Climbing The Ladder / Living With Debt

I’m $8K In Debt — Here’s What That Number Doesn’t Tell You

By Monday, February 03, 2020

I have been writing for the Internet and been Very Online™ since 2012. I have shared personal anecdotes and stories about heartbreak. Fuckboys. Therapy. An eventual borderline personality disorder diagnosis. Social screwups. You know, general life embarrassments for the Interwebz to read at my own expense. 

Oversharing has always been sort of my thing both online and offline. To an extent, I take pride in my ability to be honest and open with myself, the people in my life, and yes, even with total fucking strangers on both Tumblr and the bus. However, one area I have shied away from talking openly about is my financial life. And shame is a big reason why. Sure, I’ve written several articles for TFD, but none dug deeply into my financial health or how I manage day-to-day living expenses. To be honest, it’s easier to talk about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) than it is to admit that my savings are pitiful and my debts are growing.

The truth is this: I’m not doing that well financially. I’m living with credit card debt. Over $8,000 worth of debt, to be exact, which falls on par with the average American household. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story — not even close. And I’m sure many Americans can say the same about their own debt balances.

Moving, work expenses, & other contributing factors

Credit card debt is, more often than not, portrayed as a moral failure. It’s something one should be totally ashamed of. It’s self-inflicted. You’ve heard the advice. Just live within your means. Eat at home! Stop ordering your fucking $2.00 coffee at Starbucks on the way to the office, dummy. You don’t need those jeans. And for Christ’s sake, you are in no position to #treatyoself ever. 

Frankly, some of that is sound advice. And sure, personal responsibility is absolutely involved, at least in my case. However, depression, unstable work, and living in an incredibly expensive city (what up, Denver?) all contributed to the debt. I’d argue, though, that my biggest contributing factor was, and continues to be, my mental illness and low-paying jobs. 

One of my first jobs only paid $36,000. At times, I would have to front expenses, like advertising costs. I’d be later reimbursed, but at that salary, I was not in a financial position to cover these costs. So, I’d put them on my credit card. Sometimes, it would take a while to get reimbursed. In the meantime, I would put groceries and other expenses on my card. 

Depression & compulsive overspending

A few years later, my salary increased a bit, but not enough to keep up with my city’s cost of living. While it was my choice to move to Denver, leaving home was something I needed to do at the time in order to focus on myself and my well-being. I’ll be moving back to Detroit in the spring, mostly because the cost of living in Michigan is so much cheaper than Colorado. 

But the biggest reason I’m moving back is my mental health. While I’m doing the best I’ve ever done in regards to my wellness, I still struggle. Turns out, being away from my friends and family was also bad for my mental health, so that was another contributing factor. 

When I’m my most depressed and unwell, I shop. I order food because I’m too depressed to cook. I go out to the bar for the wrong reasons and spend way more than I would have sober. 

Overspending is a coping mechanism and a vicious cycle. While it makes me feel better in the moment, it makes things worse in the long-term. 

I’m working on chipping away at my credit card debt. Slowly but surely, the balances are going down. I’m practicing mindfulness with my spending. I ask myself if I’m spending because I truly need or want something, or if it’s a form of escapism. It’s not easy, but I’m trying. And this piece is a form of accountability to help me achieve financial stability, starting with tackling my credit card debt. 

As well, I’m paying beyond the minimum amount due each month for each credit card. Primarily, though, I’m focusing the majority of my funds available on paying off the card with the higher balance and interest rate first in order to mitigate the financial damage I’ve already caused and hopefully lessen interest charges over time. 

Finally, I plan to return to therapy when I move home in April. Because overspending is a symptom of a bigger problem, which is mental illness. I’m trying to fill a void. I’m not healing, I’m coping. I’m surviving, not living. And therapy will help remind me of the skills and tools I need to curb overspending and solve the real problem of depression, anxiety, and low self-worth. 

If you struggle with mental illness and debt, particularly credit card debt, please know: You are not alone, and it is something that can absolutely be handled. Taking care of your wellness is a great place to start. Finding a therapist, medication, eating in a way that makes you feel good and exercising are excellent places to start. You’ll find that when you feel better, you’ll be less inclined to live beyond your means as a way to cope. At least, that’s what I’m finding. And it feels good.

Molly is an assistant digital strategist by day and a writer by night. She drinks way too much coffee and can be found on Twitter here.

Image via Pexels

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