The story of a fool and his money.
My debt started around either 2001 or 2002, when I was young, stupid, and in love. We moved out before either of us was financially, and let's face it, emotionally ready. I was working in a bookstore, and she worked at a fast food place. High rollers, obviously. She ended up getting a job in a movie theater due to her affinity for movies, while I stayed at the bookstore. We were both college students at the time. After not too long, one of us could not make rent, but that was no problem because I had recently acquired two shiny new credit cards. What a deal, to be able to pull out 500 dollars and pay it back in increments. After that, we started buying groceries and going out to eat on the credit cards. To her credit (ha! get it?), she did warn me against using my cards for everyday purchases. Being the amazing boyfriend that I was, I told her in so many words to mind her own business. More credit cards and more debt came with time. Once our lease was up, she was broke and I was up to my ears in debt. I also paid for school on the credit cards, mainly because I could not get a grant for some reason. I mean, my parents were poor, but proving that one of them made no money proved to be quite difficult. Being in the state that we were, we each moved back in with our parents so we could save up money and get me out of debt.
Neither of us ever wanted to be home, so I spent more money living with family than I ever did while living on my own. After the breakup, I moved back out. Needed my own space. More debt, but I didn't care. From just before moving back “home” to the present day, I have pretty much always had at least two jobs. At one point, I had two jobs, was in school full time, and had a girlfriend. Needless to say, my grades suffered.
Over the years, I basically just treaded water financially, just barely keeping my head above water. I would pay what I could (and that was often just the minimum payments), and once in a while I would get fed up and buy something that I really wanted, such as a camera or a computer – useful things, but not things I really needed. Even getting a well paying job did not help. The more I made, the more I spent, typically on quality food, music, and live shows. I once even got a debt consolidation, but foolishly did not cut up the credit cards. The gateway purchase was always some sort of emergency – a sick dog, a broken car, a relative in need – but then I would just spend more.
The foolishness stopped years ago. Years.
After a friend of mine broke his leg, I landed his job, which paid very well. In fact, it paid so well that I was able to quit my other two jobs. This time around, I was financially responsible. Then disaster struck once again. Without going into detail, I will say that the government shut this job down, so I was therefore unemployed. After four months of trying to find another job (without having to go back to the low paying jobs I had before) my debt was right back where it was.
At this point, I started questioning the city in which I lived, so I decided to pack up and try another. I won't call it a mistake, but it was certainly among the hardest of learning experiences in my life. Even though I had a job in the new city, I could not afford to eat, much less live. I thought I knew what it was to be broke before, but that time really showed me. At one of the low points, I was in the grocery store, trying to choose between either buying just deoderant or just ramen noodles, because I could not afford both. Even after selling most of the things that I owned, I was still making the minimum payments on my credit cards, because I needed my credit to be in good standing, right?
I moved back home (hometown) to find myself homeless and penniless. Due to the kindness of friends, I did not have to sleep in my car very often. After staying with a friend for a couple of months (I can never thank him enough) and getting another two jobs (one of which I like, and the other I'm sort of in charge), I came to realize that I still would not make enough to get and keep my own place, not with the debt in the way. That was the breaking point. I thought about it and came to realize that I don't need credit. The whole concept of it is total bullshit. Materialism (for most) feeds the habit, and we end up slaving away for the beasts – the credit card companies. They made more off of me in interest than I ever owed them, so I decided that they, and my credit, could kiss my ass.
It has only been about a month since I made my move (and moved into my own place – homeless no longer!), but already my life is much better than it has been in many, many years. I don't buy what I cannot afford, I don't have to worry about money as much, and I am finding so many doors open to me (such as finally getting out and seeing the world – I am heading to Croatia this Summer!) that I never thought could be. I have no kids, no girlfriend, so the only person I am responsible for is me, so walking away from my credit WAS an option for me. My life's ups and downs have been great learning experiences, and I have no regrets, but one thing I would change if I could would be to go back about seven years and stop playing the game then. I might have had more experiences and ended up with fewer gray hairs.
Money does not buy happiness. That is true, but it is not a complete statement. Debt, and the inability to live a quality life, certainly equals unhappiness. Financial stability is the precursor to freedom, and the freedom to do with our lives as we choose directly correlates to the possibility of happiness. With that weight gone from my shoulders, I am hopeful about the present and future, as opposed to dreading it like I used to, and that's fucking huge.