Friday, December 17, 2010

Back to the beginning

Last month, I used my credit card for the first time since I began to pay it off in January 2010. It had been void of any activity since May, when I paid it off completely. No purchases, no payments. Just sittin' in my wallet.

I used it for my purchases on the cruise — drinks, gratuity, drinks, gifts, drinks, etc. It all came out to about $300, and it was worth every penny.

I was so relieved to pay it all off as soon as I got home, to see that balance drop back to its rightful $0.00. It reminded me of how I started all my trouble with credit four years ago at this exact time of year.

When I began Googling around for a student credit card in December 2006, I was broke but had good intentions. I had realized that after paying for tuition and books that quarter, I wouldn't be able to afford Christmas presents for my family. (My parents would be horrified to find out that this is why I signed up for my first credit card, but if it hadn't been this, it probably would have been something else down the line.)

With a meager income and no credit history, I snagged a student credit card with a $1,000 limit and six months of 0% interest. I totally thought I would buy the presents, pay off the balance before the 0% interest rate expired and be free and clear. Ha!

My roommates and I booked a cruise around that same time so we could set sail for our spring break in March 2007. Guess how I paid for my share of the cost? Yup, with that shiny new credit card. My guess is that tacked about $600 onto my balance. Stupid, stupid.

From there, the whole debacle is a blur. I always paid at least the minimum payment on time, and I was rewarded for my good behavior with an ever-increasing line of credit. I celebrated with an ever-increasing balance to match. I figured that as long as I stayed under my limit and made my minimum payments, I was fine.

I should note here that my interest rate jumped from 0% to 19.99% after the six-month introductory period. That's when the credit card company began to make unholy amounts money off of me, and also when I began to drown.

I would use the actual money I earned at my job to buy frivolous stuff, like clothes, then use my credit card when I realized I didn't have enough money in my checking account for slightly more important things, like groceries. I was spending all the money I had, then spending more that I didn't have. And I could never make a dent in my balance that wouldn't be eclipsed by the interest that was tacked on the next month. "Vicious cycle" is the overused-but-applicable term here.

This continued until September 2009, when I moved back into my mom's house and started my first real job. I planned to throw as much money as I could toward my credit card debt (just over $6,500) and pay it off completely before I moved into a place of my own. I figured it would be a piece of cake since I would be making much more money than I had made from my part-time job in college and I would have far fewer expenses to cover.

It probably would have worked out that way if I had made a priority of paying down the card and if I had paid more attention to how much of my income I was spending on happy hours, clothes, etc. It turns out that if you don't manage your money very well to begin with and tend to spend it rather than budget and save it, having more money only means you'll spend more money. Huh.

I finally got my finances straight in January 2010, and the rest is history (you can read about it here and here). I feel like I've come full circle in that four years later, I'll be buying Christmas presents for my family with money that I actually have, and I've recently enjoyed a cruise that was funded by me, not some credit card company.

The story of how I got into debt is full of coulda-shoulda-woulda regrets and hindsight-is-20/20 "d'oh!" memories. Would I go back to 2006 and shake little 19-year-old Devon by the shoulders before she started down the destructive path of irresponsible credit use? After everything that I've learned from this experience, no.

Luckily, I never got into too terrible of a financial situation and I was able to get myself out of debt fairly quickly. I never lost a car, a home or the ability to attend college due to my debt. It didn't negatively affect any friendships, romantic relationships or my family members. And I actually have a sterling credit history, as I never missed a payment or exceeded my credit limit.

But being in debt did hold me back in some ways. When I graduated from college, I was very anxious to get a job because I knew I needed the money to make my monthly credit card payment. I didn't have the luxury of taking time off to travel, do an unpaid internship or just figure myself out before jumping headfirst into the job market. I had no savings to fall back on. The credit card company essentially owned me.

I particularly remember finding an intriguing internship with a community newspaper on Molokai, a small Hawaiian island, shortly after graduation. The six-month internship began in August and paid very little, but did provide room and board. No offense to my fellow journalism grads, but most every aspiring reporter starts out with a position in some little Nowheresville town to pay their dues. I figured why not do this in Nowheresville, Hawaii?

The editor of the Molokai paper contacted me by saying that my application stood out, and that he'd like to schedule a phone interview. But first he wanted to know: Could I not only survive, but thrive on only $40 a week on a remote island where I'm unfamiliar with the people and the culture?

The dream died at "$40 a week." Sure, I could survive on that if I only had to worry about feeding myself and such. But my minimum monthly payment alone was something like $150 at that point. Plus, my student loan repayment would kick in midway through the internship, tacking another $50 (minimum) on to the Money I Owed Other People each month. Goodbye sunshine, coconuts and sandy beaches.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

Molokai may have never happened for me anyway, or maybe I would have hated it there, but the point is that my debt held me back from a big adventure. It dictated the decisions I made, and all because I spent a bunch of money I didn't have, then had to pay it all back — plus interest! — for the privilege.

You'll notice that I've been pursuing all kinds of adventures — including some costly ones — since I've become debt-free and accumulated savings. I've been able to skydive, run races, register for a half marathon, book a weekend conference, go on a cruise, plan to buy a digital SLR camera and realistically dream about traveling to faraway places — all because I've prioritized adventures and new experiences over buying a bunch of stuff that I don't need and will forget about anyway.

I don't know if I would have realized that adventure is one of the things I really want in life had I not been hit so hard with some things I really don't want: slavery to creditors and desperation between each paycheck. No, thanks. I choose freedom, financial and otherwise. I choose the bananas.

And I wouldn't trade that realization for the world.



  1. Heyya Devon,

    I posted this comment with a full hope that you'll be reading this someday. I've been spending my dailies, usually in the later afternoon at my boring-desk-job place, and will start reading your inspirational stories after I have completed some of my work tasks (I have to even though I can't wait to get out of it!)

    I love sharing stories too, especially those life-changing ones, I'm working on updating my long-lost-blog again (one of my resolution this year). Hope to keep in touch with you again, and please do keep on posting new stories, as you need to know one thing - Devon, you're my inspiration! :)

  2. Hello! Of course I'm reading this. : ) Thanks for leaving such a nice comment! It's so nice to hear when people enjoy reading the ol' blog.

    I need to get back to posting regularly on this one, but I do post almost daily on my running blog, Good luck reviving your blog, and whatever else you want to do, too!

  3. Omg, Devon didn't expect u to read this, & it came to my surprise that you've responded as well. Thanks for making my day! :)

    I will surely checkout your tumblr, thank you for sharing. And oh, btw good thing is I've managed to create my blog - finally! Feel free to drop by at anytime ya! (

    Much Love!


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