Disclaimer: This post discusses depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Please only continue reading if you feel it is healthy for you to do so.
When I was in college, I got myself into deep financial trouble. Due to my reckless food spending, I put myself in credit card debt to the tune of $4,500. From my junior year until I graduated, I battled an all-consuming binge eating disorder, which I’ve talked in more detail about previously on TFD. Unable to cope with feelings of doubt surrounding my ability to perform well at school and my overall low self-esteem, eating — and lots at a time — became my refuge. I took solace in it and used it as a coping mechanism to deal with unwanted thoughts about myself, instead of facing my internal issues head-on. My health suffered as a result, as did my finances.
While I was working a pretty decently paying work-study job in my school’s main library, the money I was bringing in wasn’t nearly enough to fund my habit of ordering takeout twice, sometimes thrice a day. So I opened up a credit card and maxed out the credit limit of $4,500 over the course of a year and a half. I also incurred multiple overdraft fees from running my bank account dry. My life was in such financial ruin, I thought there was no way I would be able to bounce back and get myself out of the mess I’d gotten into.
Despite dealing with a pretty crippling disorder, I somehow remained hopeful. Deep down, I wanted better for myself. And thanks to my support system of an amazing mother, grandmother, supportive friends, and a therapist, I eventually saw the light and that there was a way out. I didn’t have to be stuck in an emotional and financial rut forever. So once I graduated and had a stable job with an okay income, I started chipping away at my credit card balance, albeit slowly. At first, I was barely making a dent. Since I wasn’t making much at my first media job as an editorial assistant, I didn’t have much money to throw at my debt once my necessities were covered, so my payments were pretty sporadic — $100 here paid here, $200 there. Not to mention, because of the interest I incurred monthly, the debt only went down a smidgen despite my best efforts.
It wasn’t until I left my job to go freelance last year (so I could have more control over my income) that I was finally able to fully pay it off. I am very fortunate to have minimal bills that I have to pay, and I live at home with my mom so I don’t have to pay rent, though I help my mom out around the house and extend money to her when I can. Because of that, I was able to set aside around $300 – $500 a month to put towards my credit card for about six months. And around fall 2018, I landed a pretty lucrative gig that allowed me to make one major lump sum payment and get rid of the last $2,000 left on my account.
Paying off debt is no easy feat. Now that I finally have a handle on my finances, I’m faced with another challenge: remaining credit card debt free. I’ll be honest, it’s really hard. I’m a big beauty and fashion lover, and it can be tempting to mindlessly spend on alluring products that I don’t need. However, I’m determined to not repeat the same mistakes — and here’s how I’m standing by that promise:
1) I got real about why I ended up in credit card in the first place.
There came a point where I had to get real with myself and recognize the reason why I got into credit card debt in the first place was because of my unhealthy relationship to food. Owning up to the problem was hard but necessary. Doing the internal work of addressing my pain and what was causing me to binge eat was even harder. But it’s helped me nip my unnecessary food spending in the bud, and thus, avoid spiraling and living outside of my means. There are still days where I struggle, but I’m much more cognizant now of my negative habits, and I’m always actively making sure to course-correct when my impulses start leading me astray.
2) I don’t use my credit card for anything other than necessities.
I only use my credit card on groceries and to pay my phone bill. That’s it. And I always make sure to stay within a set grocery budget. Before implementing this rule in my life, I noticed that I would constantly use my card for impulse purchases, from takeout meals to clothing, so I had to take an extreme measure. Sure, I’m missing out on a bunch of points, but when you’re an impulsive shopper like I sometimes am, you have to make sacrifices to ensure you’re being wise with your money. And that’s one I’m more than happy to make.
3) I made an emergency safety net for myself.
I somehow always have a way of convincing myself something is an emergency even if it technically is not. Even just saying to myself, Shammara, you can’t use your credit card for anything other than emergencies, will not thwart me because I will always find a way to turn a want into a need. So how do I combat this? I worked hard for a couple of months to build a sizable emergency savings account for myself. Knowing how much I toiled for it makes me wary of unnecessarily using it. But I know if there does happen to be an emergency, I have something to fall back on rather than relying on a credit card that I’d have to pay back.
4) I leave my credit card at home most days.
I rarely have my credit card on me these days, and it’s for the better. Instead, it’s pretty much housed in a wallet with other store loyalty cards that I rarely use. I find that the best way not to use my credit card is to avoid having it on me at all. The only exception to the rule is when I’m traveling, when I keep everything in one wallet, because you never know if something unexpected may occur.
If you’re newly free of credit card debt like I am, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a system in place to help you avoid repeating old spending patterns. What that looks like for each person will differ, but it makes the world of difference between remaining debt free and getting caught back in a cycle of debt.
Shammara is a featured columnist at The Financial Diet. When she’s not writing about her financial woes, you can find her on Twitter sharing her thoughts on beauty and fashion trends and pop culture.
Image via Unsplash