Though I’ve mentioned them in several other places already, I’d like to mention a couple of things once again.
This past week I did two things: I finished my last library school class and I finished paying off the last of my credit card debt. I am actually much, much prouder of the latter. When your parents have three doctorates (two Phs and an M) between them, it’s a little hard to get excited about a master’s degree, even if it’s a second master’s degree. School has always been easy for me, but money never has been.
I tend to tell people that my credit card debt was the result of unemployment and moving expenses, and while these things are partly to blame, the average $3000-$5000 I’ve carried since I graduated from college was really the result of plain old stupidity. Since a lot of people have problems with debt — some smaller than mine, some greater (and it’s worth knowing that I still have another year of car payments and many more years of student loan payments) — I thought I’d write a little about how I finally got mine paid off.
I will note at the start that it is much, much easier to pay off debts when you have an actual job. The job that I have now is the first full-time job I’ve ever held — I got through my twenties on temp jobs and tutoring and graduate employee stipends and dog-walking. It is also a lot easier to pay off debt if you are a single person with no dependents and live in a place where the rent is cheap.
I was never given much of a financial education. I was told, of course, that I ought to pay off credit card debt in full every month, but I was also lead to believe that actually doing so was optional. I never learned to make a budget, and though I was frugal in many ways, I also had expensive tastes, most notably for travel and food. But the lack of a budget and a plan meant that every time I got the debt paid off, it soon rose again, because something came up — my car broke down, or my cat got sick — and I didn’t have the money budgeted to pay for it.
This year, thanks to the advice of Jessamyn, I started using Pear Budget to track expenses and to make sure that I was putting aside money each month for car repairs and school tuition and visits to the vet and various other exigencies. I used the calculators at Bankrate.com to help figure out how much I needed to pay on various debts each month, and I took a lot of the various advice they offer on that site. I also realized that it wasn’t a good idea to deprive myself totally, and so I thought about what kinds of things most improved the quality of my day, and which of those could be substituted or given up. For me, that meant that I stopped buying books and CDs but still got to have goat cheese and good coffee.
In writing about this, I feel like maybe I’m making it sound easy, which it wasn’t — but it also wasn’t as impossible as I once feared. Now I have no credit card debt and I have money in the bank to cover most minor disasters. In a few more months, I should be able to cover at least one major one. In two weeks, I go on vacation with a plane ticket I’ve already paid for. I am, yes, feeling
a wee bit chuffed pretty damn proud of myself.