I’m about to admit a very embarrassing secret that very few people know: for most of the past decade I’ve been balancing between $10,000 and $20,000 in credit card debt.
Okay… now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me get to the purpose of this post.
Like a lot of Millennials, I’ve managed to rack up quite a bit of debt. Student loans, car payments, mortgage payments, and so on.
But the worst one of all — the one that’s been tied around my neck like a boat anchor, preventing me from truly living and enjoying my life to the fullest — has been credit card debt. For me, this debt was “earned” almost entirely through poor financial decisions and impulsive spending habits; and of course compounded by the unplanned, expensive situations life throws at us all, like vehicle trouble or medical bills.
My debt is a secret I’ve been carrying, by myself, for nearly one-third of my life. For much of that time I simply pretended the problem didn’t exist or that I would soon make enough money that I could pay off my debt in no time. Obviously, the situation only got worse as I lived this delusion.
Things got so bad that I spent nearly every moment of every day feeling hopeless, stressed and utterly lost. I would pretty much have a panic attack every time I had to log in to my credit card account. Whenever I thought about money that hilarious Lending Tree commercial with “Stanley Johnson” would automatically begin playing in my head, only I didn’t think it was hilarious. I was in debt up to my eyeballs and killing myself with stress.
Over the past two years, though, after finally admitting to myself I had a problem, I began taking certain steps to fix (and learn from) my mistakes. In early 2012 I finally created a budget, began cutting back on discretionary spending, and consolidated the debt down to three credit cards — one of which has since been paid off and another of which will be paid off at the end of this year. As a result of taking action to deal with my problem, I cut my credit card debt nearly in half.
But today that debt is still in the five figures. And recently I noticed I was sliding. A few extra meals out here, a couple of new iPhone apps and “work” shirts there, and suddenly I was back to treading water again. I was making excuses for frivolous purchases and returning to my old habits. The problem wasn’t a lack of planning, it was entirely a lack of focus and effort. Simply put: I stopped doing the work.
So today I course corrected a bit. I spent some time confronting the situation and took a step back on the path I was previously on by signing a “debt contract” with myself. Here’s what it said:
I, Adam Fogle, on this date, May 10, 2014, pledge to myself that, through hard work smart budgeting and fiscal discipline, I will be 100% debt free on my 32nd birthday, July 2, 2016.
This is an ambitious but reasonable goal. It’s something I can work with. And most importantly, it’s a physical piece of paper written in the notebook I carry with me everywhere that will remind me of my commitment to dealing with this problem. Every time I slip up, I’m breaking that contract and letting myself down.
In addition to writing and signing this contract, I forgave myself for all my past actions. This is a vital part of moving on and taking some pressure off myself, and is necessary if I want to continue to chip away at my debt with as little stress as possible.
So now to the bigger question: why am I posting this embarrassing personal secret on the internet for anyone to read?
Well, I truly believe that writing about this is too important not to. Whether no one reads this or thousands of people do, it’s important for three reasons:
- This reaffirms for me that the problem is real. This is me publicly pledging that I am responsible for my mistakes. This is me infusing accountability with action.
- Admitting a problem to others takes away a tremendous amount of stress. It takes considerable energy to keep a secret, especially one this size, and that takes a toll.
- Hopefully someone else who is in a similar situation will read this and know they’re not alone. I’ve always found strength and hope in knowing that other people are going through similar struggles. It’s like there’s a group of us working together.
So there it is. My deep dark secret.
As part of the accountability of this, I will try to provide regular progress updates on this blog. I might even post my monthly spending so there’s really nowhere for me to hide.
In the meantime, here’s hoping that 24 months from now I’ll be nearly debt free and I’ll finally be able to laugh at Stanley Johnson’s (and my former) misfortune.