Blonde on a Budget
This time last year, I was a stereotypical 20-something female. Not only did I shop a lot, and go out for dinners and drinks often, I put everything I wanted on my two credit cards. New couches? Swipe. A new HD TV? Swipe. A new purse? Swipe, swipe, swipe. I always said ‘yes’ to my friends, never said ‘no’ to myself, and loved the lifestyle I was living.
And who wouldn’t? I had an apartment decorated the way I always dreamed it would be, an exciting social life, and a brand new car! (Financed over 5 years, of course.) And I found excuses to justify every purchase. I needed all new furniture in my apartment because I was going through a bad breakup. I had to buy a new outfit on a weekend after a stressful week at work. And I was always desperate for a night out to help me forget about it all.
When the bills came in each month, I never looked at the balance and instead made sure to pay at least the minimum monthly payment. As long as I could handle the minimum, I was happy. I didn’t even worry when my eye accidentally caught a glimpse of the $5,000 balance on my credit card. That was, until the day I could barely make the minimum payment.
In June 2011, I found myself completely maxed out. I had $6,500 of credit card debt, $0 in savings, and $4,500 of tuition due. Everything I had been ignoring came crashing in on me at once and I was drowning. But with it came the most unusual sense of awareness. I knew it couldn’t get any worse, it was just time to make the situation better.
Since then, my life has gone back to basics. And I mean it went really far back. I asked my parents if I could move home for six months, so I could get my finances in order. Living at home is no 20-something’s dream but I knew it was the only way I could make a drastic change fast. Thankfully, they agreed.
After moving home, the first change I made was to my vocabulary. I had to learn how to stop being a ‘yes’ person and start saying ‘no.’ No to nights out, no to shopping trips, and no to vacations. I hated saying it but there was no way I could say ‘yes.’ Not only would it have gone against the reason I asked to move home, I knew that I had bad financial behaviors to change and I finally wanted to change them.
Now, the small decisions I make every day are helping me pay down my debt. I choose to go for a run outside instead of walk through the mall. I don’t buy everything I want at the grocery store, I buy only what I need. And I just got my first haircut since February. (And it was only a haircut. No more highlights for me, for a while!)
As of last week, I have officially paid off $10,000 of debt. I have also paid for the rest of my education (even though I’m not done school until July 2012) and put a few hundred dollars in savings. Oh, and I recently paid a security deposit and saved half of my rent for the new apartment I’m moving into January 1st!
The feeling of being maxed out is something I will never forget. It helped me realize what was important (family, friends, and health) and what wasn’t (drinking, partying, and over-consuming). And while I wouldn’t wish anyone else the stress of being in that situation, I don’t regret the mistakes I made that got me there. By no means am I out of debt yet, but I’m a third of the way there. And things can only get better from here.
Cait Flanders is a communications specialist working in the publishing industry. For the past year, she's also been blogging her way out of more than $28,000 of consumer and student debt. Read more from her on www.blondeonabudget.ca.