My husband received the title to his truck in the mail today. My car has been paid off for a few years now. This makes us free and clear of car payments, and that makes me smile. Within the next six months we will make our final mortgage payment, and we will have full ownership of our condominium. We carry no credit card balances, putting us as close to debt free as we could hope to be. That thought makes me do a mental happy dance.
The story has not always read this way. As a single woman starting out in my twenties I did a sizable amount of damage to my credit score. I was on my own for the first time, paying a mortgage, a car payment, college tuition, and household bills. Like so many at that age I was seduced by the magic of instant money to be found in credit cards, and I used them like an easy pass on the buyer’s expressway. To say that I was overextended would be an understatement. There were times when I would send up a fervent prayer to the money gods before swiping my debit card to pay (I hoped) for hot dogs and soup to feed me for the week.
By the time we got married I was struggling to pay the minimum due on three credit cards, and I was stuck in accumulating interest hell. Having my husband to contribute to the household bills helped, though I laugh now to think of our pathetic combined annual income back then. I started to get the calls nobody likes to get. Go figure, the same nice people who offered me those sky high credit limits now had the audacity to want the money returned.
The weight of debt is crushing and constant. It goes everywhere you go. It never leaves you alone. It does not let you sleep, and it invades your thoughts throughout the day. Keep it a secret, and it is like carrying around an elephant on your shoulders. I told myself that I did not tell my husband because it was my debt, accumulated before we met, and my responsibility. The truth was that I was ashamed and embarrassed. How had I, a levelheaded, practical, and responsible person, let myself get here?
The day that I broke down and came clean was the day I threw the elephant off. I refused to allow my husband to make any of the credit card payments, but we worked out a plan where he took on the bulk of the household expenses. This left me free to chip away at the mountain of credit card debt, and it took years of chipping to reduce that mountain to a pile of rubble. We are more than ten years past it now, but when I think of how much more we could have in savings if I had not gotten into that mess it makes me cringe. I wish mine could serve as a cautionary tale to today’s young adults, but I think it is one of those things that only makes an impact if it happens to you.
We have taken a long road to get to where we are today. Where we are is not rich (my husband did not go into law enforcement to seek his fortune, and I have been unemployed by choice for several months). Where we are is living a modest but comfortable life.
Since I paid off the credit card debt we have made the conscious decision to live below our means. Despite the urging of relatives and friends we chose to stay in our small condo rather than buying a house and taking on a larger mortgage. We now have one credit card each, and we only use them for online purchases and reservations (for security purposes we do not use our debit cards online). The balance is paid off immediately with no interest accumulation. We pay cash for everything else. We took two trips within the past five months, and they were both paid in full before we ever boarded the planes.
I know that our lifestyle choices are not suitable or desirable for everyone. I am encouraged, though, by the growing trend toward minimalism. It is liberating to not feel the need to accumulate things. It provides you with the ability to look at your career choice with a certain clarity. Making your employment decisions based on your desire to do something that you enjoy, rather than based on income need, is a gift. (If what you love to do happens to provide you with a substantial income then by all means, go to it!) The bottom line is that you can get by with less than you might think. I am not advocating that everyone run off to sell their houses and cars. What works for us may not work for you. Your means may well be more than ours. The idea is to live within them, not above them.
I am aware that circumstances could change. There are honest, hard-working people struggling to get by due to things that are out of their control such as divorce, disease, or disability. We may be one illness, one accident, or one unforeseen disaster away from a daunting pile of bills. All we can do is hope for the best while preparing for the worst, and that is why we will continue to drop debt like the bad habit that it is.
All photo credits: http://www.pixabay.com