new one.  We've passed on ski trips with friends, that we would have liked to take.  We keep our thermostat set pretty low.  First *I* made a lot of sacrifices, then *we* made a lot of sacrifices and I don't mind, because it's paying off.  

I'm still staring down student loans, but those, I'll worry about when they come.  For now, I feel a little lighter on my toes, and kind of drunk with the knowledge that this credit card monkey will soon be off my back.  

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