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Looking Back From a Debtor’s Perspective

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Pay off Debt

Well everyone, it has been one year and eight months since I paid off my credit card debt. That time of my life was definitely a journey and one I would rather not take again.  I sometimes get comments or emails over on my blog about how I have become out of touch with people currently in debt.

Since I talk a lot about creating more income and even using credit cards, some think I am slipping.  I tend to disagree with them, so I figured I would look back at my journey and see where I came from and where I am going. This is a look back from a debtor’s perspective.

The First Misstep

 

It all began when I got into college. My dad told me that I should think about getting a credit card, so I could have some credit history. While I agree with the premise now, my execution was extremely poor. I don’t know how it is on college campuses now, but when I started, it was super easy to get a credit card. I think I got a shirt for signing up, plus some other trinkets. What a score! 😉

No one explained credit to me, so it was a trial by fire. I had to learn how to use it, but the bigger story was to use it wisely. I did not do that part. There are always two sides to a coin, but I forgot to flip the coin over. I took time to learn about credit, but I failed to learn how to use it wisely. I mean, why not go on a spending spree? I could just pay it off over time and not worry about it. There are so many cool things to buy as a college student. The opportunities were limitless!

Looking back on my first credit card experience, I don’t regret getting one. What I do regret was using it like I did. I bought things left and right, and paid the minimum balance when it came due. Terrible mistake!

The Credit Card Game

 

After I got my first credit card and maxed it out, then I had to look into getting more. My first credit card only had a $800 credit limit. After some time with the card, the bank increased that to $2,000. Not sure why, but I didn’t even have to ask. Now I had more money to play with! 😉

I didn’t feel that one credit card was enough. I started searching for better offers with lower interest rates. It didn’t take long for me to find one. I picked another up and was on my way. I would use both cards in tandem, then pay the minimum balances on both. I would then start looking for another card, then another.

The credit card game, as I like to call it, was fueled by my desire to start an e-commerce business  I needed capital to get it off the ground and I had plenty of it with my credit cards. By the time it was all said and done, I had 7 or 8 credit cards with a credit limit well over $100,000! Yes, I could have charged well over $100,000, but I kept my wits and only charged closer to $70,000! 🙁

OK, that last sentence was a little pun.  There were no wits involved, just stupidity!  Some of you that know me see my story about how I paid off over $50,000 of credit card debt, yet the number above was around $70,000. What gives? Well, when I shut down my online business, I sold some parts of it and was able to get about $20,000, so I put that directly toward the credit card balance. This left me with closer to $50,000 in credit card debt.

Looking back at this time of my life, I realize that I did it all wrong. I got complacent with the fact that I could just pay the minimum. If I would have stopped and looked at how long I would be paying the debt, I would have figured it out sooner. I also would have never used my credit cards to fund the business like I did. I made many mistakes during this time, but I learned some valuable lessons as well.

The Harsh Realization of Debt

 

My reality came crashing down when I finally started looking at the numbers. I was paying nearly $800 a month in just minimum payments. It would have taken me until I was 80 to pay off the debt. I needed to make a change. Not only that, but I needed to change how I looked at money, how I used it, and how I was going to pay it off. This started my long four-year journey to debt freedom.

I took down my debt a number of ways. First, I went with the debt avalanche method. I wanted to go mathematical and hit the highest interest rate first. This worked out well for me, saving me thousands in interest payments. I also learned how to make more money on the side. Without this, I wouldn’t have paid off my debt in the time frame that I did. On top of those strategies, I also learned how to invest and save my money. Yes, I saved while paying off debt. I used a method that I developed, which I call the savings allocation method. This method allowed me to learn how to save my money, yet still pay off my debt.

Looking back at this part of my journey, I wouldn’t change a thing.  I went with the debt repayment method that worked for me.  I never missed a payment with my credit card companies and I always paid on time, except for one payment.  I especially would have saved and paid down debt again.  It showed me what I can do with my money.  It changed my money mentality and moved me from being a spender to a saver.

The Final Look Back

 

Since I have been credit card debt free going on two years, I realize that I might be a little removed from paying off debt. While that is true, I still fully understand the journey others are going through. I was in the trenches just like any other debtor. I fought with my spending mentality and I won. I changed my ways and now I am moving on from debt.  I learned how to use credit wisely and I still use it. I learned how to use credit cards wisely and I use them every day.

Looking back from a debtor’s perspective, I realize that the whole thing is a learning experience. The key is what you take out of the experience. Do you learn from it or do you just go through the motions?

 

If you have been in debt, what do you see when you look back? What lessons did you learn? What method did you use to get out of debt?

