I was debt-free until my senior year of college. I was not a great manager of my finances, but I was debt-free.
My college savings (that is the money I worked for and set aside to pay for college with) was getting dangerously low by the end of my unemployed junior year, and I had two options: take a(nother) year off of school to work and save OR take out student loans. I didn’t want to spend another year just working, and so I went with the student loan option. And so my journey into debt began.
I don’t regret taking out student loans. I wanted and needed to finish my degree, and student loans enabled me to do that. However, those student loans and their impending payments began to loom as I finished my degree, and the pressure mounted for me to find a full-time job; if possible, before graduation. So I took the first job I was offered, which was sixty miles away from where I lived.
I needed a car, so my Dad and I went to the dealership and cosigned on a car, not because he was going to pay for any of it, but because he had an established credit score that helped me get better interest rates. And with that, I tripled my debt.
I don’t regret buying my car. I need my car for practical reasons. It’s just nice after years of schmoozing people to get rides, being able to get myself places.
I didn’t need the credit card. The idea behind getting the card at all was that it was supposed to help me further establish credit, but I spent money I didn’t have, so that’s not what happened. I didn’t need that retail store charge card either, but fortunately, it has a low limit and working at said retail store with the charge card makes for some great discounts.
I wouldn’t say I regret either of the cards, either, just that I should have handled them more responsibly.
A year after graduating college, I was roughly $30,000 in debt, and making less than $20,000 a year.
It. was. suffocating.
I was stuck in this job that made me emotionally distressed and physically ill, that paid a pittance, and that I was driving way too far to get to. I was looking for work, interviewing, and coming up with nothing. I couldn’t get out. And while people were so helpful in sending prospective jobs my direction, they didn’t see the financial burden I was under and couldn’t understand why quitting was not an option.
Eventually, God provided a part-time job for my evenings that was more in line with what I’d gone to school for and had some experience in. I took the job so that I would eventually be able to quit the job that was making me miserable, but I worked from 7am-10pm Monday-Thursday and 7am-3pm on Fridays for about six months. (How did I do it? I have this capacity to be a robot from time to time, when circumstances make it necessary). I did quit the full-time job when I felt it was financially safe to do so, feeling pretty confident I’d find something else soon, even if it was just part-time.
I only worked part-time from February to November last year. I was not fully making it, and yet, I was prioritizing paying off debt when I could. I had certain bills I paid every month, and certain bills I would alternate. Not good, but doing what was in my power.
Then I picked up a retail job in November as a seasonal hire, and they liked me and decided to keep me on. Since beginning this job, I’ve been able to pay bills every month. Last month, I was granted a hardship forbearance on one of my debts, which will give me time to pay down other things so I can begin faithfully paying on it again in a few months.
It’s been slow-going, but I was crunching some personal finance numbers today, and I saw that I’ve reduced my debt by half since August 2012. Slowly but surely, I am coming up out of debt. I don’t feel like I’m drowning under a burden only I can see for the first time in a long time. I feel like even if things keep going the way they are going job-wise for me, I’m going to beat this. I feel like I will someday be independent, even if it means two more tough years.
What wise people often try to tell us, but we don’t often comprehend until it’s way too late, is that there are consequences to irresponsible spending, to having more money go out than comes in. Debt ties you to companies, people, living situations, and a score by which you are evaluated for just about everything. Debt holds you back from doing things you want to do, because you have to work, you have to pay your bills. Debt makes life just that much harder.
I’m not telling you student loans, or car loans, or credit cards, or store cards are bad and neither will any other sensible person, but if you’re spending money you don’t have and cannot guarantee you will ever have, you’re going to find yourself enslaved in the pursuit of money. And that is an excruciating and lonely burden.
Getting free requires tenacity and discipline. It is the slowest and hardest path I have ever been on. And it’s humbling. I’m amazed at how many people are willing to speak into my situation without having much (if any) idea what is going on. “Isn’t working two jobs a little greedy?” “You’re not doing YOUR part.” “You deserve this.” And maybe, on one hand, they’re all right: maybe if I hadn’t been so insistent on finishing my degree in my timing, maybe if I hadn’t accepted less than I deserved out of a sense of unworthiness, I wouldn’t be in this boat. Maybe I do deserve this. It’s true that we reap what we sow.
But I am getting free, with every month that passes. And with the exception of $200 last October from various friends for an urgent financial need, it’s been all God. And even that was really Him, prompting people, but what I mean is that by and large, God’s help has not come in the form of monetary gifts. It’s been more like, “I’m going to teach you how to do this yourself so you remember the responsibility that comes with money.” He’s taken care of me through my irresponsible financial choices, and I believe He will continue to do so.
I just want to be free.