Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Debtie Downer: Learning Lessons While Managing 20-something Debt

I should probably
pick up a copy
Like most people our age, The Sailor and I have "some" debt. OK, a lot of debt. The frustrating thing is, we don't have much to show for our debt - we don't drive flashy cars (unless you consider a 2003 Toyota Echo and 2007 Toyota Corolla flashy), we don't have a large flat screen TV mounted a top our fireplace, in fact, we don't even have a home of our own, and we don't even have a TV that either of us paid for with our own money, we don't wear designer clothing (unless it can be found at a resale store). What do we have? College degrees.

The bulk of our debt is tied up in student loans, and those loans come with hefty monthly payments that don't leave much leftover to pay for things like rent and groceries. Save up for an emergency fund or a downpayment on a house? With what? Pay extra on our credit card bills? With what?

As a result of so much of our money going to student loan bills, we relied on credit cards for awhile. Until those pretty much got maxed out. Then what? We're in a recession, finally they stopped automatically increasing our limits. I'm scared to think how far we would go if they kept increasing those limits.

Yes, I realize spending on your credit cards until you reach your limit is not a good financial plan. 

So what have I learned through this?

  1. Having debt sucks. It's paralyzing. It keeps you from doing things you really want or need to do - puruse grad school, take a much needed vacation. (The Sailor and I have not taken a vacation together since 2007, and I was lucky enough to get away for a week with friends - The Sailor couldn't get off work - in 2008.) As such, debt should be avoided at all costs. [ha ha at all costs.]
  2. I hate to even admit this - but we probably should have lived at home longer. We moved in together (and our of our parents houses) when we were 24 and 26 - not exactly young. But at this point, who cares how old you are. Be realistic about your finances. Realize that a recession can hit. If you have to rely on credit cards, you shouldn't move out, unless you have to for whatever reason. ("I just want to" is not a good enough reason - I'm thinking like your safety is in danger, your parents are selling their house and moving to a town with no job prospects, etc.) 
  3. Sometimes you just have to live. We can pinch pennies and cut our costs even further and live on ramen noodles for awhile, sell one car and share one between us, but what kind of life is that? As much as I hate debt, I also hate the thought at living a life with zero joy, and I hate the idea of putting my health in jeopardy. So if healthy food costs more than cheap processed crap, well, in the long run it will cost me less. If playing a sport makes me happy and gives me something to look forward to, even if it costs money, it's worth it for my happiness. If having two cars means on the weekends that The Sailor is on duty, I can still go out, or during the week when I have band practice, The Sailor can still go to the gym*, well, that's kind of necessary.
  4. When the going gets tough, find a creative solution. Our lease was ending this past June. We had been in our apartment for 3.5 years. But we couldn't afford it. We were living paycheck to paycheck and it felt like not only were we not making ends meet, but the ends were getting farther apart every month. We needed to find a cheaper place. As luck would have it, an opportunity presented itself. A friend who owned a home rented out the two extra bedrooms, and one of those bedrooms recently became available (actually, both became available ... one still is ... anyone need a room to rent?) Could my husband and I live with a roommate? If it meant cutting our rent in half and eliminating some bills, YES. Who cares about any possible awkwardness or having to get rid of a ton of our stuff (which we needed to do anyway) or putting stuff in storage. We're still living paycheck to paycheck BUT at least now we can put our credit cards in a drawer and forget about them.
* That's right - as broke as we are, we still belong to a gym. Yes, I realize that is a luxury and pricey, but it goes with the part about my health. We live in the Chicago suburbs. Have you ever experienced a Chicago winter? A Chicago summer? I looove running outside and would rather do that than run on a treadmill, but guess what, I also don't like running in 90 degree heat or 0 degree chill with snow and ice on the ground. And sometimes I'd rather swim laps or take a pilates class (in person wtih actual people). AND, I realized that we don't work out when I'm the member of a cheap gym that is overcrowded and smells like stanky sweat, so even though it's only $32/month, that's still a waste when we don't go. I also don't work out when all I have are a few boring DVDs and the great outdoors (see the part about Chicago weather). The gym membership is an investment in ourselves, our health, and our future.

Stay tuned for what little other "wisdom" I have to share about money. It'll be very much "don't do what I did."

No comments:

Post a Comment