Living in Debt: How I Sacrificed My Future

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Image by lazybone83 via Flickr

For those of you who haven’t been following along, I’m in debt.   Starting 13 years ago, when I was 19, I managed to bury myself in debt, until I decided I’d had enough of that…almost 2 years ago.

Why?

It wasn’t because of college expenses, though they contributed to my debt level.  I was in debt before I went to college.  Heck, I was a daddy before I went to college.

It wasn’t because of  major medical procedures.  The only major medical procedures we’ve ever had were the births of our children, and we had two of them well after we built our shackles.

It wasn’t because we bought more house than we could afford.  We own a modest house that we bought before the bubble started.

Then what was it?  Why did we do the things we did that have financially crippled us for so long?

It was a combination of things, crowned by a glorious lack of financial sophistication.  As I wrote in No Brakes, neither of us had the early training to really understand our financial decisions.  We knew bills need to be paid, but what was the difference if the money came from a credit card versus our checking account?   Why did it matter if we carried a balance on the cards, as long as we could make the payments?  What’s wrong with just making the minimum payment?

Naïve.  Unsophisticated.

That day-to-day lack of sophistication was only part of the problem, and it wasn’t the biggest part.  We made a lot mistakes, but they were all small.  Before 2001, I think our total was about $5000.  Too much, but not painful.

Between the fall of 2001 and the winter of 2002, we took our naïve decision-making process and ran with it.  It was a full-scale mistake marathon.

That year, we built an addition on our house, because a full dining room and a bigger kitchen would make our house so much more livable and it was cheaper than buying a home, new.  Oh, and since the difference between the mandatory crawlspace and a full basement room was just a few rows of concrete blocks, let’s expand it.  Wait, don’t bedrooms require walls, sheetrock, windows, closets, paint, furniture, and electricity?

That was also the year that the car companies all jumped on the 0% loan fad.   In case you don’t remember, that was the program that meant you could get a 0% loan on a new car if you picked up a 3 year term on your loan.  At 22, making maybe $45,000 combined, we decided that buying a $35,000 truck was a good idea.  To save money.   Rationalization is wonderful.  Or at least, effective.

That summer, we got married.   We did a phenomenal job getting married on the cheap.  We had about 100 guests, a  park to get married in, flowers, food,  and a hall to eat and dance in, for about $3000.   The problem was, we didn’t have $3000.   We didn’t have the $1500 + activities for our 10 day honeymoon on a Caribbean cruise, either, though I still plan on returning to St. Thomas.

None of those individual payments were terrible.  The biggest problem was that we piled them all so close together that we never had time to absorb their impact before taking on the next obligation.   When we did realize how much we had to pay, we made up for it by only buying big things that came with a “0% for a year” deal, like our living room set, our carpet, and our dining room table.

Then, when we finally did pay something off, or came into more money, we’d immediately expand our lifestyle to fill the void.  The month we paid off our truck, I got a significant raise.  Did we use it to pay off some other debt?  Of course not, we bought a new car on a six year term.

We had so many opportunities to make bad decisions with our money, and I think we took them all and have suffered for it, since.

If you’re in debt, what made you decide to get that way?

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  • 10 comments

    Comments

    1. Debt can be debilitating! Look into the reason for the debt. If it was excessive spending, find out why and change your habits.

    2. I could almost touch the hopelessness in that post. I am so glad you have been able to turn your situation around and seem much happier with your current life. It sucks to be ignorant, and it sucks worse to find out that you are…I should know after pretty much flushing $15,000 down the toilet due to ignorance and arrogance. Good luck with the path back – you seem to be taking it at a full-out sprint, so booyah for that!!!

      • Thanks. Over the last almost-two-years, we’ve paid off 40% of our debt, and the next 60 should be gone within 2 years. Yay!

        $15k is a lot, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have tried it to be part owner of a game store.

    3. What made you turn the corner? Was it one event? one book? who gave you that book? or inspired that event?

      • I was researching bankruptcy and ran across Dave Ramsey. I didn’t think much about it until that night, when I notice Total Money Makeover on the shelf at daycare. I borrowed it, bought it, and the rest is history. 🙂

    4. Ouch! Hope you are doing well on your debt snow ball! I read your post about borrowing Total Money Makeover from the daycare. 🙂

      We have a huge debt load, but they are all real estate related. I’m taking on even more debt to invest in a 4 plex this year. The plan is to make money from these mortgage debt….

    5. Things might seem bleak now but you’ve been living with debt for nearly 20 years and you survived pretty well as far so I think that alone should give you hope for the future. You can be sure that something will turn up sooner or later it always does, when you think things can’t get any worse you always find its way to drag herself out of it

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