Budgeting/Living With Debt

The Easy Hack That Allowed Me To Pay Off My Credit Cards On Unemployment

By | Friday, December 04, 2020

“I know what you’re thinking: “This girl cancels and opens credit cards left and right, her credit score must be sh*t.”

The first thing you should know about me is that I’m an actor in New York City and I have to keep my days open for auditions. A typical 9-to-5 job was never in the cards for me. Instead, I’d prefer to have anywhere between three to five jobs at a time so that I could pay rent. And while I lived paycheck-to-paycheck, I value experiences and having a social life, too. So if a friend invites me to a ‘BOGO’ happy hour for margaritas or even better, a Harry Styles concert, I’m there. However, I don’t spend money that I don’t have; I truly am the queen of #ballinonabudget.

Unfortunately due to my FOMO, I’d often turn down invites for out-of-state trips and vacations. Not necessarily because I couldn’t afford them, but because as an actor, you never know when you’re going to book that next role. That was until 2016 when I was done putting my life on hold in hopes of catching my “big break,” and planned a girls trip to Italy for the following year. I figured with a whole year ahead of me, I’d definitely be able to save enough money to go. That being said, I decided to get a Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express, which has 0% interest for 15 months, as a contingency plan for any extra spending on the trip.

In the end, it was a good thing I got that credit card because on top of going to Italy, I was a bridesmaid in not one, but two weddings. While I was incredibly honored to stand by my best friends’ sides, that s*** is expensive: bridesmaid dresses, bachelorette weekends, flights and hotels for the weddings, hair and makeup, etc. Even with all those expenses, I was still able to pay off the credit card in its entirety before any interest hit (I’m a hustler y’all.)

All this brings me to the summer of 2019. One of my many jobs is that I teach theatre, music, and dance to elementary school students. I work in public schools, so I don’t teach during the summers. My hope every summer is that I’ll finally book the role of “Audrey” in Little Shop of Horrors at [insert any summer theatre slot here] and have the best time singing, dancing and living life in [insert dreamy beach town here].

Well, as you may have already guessed, when it comes to the role, I have yet to be #bookedandblessed (ok, I’ll stop using hashtags now.) 

While usually I would get a summer job to replace the missing income from not teaching, last year I decided that I would take the months off to finally work on my own film project.  

Throughout all this, I got another 0% interest credit card as a financial backup plan; this time the Capital One Venture One Rewards card. Luckily, I can pay my rent on a credit card, so I figured this safety net would come in handy. I was also still working as a remote stylist for a subscription box company, as well as given the opportunity to teach dance and choreography at a conservatory, so it wasn’t like I had nothing coming in. I also knew that once school started again, I would be able to pay the credit card off easily with my teaching income.

I have to address the elephant in the room real quick. I know what you’re thinking:

“This girl cancels and opens credit cards left and right, her credit score must be sh*t.” 

Well, you’d be right in thinking that I open and close a lot of credit cards, as I do I love credit card points, and if you used responsibly, you can get so many free things. I can’t even count the number of flights that I haven’t had to pay for (that story is for a different article though). But you’d be wrong in thinking my credit score was low; I just checked, and it is, in fact, “excellent”. So there. 

In September, my styling gig picked up because of back to school orders. I was also teaching again and financially getting back on track. Then November of that same year, my styling job went through a huge restructuring; the position was no longer remote, and the hours were no longer flexible. The position was switched to being on a set schedule, and in-office. As I said before, I need flexibility because of auditioning so consequently I was laid off. I knew it would be hard to find another job to replace that one since it was the holiday season and I was going to be out of town for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Since I love giving gifts, there was no way I wasn’t going to buy my friends and family presents. Thankfully my Venture One card didn’t have to be paid off until June 2020. 

I had actually been doing really great with my budgeting at the start of this year. In addition to teaching, I got a job at the front desk of a fitness studio, I was bringing coffee and lunch from home, and had picked up even more babysitting and event gigs. While I was working a lot (think in a two week period, I worked 13 days in a row, with one day off), I was paying my credit card down. 

Then the global pandemic happened and I lost all of my jobs.

So I booked a flight home to Indiana to quarantine with my family. What I thought was going to be just a two-week stint to wait out the storm, has turned into six months and counting. While I was living in Indiana, I was unfortunately still paying New York City rent. However, with the exception of my Apple Music and Hulu subscriptions, that was about the only expense I had (yes, I’m still on my mom’s phone plan – sorry not sorry).

While at home, I wasn’t even so much as grocery shopping, since my mom was doing all of the cooking. Not that I wouldn’t have grocery shopped and cooked for myself, but I’m not going to not eat the homemade gluten-free lasagna my mom made especially for me. To be honest, I did do a little bit of online shopping, too. In my defense, I only packed to stay in Indiana for two weeks. 

The ironic thing is, because of the extended unemployment benefits from the federal government, I was actually making more money each week than when I was working my four jobs. Factor in the $1,200 stimulus check and I was in a better place financially than the start of the year. By the end of June, I was able to pay my credit card off in its entirety. Thankfully by August, I was also able to find someone to sublet my apartment in New York, so I haven’t had to pay rent since then. 

To be clear, it is not lost on me that I have an amazing family to lean on and stay with during these trying times, and I am forever grateful for that.

As of today, I have over $6,000 saved. I’m aware that my financial journey is unique. I also know I chose the life of a performer,  and that my path to financial security is very different from the traditional route. Still, it really makes you think: why did it take a global pandemic for me to finally have financial stability?

Allison Hunt is a creator, actor, and comedy writer specializing in personal narratives, female issues, and pop culture. You can find more of her work here.

Image via Unsplash

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