Four years ago, I had more than $64,000 of credit card debt.
When I actually added it all up and looked at that enormous number, I was in shock. How could I possibly have spent that much money I didn’t have?
Once I put my mind to it, I was able to figure out how to stop digging myself deeper, and what I could do to get out of debt. It was a battle every step of the way, but I managed to pay it off within two years.
Here’s how I got into — and out of — tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt, and what I learned from my experience.
Racking Up My Debt
My debt began, really, as a way to exert my independence.
I was a stay-at-home mom with three children under the age of four and I was completely and utterly bored. Not that my kids didn’t keep me busy; as you can imagine, three young children were more than enough to handle. But, for me, it just wasn’t enough.
I did not understand it at the time, but I was empty. I was totally in love with my babies, but I felt hollow and purposeless. Buying new things became a high. Hunting for desirable objects to sell on eBay was exciting. Selling items for double what I paid was exhilarating.
But I didn’t know when to quit.
I would reinvest all my profits without saving anything. I would buy things thinking they would sell, and they didn’t.
And mystery shopping… oh my. That was the real downfall.
The companies would reimburse me for expenses between $2 and $10, and I would instead spend $50. I’m sure you can see how this story doesn’t end well.
The gas to do the shops… the spending above the reimbursed amount… the refusal to save anything… it all added up.
Eventually I would estimate how much money I would have coming in any given month and just use a credit card to buy things before I had the actual money in hand. And then the check came, and it wasn’t what I expected.
And when that happens month after month and you don’t change your habits, you end up with $64,000 of credit card debt.
When I sat down and realized how much debt I actually had, I nearly died.
That realization — putting an exact number to the amount that I owed — was enough to scare me straight.
My Debt-Payoff Game Plan
First, I stopped spending. Cold Turkey. No more mystery shopping. No more credit cards.
Then, I sat down with a calendar and mapped out when each payment was due. I figured out which card had the highest interest rate and started throwing the majority of my income at that balance.
But it wasn’t enough. The interest rates were out of control. I attempted to call and deal with them myself, but couldn’t make it work.
I ended up calling American Consumer Credit Counseling to handle all the conversations with the card companies. I made my payments directly to them, and they doled out the payments according to interest rate. When one card was paid off, they would start hitting the next one hard.
The snowball effect, combined with working my butt off to make as much money as I could, helped me pay off my debt in two years.
Pay Off Your Debt Faster
About 34% of Americans carry some sort of credit card debt, and their average outstanding balance is $15,609, according to government data.
Here are a few things I learned as I worked to get out from under my credit card debt. Hopefully, you can learn from my experience and pay off your debt more easily.
- Always make your payments. Always, even if it’s just the minimum payment. If you miss even one payment, your interest rate will take a hit.
- If possible, make extra payments on the smaller balances. The credit counseling company I used doled out my payments, and they hit the one with the highest interest rate hardest. When I could, I made extra payments on whichever card had the smallest balance. That way, it was getting a double dose, and before I knew it, it was gone — and I felt great about eliminating one of my debts. This combination of the snowball and avalanche methods worked well for me.
- Cut back on other expenses, at least for the time being. You may end up realizing you didn’t need cable anyway.
- Get a second job or pick up side gigs. I’m a web designer, so I took on a lot of extra side projects to generate extra cash. If you have a day job, consider freelancing on the side to make extra dough.
- Have a plan for when you’re out of debt. If you don’t, you may just fall back into the same old ways and habits that got you here in the first place.
Your Turn: Have you paid off a large debt? What strategies helped you get back into the black?
Amanda Krill is a web designer with a million other side projects. One of those is Mom Vs. Debt, where she blogs about the journey to paying off her debt.