True confession: I’m a yo-yo debtor.
One year I’m up, the next I’m down.
I always pay it off.
And yet, I always find myself there again. “There” being in debt, of course.
A Storied Debt History
First, I racked up $10,000 in credit card debt buying fast fashion and booze in college. (Thanks, shopping addiction.) Then, I moved to NYC and got a sweet job at a hedge fund that paid me my first real salary and I learned how to pay it off.
A few years later I moved from NYC to Atlanta (ATL) to be closer to my family. I took the money I had in savings (Yes! Savings!) and bought my first home – a fixer-upper in an undesirable neighborhood. The large scale renovation ran over, draining my savings and forcing me to put the final projects on my credit cards. Once I got motivated, I paid the $8,000 off in under 90 days.
Most recently, a few years back I began working for myself as a freelance writer and full-time blogger and struggled in more ways than I ever expected: with being productive, with working from home, and especially with managing the ups and downs of irregular income.
With my new career came a new struggle to pay off my business card balances in full each month. I’d get close, leaving $100 or $200 on the card here and there. And then, well, you know how that turns out. Suddenly, you wake up one day and BLAM – that $100 or $200 has snowballed into thousands.
And I paid it off, of course. In record time.
But those experiences never really changed my narrative around debt. Life happens. But if I’m being honest, I’ve never really saved as much as I should. Not enough to keep me from relying on the cards when I needed them.
And as a finance writer who can recite personal finance basics in her sleep…thinking about this makes me a little sick sometimes.
I don’t love debt, but I sometimes crush on credit cards.
Credit cards are easy, comforting even. You don’t have to think when you swipe. It’s always there. Especially if you have irregular income, you can stick to a budget and then pay the cards at the end of the month rather than having to juggle cash flow or worry if your debit card will go through.
I know I’m not alone in this.
But for me, credit card debt is also a frenemy – I like her and her credit card rewards. I like the fact that I can instantly access the pricey things I crave and pay them off later. I like that the interest seems so benign at first it doesn’t really feel like an issue.
But then, of course, it is.
The breakthrough for me came when I had to write an article about the cost of daily interest. I took my business card and broke my APR and figured out how much that $1-$200 I left hanging out each month cost me. Essentially, I was costing myself a pair of shoes every time I didn’t pay the full balance.
And visualizing those shoes felt more real to me than a more abstract .07 cents per day cost of using the card over cash or debt. Even though I find personal finance endlessly fascinating, people who are good with money aren’t born – they’re made.
And success comes in finding money values and lessons that really connect with you.
What I’m Doing to Change My Own Debt Narrative
One common thread between all the times I was in debt and paying it off is that I didn’t really talk to anyone about it.
Sure, I’m a personal finance blogger and I wrote about my journey and updates and progress in real time.
But posting and writing – even for the world to see – about debt is a bit different than talking, isn’t it?
I believe you have to physically speak something into existence in order for your wishes to soak into the universal energy. Even though I was completely upfront about the debt on the internet, have I been allowing myself to repeat my own debt story, time and time again, because I don’t dare to speak my issues with it out loud?
These days, my recent marriage comes with a built-in accountability partner. We’re merging finances, so now I’m forced to justify my spending decisions – out loud – to my partner. I thought I’d hate it, but I don’t. For those who aren’t sharing their spending habits with a partner, tell a trusted friend, parent, or co-worker.
Confront your issues by speaking them out loud. Have the #RealMoneyTalk. Changing a narrative, especially as one as ingrained as the one around how normal it is to use credit cards, isn’t easy.
These days I’m much better about staying out of yo-yo debt. I pay off my credit card balances in full each month – even if it drains my savings and makes me feel broke and sad. But that’s the point, isn’t it?
You have to change your behaviors in order to change the narrative.