At the time, it seemed like a good idea. But going for the minimum payment option “just this one time” turned out to be the worst mistake of my life. The day I opened that door and walked through it, I altered the course of my life.
I reasoned that I didn’t have enough money to pay the credit card balances in full, so what was I supposed to do (oh, hear me whine)? I’d catch up next month and pay everything down to $0 before my husband found out. All I needed was a little breathing room.
And with that, I made a 180-degree turn and headed down the road to financial devastation.
What was an option the first time I made only the minimum payments soon became my only choice. I deceived myself into believing that even though I didn’t have enough money to pay for things now, somehow I’d have enough to pay for them later. I believed that banks and department stores wouldn’t lend me this much money if they didn’t know that I could afford it—and wasn’t that a nice surprise.
It took 12 years to ruin my life, putting me in danger of losing my marriage, my family, and my home. The only thing that stopped me was that I ran out of credit.
With both of us unemployed and having just received notice that our home was scheduled to go into foreclosure, I arrived at the end of myself.
Owing more than $100,000 on all of my handy credit accounts—and all of them in default—there was no more credit. No more options. I was out of hope with nowhere to turn. It was in the darkness of fear and despair that I realized what I’d done to myself, my husband, and my family. Through my remorse and pain, I turned to God and made this promise: I would pay back all of the debt no matter how long it took or what I had to do, if I could only keep my family and my home.
For the next 10 years, I did exactly that. I never worked so hard in my life. Overnight, I turned into a cheapskate—frugal beyond the legal limit, I’m sure. I worked every kind of job I could get my hands on. I developed a payback plan. I became a giver and a saver even while deeply in debt. After 10 years and $88,000 repaid, I was restless. This was taking too long. So, as just another way to raise funds, I decided to try my hand at writing a subscription newsletter with the goal to help others do what we were doing. That was in 1992. It wasn’t an overnight success, but almost. And in the process, I developed a passion to learn all I could about personal money management.
Here’s an example: My very first step was to make a vow that I would only buy groceries that I could pay for with cash (no checkbook, no plastic allowed). Wow, that was like throwing a bucket of cold water in my face. I had a new awareness of what things really cost. I had to keep track of what I was putting in my grocery cart. The next step came quickly: I had to find a way to spend less to buy what we needed so I could walk out with cash in my pocket.
Finding ways to do that put a big smile on my face and gave me the confidence and the desire to take another step. And another and another.
It took 13 years to pay back a whopping credit card debt of more than $100,000 (an amount that would be closer to $300,000 in 2022 dollars), but we did it—one cost-cutting hack or tip at a time. For years now, we have been completely debt-free. What joy and financial freedom we now enjoy! Debt-free truly is the way to be.