Take Out Credit Card Debt? Check!

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It’s the best kind of Friday, Pay Day. Who doesn’t love kicking off the weekend with a little extra paper in their pocket? Today however is a very special Friday. This morning at 6:03, I made the final payment on my last credit card, and I am completely debt free!!

Well…except for my student loans. And that’s the giant animal that I taking out next, but I am going to take this moment to celebrate my independence from plastic. WOO!

Now I realize it’s a little tacky discussing money, but I figure if Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey can do it publicly, well shit, so can I. I do my best not to discuss my journey with debt reduction with friends while out shopping or out on the town, so allow me to take this moment and put out there the challenge I’ve overcome and why I’m so damn happy today.

I wouldn’t call the neighborhood I grew up in the “Upper Eastside” of the Northwest. But it actually is called the Eastside, and was a fairly affluent ‘hood where most of my friends lived in, what I thought, were giant houses. I did not. I’ll never forget how weird I thought it was that when we wanted to, say, go to the drug store to get candy or go to the movies. They’d just ask their parents for money and ta-daaaaaa, a $20 dollar bill would magically appear in their hand. Amazing!

Never ever did I have such a luxury. For example, back to school shopping every year was kind of a nightmare, as my friends would have bags and bags from the cool shops like Nordstrom or Abercrombie, and I’d be stuck with Sears or Marshalls. They’d want to compare clothes in excitement, and I’d pretend I had soccer practice or something to spare myself the embarrassment of showing my non-name brand and 1/5th quantity of clothes than they had.

I therefore realized the value of money pretty early, and decided I wanted to go find some. I’d sell lemonade, mow lawns, wash cars. I even made crafts and would go door-to-door selling them. When I was 14 I got my first job at the library and thought I was rolling in cash making $7.75 an hour. I saved most of what I made, but used some to keep up with my wealthier friends.

In high school it felt like I was the only one who had a job. I worked at a little coffee shop less than a mile from my high school, but it was actually pretty fun. I didn’t really care I was one of the few working. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I invited my friends to stop by and it ended up being a hang out for a lot of people. Glass half full!

So fine, there were a few occasions I wished it were easier. But I’d quickly make myself get over it because there was nothing else I could do about it. I remember some of the girls would say things like, “I never shop in the sale section,” or “Ugh, I don’t want to work, I’ll just marry a rich guy.”

I think that’s how I became who I am. I’d hear shit like that and immediately retaliate. ”Fuck THAT,” I thought to myself. There’s no way in hell I’m selling myself as a bride or depending on anyone else for my security. And the sales rack is awesome because I get more stuff with my cash! I just never understood people like that.

I went to college and there was one point where I had 3 jobs. I busted my ASS to get out of there debt free, but in my senior year I decided it would be good for my resume to do an internship at the local TV station, so I did that instead. I wound up with a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Washington with only $13,000 in student loans. I was pretty happy with that.

Wellll that was 2007 and when the economy went to hell. I did everything I could to find “the career,” but it was a challenge to say the least. In a 3-year period I worked at a casting agency (internship), magazine (internship), newspaper (they actually gave me money), an online e-zine ($20 an article), a bank, and at Nordstrom. Most of those were overlapping, and I was exhausted. I felt like I was getting nowhere and needed to do something else.

I realized how much I love school and being frustrated with the working world, I decided to get my Master’s degree. I also was very tired of Seattle and wanted to move somewhere with a little less than 9 months of rain fall, so it was the perfect opportunity to go, learn, and change my life around.

Did I tell you I got married somewhere in there? Ah yes, I was married and my husband was laid off from his job. Party on Wayne! So we really weren’t doing well financially at all. We had two mortgages, low income, and stress. But he was down with moving to San Diego if I had an opportunity. So when I got in to the university of my choice, we took off with hope for work and a fresh start.

Now, he was working in retail since he was laid off, but was interested in a career change. In order to get the experience for his new career path, he took a “job” that paid zero base and only commission. That’s a nice way of saying he earned almost no money. Given our situation, I qualified for a lot of student loans. Our bright idea? Take out as much as possible, and we’ll live off that and pay it off when we’re making more money. It was essentially student loans for both of us to get our careers in order.

All of our credit cards began to climb quickly, and we were living off my massive student loans and credit cards. It’s not an understatement to say things were mighty tight.

