Credit Cards and Consumer Debt
New Life Without Credit Debt

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By meterclicks
December 15, 2008

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Yesterday I scheduled the final payment on my credit cards. For the first time in approximately 14 years, I am credit card debt free.

I feel a mixed bunch of feelings: delight, of course, and a powerful sense of freedom. Sadness at having wasted what was certainly thousands of dollars in interest payments. Disbelief (can the debt really be gone?). Trepidation about unforeseeable financial challenges ahead.

It also feels, in a way, like my adult life is finally beginning. I'm 31, and for the 6 years since I've been out of graduate school, I've been living like a student in some ways - dressing in jeans and flip-flops (I only have one halfway-decent suit, and I have to dress up for work fairly often); owning furniture that's heavy on the futon & milk crate aesthetic; eating pasta straight out of the pot. Of course, for much of that time I was also spending money I didn't have on restaurants, trips, movies, etc. After I got serious about debt paydown, the frivolous expenses stopped, but the shabby lifestyle persisted. Much of that was about not having the money to buy nicer things, of course, but I'm realizing now that part of it was about not having grown up: my life didn't feel like my own because my money was not my own. My parents haven't been my "boss" since I last lived with them in 1994 -- but my debt has been my boss, my burden, which, it turns out, feels like much the same thing.

Now that I've begun my life without credit card debt, I'm able to think about acting my age -- wearing clothes that fit, owning furniture I'm not embarrassed by, planning for retirement and other future goals. I'm the boss of my money, now, not the other way around.

As for making it through the long, slow slog of debt paydown, the things that kept me going were reading this board, as well as various personal finance blogs; tinkering with my budget and the debt snowball calculator; paying "snowflakes" toward my debt when possible (small payments of even a few dollars), in addition to the snowball; daydreaming about life without credit card debt; and finding cheap ways to entertain myself while waiting for the time to pass (the public library has helped a lot).

I stopped by Pier One this morning -- it's one of those stores whose windows I used to stare into longingly, knowing that I didn't have the money to spend on anything inside. Today I finally walked in. And I discovered, walking around the aisles, that there were very few things I really wanted. I picked up a few things, but decided that I didn't really want them, and put them back on the shelf.

And that's the most valuable lesson I've learned over the past three years: how to take care of my needs, to minimize my wants, and to distinguish between the two. How to resist the notion that I deserve this splurge. How to save up a bit each month for something -- if I really want it, it's worth waiting (and saving) for. How to say, to friends and colleagues and family, Sorry, but I can't afford that. These have been expensive lessons, but invaluable ones.

And I couldn't have done it without the people on this board. I haven't posted all that much, but I've been reading every day, and your posts have helped me more than I can say. I really wish I could look in your eyes and shake your hands, Windowseat, aj485, Seattle Pioneer, xraymd, and so many others. But in lieu of that, please accept my deepest, heartfelt gratitude for changing my life for the better. I wouldn't be enjoying this new freedom if it weren't for you.

And now I'll put on my worn-out sneakers, fling my arms back, and dance my Happy Dance -- that's one indulgence I really do deserve.