Making This Smart Choice in My 20s Has Saved Me Thousands of Dollars Through the Years

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  • During my 20s, many of the people I spent time with routinely racked up credit card debt.
  • Avoiding unhealthy debt has helped me in more ways than one.

It's something I like to pat myself on the back for from time to time.

When I graduated college, my salary, like that of many of my friends, wasn't much to write home about at a time when I was grappling with all sorts of adult-style bills. In fact, there were times when I really had to cut back on things like leisure and dining out to avoid spending more than what my paycheck gave me month after month.

I definitely had moments when I was tempted to just whip out one of my credit cards, charge up expenses, and pay them off over time. After all, that's what a lot of my friends had gotten into the habit of doing.

But in the end, I never wound up racking up a credit card balance I couldn't pay in full by its due date. And that's a decision I'm really happy about for a couple of reasons.

Avoiding debt

Any time you carry a credit card balance forward, you sign up to pay interest on your balance. That's basically the same thing as throwing your money away, and I'm not a fan of doing that.

By not carrying credit card debt, I've had an easier time building savings and working toward other financial goals, like buying a house. And also, I'm someone who tends to stress out about financial matters, so not having credit card debt has, through the years, made it so I have one less thing to worry about.

Landing a great apartment

In my early 20s, I applied for my first solo apartment in New York City, where housing certainly isn't cheap. When you're looking for a decent apartment in New York, there's no such thing as hemming and hawing -- you have to pounce right away and be ready with your first month's rent and security deposit on the spot at a minimum. That's because decent apartments that are also affordable are pretty rare.

But somehow, I found one. To be clear, this wasn't a palace -- it was a studio apartment. But it was actually a pretty large studio -- much larger than any of the places my friends were renting -- and it had plenty of light, a separate kitchen, and a nice, updated bathroom. (By contrast, one of my friends had recently signed a lease for a space that had her bed pressed up against her refrigerator.)

Since I hadn't thrown out money on credit card interest, I had the cash available to pay a security deposit and my first month of rent. But just as importantly, I had a perfect credit score at the time I applied for the apartment. And that helped give me an edge over other applicants.

Meanwhile, part of the reason I had perfect credit was that I didn't owe any money on my credit cards, and I'd always paid my bills on time and in full. That allowed me to rent a place that wasn't depressing, as opposed to the different apartments many of my peers had to settle for.

Although credit card debt is pretty common, it can also be bad news, so it's best to avoid it when possible. On my end, staying out of credit card debt opened the door to other opportunities -- and gave me one less thing to stress over.

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