Well then life hit even harder and due to many factors outside of cash flow, we split up in 2011. While he wound up with most of the credit card debt, I was still saddled with $10,000 of it, a car where I owed $13,000, and all $50,000 of the student loans. Now on my own and newly divorced, let’s just say I was unhappy about my financial situation and frustrated to have put myself there. Before my marriage I was good with money, but somehow my spending habits clearly got out of control during those years with my partner. Maybe I was making up for all the years prior of being practical? I don’t know but I completely own up to my own part in spending, and damn…what a mess.

Well I graduated from school again in 2012, and was on the job hunt again. Needless to say it was a little scary given my last round in the job market. But I fortunately landed a good job, and am relieved to say it’s a steady one that pays alright. So there I was looking at $73,000 of debt, 28 years old, and not really sure where to start.

I can’t tell you how scary it was that first day I went to a financial planning class called Financial Peace University. I was pretty much dragged to it by my boyfriend, who has never had any real debt in his life. In addition, it is a class that is run by a church, and I’ve had some pretty bad experiences with churches…so I was downright mortified.

But that day, the baldy on the TV made a lot of sense to me. It helped that he was funny and spoke my practical language. It helped that I was sitting in a room with people who were open about their financial situations. I realized I was pretty normal and my situation wasn’t as dire as I thought. That day, I cut up 3 credit cards and vowed to pay that shit off forever.

That was October something of last year. I rolled up my sleeves and started my debt snowball immediately. I sold the giant piece of junk, I mean car, that I owed $13,000 on and bought myself somewhat of a beater, a 2000 Altima, for $2,900 cash. And every month since October, I dug deep to get those credit cards under control.

At last, I write to you today, and my heart feels a lighter. I don’t make a car payment. Everything I bought with those credit cards is really MINE now. No more do I have to log in to Toyota, Bank of America, Nordstrom, BECU, to make a payment. And I won’t ever again.

The hardest part of all this? It’s not easy saying no. When your friends are going to dinner, going to concerts, going on vacation, going out to the bars or clubs, I am often saying no. Is that fun? No. (See, I’m getting good at saying no!) But I’m busting my ass because I have bigger goals than all that.

I want to have a legacy and build real wealth for my future family. I want to buy a house. I want to have that family. I want to pay for my kid’s college tuition and I want to retire some day. I live in California and my family is in Washington and Texas. I have this dream where I will have a big house with lots of rooms for everyone to come and stay with me for as long as they like. A little paradise they can come to and relax.

And in order to get there, it takes some discipline and some wise planning. Sexy right? Not really. Our culture is fascinated by rich celebrities who sit on their ass and roll in money due to their last name. But that’s not reality and that’s not going to happen for most of us. I’ve come to the realization that success is something that I WILL attain. And it’s up to me. Discipline and hard work does pay off, and today is a huge milestone proving it’s true.

I’m not a big Bible nut but there is some good stuff in there. And one verse I am keeping my eye on in this journey is:

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

Proverbs 22:6-8

I refuse to be a slave anymore. I now have control, a goal, and some success. So I am going to take today and celebrate. But student loans, you had better be afraid. You’re up next.

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Schoooool’s OUT. for. SUMMER!

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I always have that song stuck in my head this time of year. “Schoooool’s out…for…SUMMER!” sings Alice Cooper to me whether I’m brushing my teeth or writing marketing copy. If I let myself daydream, I can see images of the kids from, “Dazed and Confused,” tearing out of their classrooms in freedom and a fat Ben Affleck running around trying to beat up that freshman kid that got away.

The reason this happens to me is it’s graduation season. That predictable time every year where your Facebook blows up with complaints about finals, and Instagram fills with photos depicting proud scholars at either study sessions or graduation parties.  CNN, Fox News and NBC will regularly run stories calculating the likelihood of these weary academics landing actual jobs. More talk about “the economy” will fuel over-makeuped newscasters, as they express concerns that Bachelor’s and Master’s alike may very well go back to barista-ing in the coffee shop concocting double tall, nonfat, extra hot, sugar free vanilla lattes.

Most of us on the other side look back fondly as well as with relief. “Ah, I remember that moment, I had the whole world in front of me.” “Damn, I’m glad that shit is over.” “Sssssssuckers!!” I’ve marched my last pomp and circumstance, but I still get that hopeful anticipation of summer that I had every year since joining the ranks of formal education.

