Sunday, October 23, 2011

Living Debt Free

I hit an important milestone today: I paid off one of my credit cards.

This is a substantial event in my life.  A few years ago, when I went to graduate school in Flagstaff, Arizona, I made a series of very dumb financial mistakes.  I was barely 21 when I moved out there, and had never sustained myself on my own means before.  I haven't had any consistent financial support from my parents since I moved out at 16, but I always had a roommate through college to share costs with, and in undergraduate I had a LOT of financial aid to pick up the tab.  I was able to spend all of my paychecks on whatever I wanted in college, which I frequently did.

Truth be told, I've never been very good at managing money.  When I was in high school I used to skip eating lunch so I could pocket the $25/week my parents gave me and buy books with it.  Whenever I got money as a gift, I always used it to buy things I wanted.  Throughout college, I spent my money on food, books, DVDs, vet care for the rats...but I never really saved it.

Well, anyway.  Long story short, I went to grad school.  I took out about $30k in student loans to cover the cost of out-of-state tuition.  I moved into a prohibitively expensive apartment, was unemployed for about three months while I scrambled for money, then finally got a minimum-wage part-time job that almost, but didn't quite, cover the rent.

Needless to say, I had to learn about budgeting really fast.  I learned how to cook all my meals from scratch.  I subscribed to a bunch of money-saving blogs.  But I also made a bunch of dumb mistakes, because I was young, because I hated Flagstaff, because I was lonely and depressed and trying to fill a void in my life.  I drank entirely too much and blew hundreds of dollars a month on cigarettes.

And, of course, I took out two credit cards.

Whenever I caved in and realized that grad school just wasn't for me, I moved back to Las Cruces, New Mexico, with two maxed-out credit cards and no place to live.  I couch-surfed for awhile, then had to take out another credit card to move into an apartment in a less-than-ideal living situation.  I was pretty miserable.  Then I met my boyfriend, got a better job, and started really focusing on living within my means.  I'll admit, I'm still pretty bad at it.  Partly because my boyfriend tends to be rather impulsive with money, having never grown up with any guidance in that area.  But mostly because I've always lived check-to-check thanks to the debt I've been carrying around for years.

Well, anyway, today marks the end of a huge portion of that debt.  Now, that's $45/month I can put toward paying off a loan I had to take out to complete some car repairs.  Then I can put that $145 into paying off one credit card, which should be paid within less than 2 months...which gives me $250 toward paying off my remaining credit card.  I can be debt free within about 8 months, and that's without even using any of my freelance writing income (which I will certainly be applying toward my debt).  That's a sizable amount of change in my pocket each month!

I'm feeling pretty much awesome about myself right now.

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