This may not look like much to you, but the fact that the green bar is longer than the red bar is a bit of a personal victory. (Yes, I know in theory this is how everyone’s finances should look every month, but I honestly don’t know when the last time my month looked like that).
My goal is for February to have a shorter red bar…
Okay, so I still haven’t explained exactly where I am financially right now, which is, of course, the situation that has led to this blog and The Year of Savvy.
If you didn’t read Part I, you can read it here.
Before I continue the story, let’s recap (as explained in Part I):
In 2008 I was living in an expensive city, a full-time graduate student, and had just got my first teaching job. It was just a part-time gig, but still required a professional wardrobe. To buy this wardrobe, I went to the GAP (really, of all places) and opened my first store credit card.
As a result of failing to live below (or even within) my means, in early 2011 I had racked up $9000 worth of credit card, that was being continuously transferred from one 0% APR credit card to another.
So that brings us to Part II.
And this is the part that can make me feel a little sick to my stomach, more than a little embarrassed, and definitely the part that I am hesitant to share.
However, I believe that sharing my story is an important part of reversing my finances (and changing my attitudes and actions with money), so here we go.
In the spring of 2011, three years ago, … I sold my car and used the money to pay off ALL $9000 of debt.
All of it.
In the spring of 2011, I was completely debt free.
Why would this make me sick?
Well, because three years ago I had zero credit card debt and zero student loan payments (thanks mom and dad). I was 25 and completely debt free. Now, however, in 2014, just three years later, I have more than double the amount of debt I had before.
"What?!?!" you say / ask / scream / shout?
Yeah, me too.
"Why?! How can this be?!"
Well, it’s simple really.
The key to getting into debt is living above your means.
The key to getting out of debt is living below your means.
The key to getting out of debt is not selling your car and using the money to pay off your debts (although that did work, temporarily, and I can’t believe that I didn’t learn from that experience and stay out of debt)!
The real key to getting out of debt, and, I’ve now come to realize, staying out of debt, is living below (to get out) and within, if not below (to stay out).
But I didn’t do that, so what happened?
Well, simply put, I spent more money than I earned every month since I got out of debt.
It was easy to do. I moved across the country and hadn’t budgeted for it, so I paid with my cards. I lived in Europe for a short time and although I had very few expenses, I also had very little income. I moved back to the US and was miserable where I was. Like Sophie Kinsella’s character in Confessions of a Shopaholic, when I had a bad day, I went shopping, and everything seemed better for a while. I also traveled, visiting places and people that I enjoyed more than where I was, and explored different places to move to again.
Then, again without budgeting (and this time with barely even planning) I moved to Washington, DC. When I moved, my rent quadrupled. My salary didn’t even double…
I could go on and on explaining (and trying to justify) where the current debt came from, but this post is long enough. To summarize, I now have a five-digit number of credit card debt, and it is primarily the result of buying pretty clothes, eating out too often, staying at happy hour too long, and traveling too far and too much.
I could wallow in anger at my past financial decisions, but that is not the point of this blog. Now that you know what the situation is (and I’ve come to terms with the lack of sustainability of my financial habits), I’m ready to make some true changes.
The rest of this blog will chronicle my journey and share what I learn along the way. Thanks for coming along for the ride!
"Keep you eyes up, feet grounded and heart open." -Salt&Steel
As part of The Year of Savvy, I’m reading books and articles all year long related to the topics of making financially savvy decisions, simplifying life, and acquiring less.
I just finished reading this little book entitled, “ENOUGH: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity" by Adam Hamilton. This book, written from a Christian perspective, provided both practical steps you can take to manage your money well, as well as reasons and advice for increasing personal contentment by simplifying and becoming more generous.
The book itself standing only six or seven inches tall and hardly more than 100 pages takes full advantage of each page, filling itself with illustrative stories, useful lists, relevant scripture, and practical advice. For example, here’s a snippet from Chapter 3: Cultivating Contentment:
Five Steps for Simplifying Your Life:
"Simplicity says less is more. Simplicity says we do not need as much clutter in our lives. In fact, the more we pursue “more,” the more stressed out we become…
The truth is that more stuff makes us less happy. There comes a point when we have enough stuff, and everything above and beyond that level only creates stress…
Many people are, in fact, embracing the idea of voluntary simplicity, choosing to take a step down in their lifestyle rather than constantly push upward.
There are countless ways to do this. I’d like to offer five ideas that I have tried personally and found to be effective:
1- Set a goal of reducing your consumption, and choose to live below your means.
2- Before making a purchase, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” and “Why do I want this?”
3- Use something up before buying something new.
4- Play low-cost entertainment that enriches.
5- Ask yourself, “Are there major changes that would allow me to simplify my life.”
These five steps may seem obvious, but they are not always easy (for me) to follow. However, as this year is about making changes in these areas of my life, I’m looking forward to practicing these over the upcoming months, hopefully establishing new habits that will last much longer than The Year of Savvy.