All The Excuses I Made That Landed Me $20K In Debt Last Year (& 5 Things I Did To Get Back On Track)
For the month of March, we are celebrating “making over” our finances and how we view and handle our funds. From transforming our thoughts on money and abundance to elevating our financial literacy to increase our overall network (and overcome our money anxiety), check out more stories here.
My personal finance journey began in the fall of 2020. What started out of absolute necessity has grown into a lifestyle that incorporates five elements that have helped ground me and improve my overall wellbeing.
In August of 2020, I woke up one morning to the crippling reality that I had just blown through a $20,000 line of credit on online shopping. In the last year, I graduated from University and moved across the country to land a great job. I was now taking another giant leap by moving into the house that I purchased with my partner. On the outside looking in, things appeared to be going great. I was grateful for these recent opportunities and recognized how fortunate I was to be living such an ‘adult lifestyle’ in my early twenties and amid a pandemic. However, on the inside, I was drowning in personal debt and spiraling into depression.
Life was changing so rapidly; I was more anxious than ever. I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of my recent projects and felt disconnected from my life back home, primarily because of the pandemic.
I spent much of the spring and summer of 2020 dealing with this discomfort with good old’ retail therapy. What had gone from the occasional “treat myself” purchase became an obsessive habit. I was spending countless hours a week hunting the cutest trends on Instagram. My shopping ranged from cute little clothing boutiques to home décor and unessential appliances like milk frothers and high-end aromatherapy diffusers. You get the point; nothing, and I mean nothing, was off-limits. I found a way to rationalize every unnecessary purchase with the classic “I work hard, I deserve this,” or “I am building my adult life, which means a well-styled home and a new wardrobe.”
The real problem? I was fueling my shopping addiction with a line of credit I had taken out the year before as a student. I was now working full time with a healthy salary for the first time, and I felt invincible… Until I realized I was $20,000 deep in personal spending debt.
I consider myself to be a bright person. I had grown up in a financially responsible household, I had held many jobs throughout high school and college, and I had never had any harmful habits. So how could I be so naïve? I soon realized I certainly wasn’t alone. I discovered that millions of other people had turned to online shopping, as a form of instant gratification and excitement, during the most stressful year many of us have encountered. It’s become increasingly apparent that social media-based retailers have been leveraging the general consumer’s heightened state of anxiety by painting their products in an idealistic, “ou need to have this” lens. This shopping problem I developed did not happen out of nowhere, and the more I shopped, the more beautifully enticing items popped up on my Instagram feed.
In August of 2020, I finally hit a wall. I realized that, for the first time in my life, I had developed an addiction, and it had already impacted my closest relationships and mental health. I knew that the recovery process would not be easy, but I just had to start somewhere. I fell upon a few stellar online resources, one of them being TFD. The more I read, the more I understood that getting out of debt was about healing my relationship with my emotions first. I knew I wouldn’t be able to curb my spending without radically changing my mindset and relationship with money, first.
Through these 5 practices, I was able to get my life back on track:
1. Journaling has been the most critical step for me.
I have a ‘thoughts & feelings’ journal where I write about 2-3 lines per day about how I feel and how these feelings show up in sessions in the body. This mindfulness journaling has enabled me to address how and where anxiety shows up. By simply sitting with the discomfort, allowing its presence, and recognizing that these sensations come and go, I have learned how to refrain from always acting upon my anxiety by pressing “add to cart”.
2. Making a zero-based budget, sticking to it, and allocating a large chunk to debt-repayment.
As soon as I started the practice of zero-based budgeting, I finally had the lightbulb moment I had been waiting so long to find. Actually, seeing where every dollar was going made me realize that this debt I had gotten myself into was caused by small daily purchases more so than through larger purchases. It really clicked for me when I calculated that a mere $27.40 a day over an entire year spent on a new T-shirt, a tube of mascara, or house plant would come out to a whopping $10,000 annually. Once I started understanding where my money was going, especially in those small daily purchases, I could budget accordingly and balance my wants and needs a lot more effectively.
I made it a habit to read daily and improve my self-confidence and acceptance by reading various wellness and personal finance books and blog posts. Reading for self-betterment has made me more resilient and has given me something exciting to do other than mindlessly scrolling social media for my next trendy purchase.
4. Making a 3-5 year financial plan
Brainstorming what larger purchases I would like to make in the coming years really helped me. I asked myself, What larger life goals would I miss out on if I kept up my impulse spending? (ie. A newer vehicle, some plane tickets to visit my family back home, enough money to have pets in the future).
5. Letting go of or selling items that no longer served me.
Finally, this process helped me realize how many of the purchases I had once been so excited about actually brought me no joy nor added no value to my life. I was in love with the rush and excitement I felt over the actual purchase itself. This process of letting go of items allowed me to find gratitude for the experiences and individuals that add value to my life. When I did this mental tally, I saw that not a single item of clothing or shoes brought me true joy. This switch has also allowed me to dig deeper into living a more sustainable and more minimalist lifestyle.
(Editor’s Note: for more tips on the benefits of decluttering, check out: (How I Made $5,000 From Decluttering My Place (And Still Had Things To Spare)
There is still a long road ahead; however, I have reaped more benefits than just debt repayment. While It feels great to be a step closer to being debt-free, but what feels even better is to feel more at ease with my emotions. Through this process, I have deepened my connection to myself and what my core values are. I hope that through reading this, others may too.
Eugenie is a social media program manager who moved from Montreal to Saskatchewan, Canada (talk about a change). Feel free to follow her journey on Instagram @eugenieofficer13
Image via Unsplash