Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dug Out

No, I'm not talking about snow. Or baseball. I'm talking about debt.

I know. Most people don't like to talk about money. Me either. But I'm going to go ahead and confess here that we used to have a lot of debt. (Notice that Used To. I'll get to that a bit later.)

Anyway, Mr. Simple and I got married in 1995. Our joint tax return for 1995 listed $12,000 in gross income. That puts a whole new meaning to living on love, doesn't it? But yea, we were not making much money. Shortly after that, we both got jobs in Chicago. Full time jobs. And we had no kids. And no mortgage. And just one car. So in theory, we should have been fine, right?

Of course, that wasn't what happened. We had full time jobs, but we weren't making that much money. And I was working in downtown Chicago and eating out for lunch at least 3 times a week. Not big lunches, but even 6 dollars a day, 3 days a week, adds up to quite a bit a month. And there was train fare. And work clothes. Same for Mr. Simple, minus the train fare. And rent was expensive, well, much more expensive than we were used to anyway.

So after 2.5 years of living in Chicago, we had already managed to start some credit card debt. But we paid the minimum every month. Sometimes more. It would be fine, right?

Then we moved to Decatur. Mr. Simple was working in radio. Do you know what the pay is like in radio? Well, let's just say, not high paying. I wasn't making much more. And I had to travel 45 minutes to work for much of that time, and of course, more lunches out. And another car. And we were trying to get pregnant, and we had discovered that there were some problems. So lots of dr. visits. But we were still young. There was time. One of these days, we would both get high paying jobs and it would be fine, right?

We moved to Normal. Mr. Simple was still working in radio. I was pregnant by now with Flower, but working full time at the university. We sometimes had trouble making the minimum payments and by now, the overall credit card amount was getting really high. We had a mortgage now. But it would be o.k., right?

Mr. Simple lost his job. But quickly got another job. I had Flower and we had to pay for daycare. The amount got larger.

Then I got pregnant with Jelly Bean. She was in daycare too. The amount got larger.

Then I went to part time at the university.

And then, in 2003, I was laid off.

We tried different things over the years. Paying a bunch from our tax return. Using the money that we got in a refi on our house. Using some of student loan money towards the debt when I was going to school. Because the interest rate on student loans was less than credit cards. It seemed to make sense at the time.

But we also had to do things like get appliances over the years and those went on the card. Sometimes, we had no money and we did cash advances. We never seemed to make any progress.

I had Super in 2004. By 2007, things were at the breaking point. I started doing full time daycare for a couple children to bring in more money, but we were still just barely getting by, and only making the minimum on credit card payments.

And so Mr. Simple made a call one day in June 2007. To a Credit Counseling Agency in town. They said that they could help us. They would manage our debt by negotiating lower interest rates, and by having us pay a set amount to them and they would distribute it to the credit card companies. (It wasn't exactly a smallish amount of money each month either. Like "more than a typical monthly car payment" amount.) But if we paid it every month for 48 months, we would have it paid off. Oh, and we had to cancel all of our credit cards too. Which sounds like a biggish deal, except it really wasn't. We had maxed all of them out and we hadn't used them in at least a year by that point anyway in an effort to try and gain some level of control over our credit card spending.

48 months. 4 years. It seemed like short time in some ways and it gave us a date when we would be DONE with it. For so long, it had seemed like we would be paying on credit card debt until we died.

On the other hand, 4 years. And 4 years of not using credit, but having to come up with that amount Every. Single. Month. That not exactly smallish amount. Every. Single. Month.

And I have increased my daycare over the past four years, worked some additional part time job over the years, but have never had a full time job during the last 4 years. Mr. Simple, over the past four years, increased his salary, then got a new job where he had an even higher salary, and then lost his job.

And we had things happen in the last four years. Floods. Appliances break. Needing New Appliances. Needing a different car. Christmas. Birthdays. Teeth breaking. Needing to fly to funerals.

And since 2007, I've tried to save money wherever I could. I try to be self reliant. We had one car for most of that time AND we managed to pay it off during that time. We make gifts when we can.

And then, it was June 2011. It had been 48 months. And our balance was $0.

$0. We have no credit card debt. We have no car payments on either of our cars. And during this time, we also managed to pay off dental debt of $15,000 (I had to have 7 crowns/root canals on most of my top front teeth. I seriously have the worst teeth EVER.) We do have a mortgage payment. We have some student loan debt.

But I don't have 29% interest on a Christmas present that I bought in 1997 hanging over my head anymore.

Will I get another credit card someday? Maybe. Not now. I don't know that even after all this time of NOT using one, that I trust myself. And I've learned to live without one. We pay save and pay cash if we need something. (What a concept, huh?)

All I know is that seeing the daylight after being buried for so long, well, it is AMAZING.


Normal Mom said...

Congratulations! I hope you feel your load lightened a bit.

The Queen Bee said...

I completely feel ya on this one! To some people having a credit card is like crack cocaine! Once you start it's hard to stop! We've been credit card free for 5 years and it's great. People always say they couldn't live without at least one for emergencies but I'm here to say YOU CAN!

Congrats to you!!!!