At this point in my life, debt payoff is a more exciting event to celebrate than even my own birthday. Even if it means all you get to do is pop open a bottle of $6 wine (yay for Prosecco). But more than celebrating the fact that I no longer have a negative net worth, there are searing money lessons paying off hefty debt taught me.
The problem is, after a few months of doing well financially, it can be VERY easy to start giving those wretched credit cards a tempting second look…and this is where more debt can once again come creeping in. But only if you let it. This is where I make it a point to remember all the lessons paying off thousands of dollars (and counting) taught me. Granted, I’m not one of those heroes who managed to pay off $100k plus in record time. But for the average young person just starting off, being even $5k in debt can be an absolute financial burden.
Having said that, here is what I learned (that you can easily apply to your own life) after managing to pay off a growing pile of $10K+ in debt.
1. It always takes longer than you think it will
It was pretty easy to think, once I saw those digits start snowballing, that it could be something I could quickly take care of in the next few months. It took me about a year to rack up all that debt on random things, including wisdom teeth removal, new apartment furniture and décor, car oil changes, new tires, a few too many extra food outings…the list could go on for a while. What I didn’t realize was how long it would take me to dig myself out of all that. It took me a complete other year, literally 12 more months, to be financially stable enough to even begin paying off all balances.
Meanwhile, my credit score had plummeted. This is a huge inconvenience (to put it lightly) when you don’t foresee needing it to get an apartment lease or a new car (especially when you literally move to the other extreme of the country on a whim, like I did). Next time you try to make a big impulse purchase without any real justification, think about how much longer it will take you to pay it off, and whether you will be able to afford (mentally and financially) having that burden hanging over your head months or even years down the road. Once you put it in perspective, that expensive sheepskin carpet doesn’t seem so necessary after all.
2. Ask yourself this question before you get a credit card
“Is it a need or a want, and am I ready to treat this thing with respect?” That’s the gist of it. They say “never” and “always” are two words you should always remember never to use — but you should always make sure you never get a credit card without a real purpose behind it (see what I did there?). If it’s only to help you add expenses to your budget without a clear-cut plan of how (and if you can afford) to pay it off at the end of the month, then applying for a new credit card should be on your “NOT-to-do list.” I learned to ask myself this once I experienced firsthand the perils of paying back hefty debt and seeing my savings account balance stay a big fat zero for an unhealthy amount of time.
3. Debt charges interest on your time (not just your money)
When you go into debt, you end up paying more than just extra money in interest. It charges interest on your time, too. As we all know, as finite humans, time is our most valuable asset because it’s impossible to get back. Going into debt disallows you to do the things you want to do with your time, like finally start that side business or taking that mind-expanding trip.
Most of us, when in debt, have to trudge away at a job to be able to make minimum payments, instead of saving for major life goals. It’s one of the biggest lessons to remember. There are many things I missed out on because I wasn’t able to afford it or I’d get into more debt and live with even more financial anxiety. Debt charges interest in the form of time, and it slows down your progress. This downright sucks, especially if you’re particularly ambitious.
4. 0% Initial APR credit cards are a trap for the weak
Reading “0% initial APR for 6 months” can be a surefire way to want to open up another credit card and end up with anxiety-inducing debt within half a year. These types of offers are honestly best heeded when you want to start a payment plant on a big “need” purchase that can perhaps help you build credit or that you know you’ll be able to pay off within that span of time. 0% initial APR is how I got most of my credit cards, and how I ended up in a growing $10K debt hole I thought I’d never get out of. I kept telling myself I had time to pay off all my balances (from three cards) before the initial APR period was over while on a waitressing job. Biggest lie to myself ever.
5. Sacrificing your mental well being for more things will never be worth it
You will always be better off having less and being debt-free rather than having more and having debt hanging over your head, if it ever comes down to choosing between the two. Of course, this might not apply to things you can finance, like housing or transportation. But when it comes to buying extras that fall in the gray area in terms of needs and wants, it’s always a better bet to look out for your mental well-being first and avoid going into debt for those things at all costs.
6. Your credit health is as important as your skin care routine
So treat it as such. Ever notice how something always feels off when you skip your night/morning skincare routine? This is because it has become a habit. If you treat your credit score with similar care, you’ll be able to maintain it at a healthy level. While it does sound like keeping your credit score/debt in check can be a hassle, there are plenty of sites out there that can help you monitor it along with helpful tips and advice (like the one on which you are reading this article).
All in all, debt isn’t a game unless you’re using it for financial growth
For the longest time, I was disappointed in myself for being so stupid an falling for something that seemed so obviously toxic as debt. But I’ve learned to let it go and focus on the financial progress I’m making instead. Being business-minded, my biggest regret has been using extra resources to pay back debt instead of creating small side businesses or investing money. But, as with many and most things in life, lesson learned.
Vivian is all about leveraging her skills to live a life she actually cares for without feeling like a slave to responsibilities. She enjoys writing and is currently throwing insurmountable amounts of time at growing her lifestyle site, Teal Notes.
Image via Unsplash