My husband and I met while I was still attending the University of Maryland at College Park. My best friend in College was his best friend in High School. We loved all of the same things. Things like Martial Arts, he did Jujitsu, I did Aikido. We like things that go fast, he had just ordered a Yamaha YZF-R1 and I liked to race my VW GTI 1.8t as an SCCA Aut0-x driver. We were into sports like snowboarding, working out, eating healthy, world cuisine, travel, drum & bass and rock & roll music. We loved going to concerts and throwing parties. He lived at home and so did I. I also worked full time during the day, while attending college full-time at night and raising my young daughter at the time. He had been laid off after the tech bubble burst and was working a low-wage job as a graphic designer in a small town print shop. We lived over an hour apart, I in Baltimore City, he in Southern Maryland. As our love blossomed, so did our need to be closer to one another. The toll of driving down to visit him in Waldorf continued to grow, until finally after graduation I was working long hours all week and driving hours through rush hour traffic to meet him for the weekend. We finally agreed to take the plunge and move in together. I had always lived at home and he was only gone for college. Neither of us had run a household or really learned to manage finances. We had balanced our personal bank accounts, but that was a relatively easy task when you didn’t have to worry about things like utility bills, mortgage payments, paying the IRS, so on and so forth. While we were smart enough to buy a house within our means, we didn’t realize that we needed to curb our expenses in time. We bought new dishes, and household goods. We took a vacation each spring to South Beach Miami and went snowboarding in the winter. We enjoyed nights out with friends eating gourmet meals and enjoying good martinis. I had a lot of health issues including several surgeries in a row. I sent my daughter to private school. We fought to balance our lives as responsible adults who had a hamburger budget, but still enjoyed spending time with friends indulging the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed. Once I graduated from college and it was time to pay the student loans things got worse. We couldn’t afford groceries, the hospital bills, or student loans. We started paying for nearly everything with credit cards. I went to grad school and it got worse. Fortunately we realized in time that poor planning and a complete lack of understanding of personal finance began to hit home. We realized we were in trouble and we began to buckle down. We set a five year plan for digging ourselves out of the hole we had gotten into. We had a combined income of around $50-60k and now credit card debt to match. Our introductory 0% interest rates ran out and we were left with 4 of 5 credit cards a piece nearly maxed out. It was time to pay the piper. Things got tough and suddenly there were no more South Beach vacations, no more trips out West to snowboard and no more fancy meals. Our budget shrank drastically and spent the last of our money on a wedding in Las Vegas. No matching Bridesmaids dresses, no gifts for the groomsmen, but it was in a breathtaking location and we sprung for a opulent reception and everyone had an amazing time. Our trip came in at around $10k. In three short years we racked up debt that would last a lifetime. However, we agreed to keep our heads down, work two jobs and get the bills paid. We had a few setbacks including another 4 surgeries for me, the discovery of tumors on my liver that would mean expensive MRI’s 4x a year and his work stopped paying him. The tension rose and tempers flared, but we stayed the course. Cooking rice and beans at home wasn’t nearly as exciting as the sea bass we once enjoyed on Lincoln Road in Miami, but we made it work. This blog was born on the idea that I had to drastically change my point of view in life and learn to do things differently and for myself. We both grew and matured and our lives changed. The tough times are where you really get to show your mettle, even if they are tough times you created for yourself. We were young and myopic and as a result we’ve suffered to be sure, but I think it was really all worthwhile. Sometimes I second-guess my decision to actually take responsibility and pay down my debt. It would have been so much easier to throw in the towel and start fresh. It was a personal decision and not one of morality, we each take our own path on the road home. I finally lifted my head up today and checked the bank accounts carefully. I was a bit giggly when I realized that on my own credit card, the last credit card that I have, that I’m more than half-way paid off. Nearly five years ago now we set a rule. No one purchased anything over $100 without both of us agreeing to it. No using the credit cards, for any reason, ever. We each have one emergency card left that holds our remaining balances and provides a back up should the unthinkable strike. Even when husband’s job stopped paying him last year, we reduced our monthly payments, but we plodded ahead. We took in a roommate and kept the lights on. I’m happy to report that we have only $15k in credit card debt remaining between us. With the balances shrinking and the interest charges dwindling, my hope is that we’ll have these paid off according to plan by the end of next year. Unfortunately we are still seriously upside down on our little home, but I hold out hope that it will recover by the time my daughter heads off to college in a few years. My student loans are another story (somewhere in the neighborhood of $70k), and one that I plan to ignore as I plan to pay those all of the way through to my own retirement unfortunately. And while I feel that it was tough, we both came out tougher and now looking back on the road realize that we are almost home, and we did it together.
So, why do I spill out the contents of my immaturity onto this blog post? Well, mostly because I wanted to let anyone reading this know, that sometimes we all end up in crazy places and we don’t really know how we got there at the time. That youth is wasted on the young. That, rather than beating yourself up for your mistakes in life, it’s more important to look ahead and focus on your goals and how you can get yourself out of the mess you’ve made. Yes, you may have made your bed, but no, you don’t have to lay in it. So, as my dear old Dad says, “Pull yourself up by your boot straps and get to work”. Sometimes, it’s the simple advice that’s the best. It’s hard, but you can do it. Most importantly, I hope you read this and realize even sooner than I did that eventually the chickens will come home to roost. So, enjoy this cliche filled tale of love, loss and rebuilding and remember that there are a few truths: 1. no matter how much money you make, and how many things you buy, they will never be enough that you feel satisfied. 2. happiness comes from within, do not seek it without. 3. it’s never too late to start fresh, and finally 4. “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today” – Abraham Lincoln.
So, please dear reader. Learn from my mistakes and learn as quickly as possible, to spend less and live more. Finally, let’s celebrate the small things as I tip just over the halfway point of remaining debt and I find myself almost home.