 

Image courtesy of StockMonkeys.com

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Grayson is the owner of Debt Roundup and Empowered Shopper. He also co-owns Sprout Wealth and Eyes on the Dollar. After going to battle and winning against consumer debt, he decided it was time to learn how to use credit wisely and grow his wealth. He discusses all things personal finance and is not afraid of being controversial. He also is a freelance writer and blog manager.

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25 Comments

  • moneystepper says:

    Education about credit cards is so important, and in almost every story of consumer credit card debt, it was the education which was missing.

    As soon as people realise what it mathematically means for their future, they start to pay them down.

    Yet another reason why personal finance should be taught in schools!

  • DEBt DEBs says:

    At least you learned young! I’ve never been a credit card abuser but I still amassed more than $100K of credit card debt and even more LoC debt. I know that sounds impossible but it’s not when you don’t manage the finances. It’s taken me 2 years to get to a point where I can talk about it and am starting to share my story.

  • Credit cards can definitely be dangerous, which is why I understand why some bloggers don’t advertise them (usually because of a personal experience getting in a lot of debt from them). I am still in debt with student loans and I’m learning a lot through the experience. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that you need to focus on your cash flow each month. If you can create a side income that offsets your debt payments each month you are essentially already ‘at zero.’ I may have debt on paper but it’s offset with my side hustle $.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      They can be dangerous. I advertise them because I understand where I went wrong and now I use them to my advantage. It is all about your mentality toward your money.

  • I am a big fan of the savings allocation method. Whenever I work with clients who have a debt problem, I always make them take the two step approach. It is amazing how a growth in their savings account makes them feel more empowered and energized about paying down debt.

  • Credit cards don’t create problems, just like buying too much house or trading cars every couple of years, it’s all in the mentality. Our society gets by on minimum payments, and that’s a really rough way to live when something goes wrong. Credit cards are really easy to get, so they get blamed, but it’s the consumer who uses them to get into trouble. I can understand not using them, but if you are really over the minimum payment mentality, they can be a great way to get rebates or free travel.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      I am with you there Kim. I don’t regret getting the credit card, I regret how I used it. I can’t blame my debt problem on a piece of plastic, I have to take the responsibility!

  • Wow has it really been almost 2 years since you paid it off? Time flies. Looking back. do you think you would have rathered get a small business loan instead of using credit cards to start the business?

    • Grayson Bell says:

      Yes, it has almost been two years! The answer to your question is yes. It would have made me think more about the direction of my business, also allowing me to pay much less in interest.

  • Don’t ever knock yourself for having won the battle versus debt! Anyone who was in major debt and fought their way out never truly forgets what it felt like (I can fully attest to that). Yes, once you’re free you’re able to move on with your life, but the lessons learned are always there.

  • Jason B says:

    I’m currently paying off debt right now. I was not educated about credit cards at all. My limit increased a few times without me asking as well. I ended up owing more than $4000 at one time. The amount is lower now but I wish I would not have been in the situation in the first place.

  • I cut my other 3 credit cards in order to avoid the temptation to use it again. It is really worth it to pay off credit card debt. Lesson that I learned is I should use credit card only if I know I have the capability to pay off the balance every month.

  • “The key is what you take out of the experience.” I agree 100% with you. I see people all time get out of debt to only go right back into debt. In fact, I’m pretty sure that is their plan, unfortunately. Debt isn’t fun nor is it easy to eliminate it, but you and so many others are proof that it can be done. To me, though, the bigger and more important lesson isn’t that it can be done – but if you take the time to adjust your money behaviors, habits and thoughts and understand how you got into debt – you can truly experience financial freedom. You no longer chase after things you HOPE will make you happy but you now know what WILL make you happy and save for the things that matter most. I’m sorry you had to go through this journey but I am glad you not only made it to the other side but came out a stronger person.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      Thanks Shannon! I am not sorry for going through the experience. Debt actually changed my life for the better. Yes, it was a hard lesson, but I am a better person for it.

  • E.M. says:

    When you do the math and realize how long you’ll be paying off your debt, it can be really eye opening! That’s what motivated me to make extra payments every month. Otherwise, I would have moseyed along for another ten plus years with my student loans. I’m currently paying down my loan with the higher interest rate, too.

  • Mr Ikonz says:

    Credit card free for 2 years?! I can’t even imagine it!
    I’ve just paid off my credit car, which I’m really happy about, but unfortunately nowdays, it’s so difficult to live card free. Even just checking into a hotel when on holidays is a nightmare without a card!

  • Only debt I’ve ever had was our mortgage. We paid that off in 9 years. I view debt as a means to make purchases more expensive. Why would anyone want to do that? Because of that, I avoid debt like the plague.

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