I think we all do. That’s something we all have in common, that dream of what we would/will do when we graduate[d].  I recall in my final semesters of school often frequenting Lestat’s, a cliché coffee shop filled with mismatching antique furniture and hipsters with overgrown mustaches in an artsy district of town.  I’d plop myself down on the largest available of the mismatching furniture and surrender myself to long afternoons of composing, editing, crying over, yet another 30 page research paper.

I vowed to myself as I’d gazed over at the girl on the nearby couch with a giant scarf plucking away at her tiny guitar…? ….Mandolin? Ukulele…no…what the hell was that thing…?  Sorry, I just never figured out what that small stringed instrument was.  Anyway, I vowed to myself every time Scarfy and I sat in the overstuffed furniture that once I graduated I would come to coffee shops and just write what I wanted.

Or I would pick my guitar back up and maybe jam with Scarfy, strike up a scarf-a-riffic friendship wherein we would talk about birds and plan to hitchhike around Europe.  Maybe we’d meet some guys who also liked scarves and stringed instruments, and we would eventually be all the talk of art district coffee houses.  Eventually VH1 would do a documentary on our remarkably humble beginnings that eventually lead to folksy stardom, and our patented guit-mando-lele would make us a fortune.

But what really happened was that I graduated, spent the first month job hunting, tanning, and Happy Houring. I told myself I needed a break from writing and any kind of high-level thinking, and the most time I would spend in any kind of book was the mimosa menu at brunch. I fortunately landed a steady position at a start-up company, and have been quite busy with that ever since.

It’s a gift and a curse having gainful employment.  I don’t have the worries I had in that month between graduation and my first day of grown-up work…I know now that I can pay for those brunch mimosas.  But it’s a bit of a curse lacking the flexibility of time. As I type this I glance at the clock, buying myself a few more minutes before I absolutely have to start getting ready for the day, and sometimes my thoughts drift to…”Now when is that first meeting? Wait, do I have any meetings today? What am I going to make for lunch…”

Work takes a lot out of you, and often it takes away our zeal and time to be creative. I know that’s what happened to me for the last year. Typically when I make it to Friday after a hard week (and that’s every week), I’m all, “YEEEAAAHH!!!! The weekend is HERE!” The delirious joy I get when the Seattle college station I stream KEXP plays “the Friday song” on my drive in to work follows me throughout the day as I fantasize of the adventures I’ll have that weekend. There’s always something to do, a distraction to indulge in.  I live by the damn beach, and those waves just beckon me to them…once I get close enough the sand turns into quicksand, forcing me to stop, set out my beach towel and just lay down.

Then Saturday is gone. Sunday arrives and most of it is consumed with dread that the very next day is Monday and ruh-roh, that means back to the refinery.

But let’s go all the way back to the young college hopeful in the overstuffed antique chair. Is this they way she would appreciate me spending my time?  She was so trapped, burdened with deadlines and stressed out professors. She would often say, “I can’t WAIT until I have a 9 to 5er! When I’m done for the day, I’ll be done. Then I’ll have every late afternoon all to myself to do whatever I want. And the weekends will have no call to homework! It will truly be freedom and I’ll really be able to get all my projects done.”

I dreamed of returning to those overstuffed chairs with no due date or assignment. And at the time of this writing, I have let exactly 12 months pass since my last visit to that glorious little hole, spending my weekends instead focused on “resting” from my work week or dreading the work week ahead.

So in homage to that burdened young hopeful that was me this time last year, I will finally do it.  I’ll return to some kitschy coffee shop this weekend. I’ll just sit there and sip my coffee. Maybe I’ll bring a book, my computer, or a guit-mando-lele.

And when I gaze over at a stressed out academic, whose eyes are bagged from pulling frequent all-nighters and hands are shaking from caffeine overdose, I’ll smile and take a deep breath. One, because I don’t have a single fucking final to be worried about. And two, that I’ll have finally made it to the peaceful side of the coffee shop.

So here we are at Friday! Congratulations to all of you who are graduating this year, whether it’s high school or some level of university, it’s a huge accomplishment. And for those of you who finished your scholastic march in years past, enjoy your weekend. But let’s make this weekend count so that when Monday comes, we know that we invested time in not only relaxing, but taking those steps we dreamed of when we were still in school. After all, there’s still the whole summer ahead, and every weekend is practice to make it a good one.