27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: September 2017

Starting to see the light

at the end of the tunnel.

That’s how it feels like. Last month I was able to completely erase the second debt my dad had piled onto my shoulders 6 years ago. Six years ago seems like an entire lifetime away. I was a completely different person. I was starting on my path out of the straight academic way and into staff-dom. I was ecstatic to be moving to NYC. Then the news that my dad had stop paying a loan I’d cosigned, lost his job, and couldn’t afford to pay it any longer … and that my credit score was taking a nosedive hit me. I felt like crap. I put so much guilt on my shoulders. I’d co-signed those loans when my credit score was in the 780s way back in grad school. I’d made some stupid money decisions and was up to my neck in debt of my own doing. The country was starting to get out of the recession and what should’ve been a moment of celebration became a prison sentence. It felt like that. I was carrying this massive ball and chain and I saw no way out.

I was able to work on a repayment plan that wouldn’t sink my credit score further down, but it would take forever. Back then I was trying to manage 6 debts on a $50k salary in NYC. I moved with roommates for the first time in my life. I didn’t take a vacation, didn’t … couldn’t visit my family. But somehow I made it through.

Then I switched jobs and with a bit more $ in my pocket and some mental clarity, I was able to start the debt snowball and begin to tackle my mountain of debt. I repaid and closed a overdraft protection account I had. That was my first debt paid in full. I started paying the regular minimum on those loans I’d cosigned for my dad … even though I should’ve insisted he pay for them. In the meantime my parent’s house, the house I grew up in, was almost foreclosed. I then buckled up and really went snowball crazy on my first credit card debt, an account I opened to get a discount on a dress for a friend’s wedding!!!!! (WTF was I thinking??). Instead of just having the store card alone, it came up with a major credit card company logo, which I treated as “free money” for a long, long time. I was $4k deep into that one. I finished paying it off last year.

In June of 2016 I paid the smallest of the two loans I’d cosigned. I rolled over that amount, plus the $ I was putting into cc #3 and applied it to the largest loan. That loan was just paid. It was cancelled. 0 debt. No more extra money going that way. I still can’t believe it. I’m still pinching myself.

I was well on my way to pay cc #2, which all that time I was contributing about 40% more than the minimum payment. At its worst I had it near the $4K mark. Right now it’s seating slightly below $3k. The closest I was to finishing that one up was some time last year, but then I had some car repairs due to a minor accident and some other things. I try to contribute to this card a few times a month. My hope is to lower the debt amount to somewhere around $500 so that my minimum payment will be super low, and I can get gazelle-intense into knocking down cc #1. To some people it may sound silly to do this, but I really like cc #2 (I know, it’s stupid, but it does have some cool benefits), and as I chip away (more like try to bulldoze the mountain of debt that is cc #1), I should slowly be able to pay off cc #2. Plus, I really want to insult Bank of America when I call to cancel it. I can’t wait (yeah, I know it’s silly, but I do have some choice words for predatory companies that go into schools to essentially sell debt to naive undergrads). Honey and I have no credit cards together … hell, not even a single account bearing both of our names (when we got married there was the slight possibility that I’d declare bankruptcy, so we didn’t merge our finances and created instead a legal provision so he wouldn’t carry those debts in case I became unemployed). So we may consider opening an account in both our names, with some cool benefits (we travel some for work and pleasure, so maybe a mile-earning one, or one from a place/company we use a lot, like certain airlines). But my main focus is to apply what was being diverted to not-my-debt #2 into cc #1, and erase that one. I thought I’d be done with it by March of next year. But it looks more like this time next year instead.

And that my friends, is why I feel like I’m finally able to see a teeny-tiny light at the end of the tunnel full of debt. Back when I was in my late 20s, and it dawned on me that if I didn’t do something to stop accumulating debt I’d spend my 30s paying back my debts, it finally sunk in that all those stupid money decisions I’d made in my early 20s would come to bite me hard. I remember, 10 years ago, thinking “ugh, I’ll be 36 or 37 when I’m finally debt free.” And it seemed so far away. Now 10yrs later it does feel like a lifetime ago. I could’ve done better. I can do better. I’m still buying clothes … mostly tops that I say I’ll use for work and eventually just use them once or twice to go to dinner or something and then start feeling guilty about that and donate them. So I have long ways to go still. But I’ve tried really hard to rein in my spending. I now finish in the black 98% of the time (the rest of the times it’s because I got careless and spent too much on eating out … my other weakness). I’m about to finish paying the very first laptop I’ve bought since 2002! I have food, shelter and decent health. My husband is paying for a car we got, and eventually I should take over the payments, as that was our agreement. And I’m very OK with that as even now I could take over the monthly payment (I am paying for insurance for the new one and my old beater). I’ve been extremely lucky with my old beater. It’s been paid off since 2008 and has only left me stranded once due to a dead battery.

Sometimes I dream of the things I could buy now that I have more money. I compare myself to former schoolmates and workmates and I think, gosh, I could be living better (which is totes stupid because I don’t have a horrible life … in fact, it is very kick ass thank-you-very-much). I’ve been exploring minimalism too, which has helped in controlling my spending some, and making better decisions when it comes to what I’m getting into my apartment. I was supposed to move this summer, but due to some unforeseen circumstances I had to stay put. I’m not a huge fan of the place I live in, but at least it’s clean and safe. To compensate for the having to stay put, I decided to reorganize my two BR apt. I’m still in the early stages, but the main bedroom is decorated in two tones and it’s simple but feels clean and quiet.

I want for nothing … in fact, my husband and I have started giving each other the gift of experiences. Now that we’re both employed, have some savings and decent health and no major money commitments, we really don’t have a need for more gadgets. We’ve decided to do cool things like go to places we’ve wanted to visit but never had enough time (or money, really) and done that. I like antiquing so hon has gotten me a cute thing here and there, but nothing worth more than $20. That or llama shirts which are my new favourite thing (seriously, llamas). For christmas I told him to find a cool place back home where I can snorkel. He’s still thinking about what to ask for the holidays, but thus far he’s coming empty. We’ve started to realize, very slowly, that because we feel like we are where we should be, at this moment in life, earning a living, we can focus on going places, exploring, enjoying local food and arts and culture. It feels so strange, but so gratifying. Like, we don’t have to spend a ton of money to have fun, we live in a place full of different (and sometimes quirky) festivals, our state has some amazing places to explore and we’re just beginning. I hope to write some more about our experiences with minimalism … or really, of being less into mindless consumerism.