How $32,000 of Credit Card Debt Became My Ticket to Liberation
You may have seen me mention in other places on this website that one of my first and most significant journeys of liberation was getting myself out of a large amount of credit card debt. A number of people have asked me about this so I thought I’d share the story here.
In 2009, I completed the final step on an eight-year journey to pay off $32,000 of credit card debt. It happened the moment I mailed one last check to Citibank to pay off my account with them. I can’t begin to tell you how great that felt.
While $32,000 might not seem like a lot for some folks, it was a huge for me given that when that eight-year period started in 2001, my annual income was $19,000.
If you had told me back then that one day I would actually be grateful for this experience, I would never have believed it. I would have thought you were crazy.
But facing my debt — and getting myself out of it — turned into a vehicle for waking up to some deeper truths and building strength in areas of my life that I had carefully avoided.
Some of the gifts gained during what I now call my “Debt Liberation Quest” have included:
- more mindfulness of my resources
- learning how to ask for help
- valuing my time and skills
- practicing generosity, persistence, and patience
How I Fell Into the Debt Hole
In January 2001, I was in the middle of a perfect money storm: a combination of bad financial decisions from the previous years, a large student loan from graduate school in the 90s, several thousand dollars of medical bills during a time when I was uninsured, and several years of low-paying jobs.
My debt hole, as I called it, was pretty deep. Definitely deeper than my annual income.
It was so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to figure out exactly how much I owed. I only knew that the total of the minimum monthly payments for each of my credit cards was almost half of my monthly income.
I took a deep breath and braced myself to add up all my credit card balances:
- Card #1: $10,096
- Card #2: $9,798
- Card #3: $7,174
- Card #4: $2,984
- Card #5: $1,896
There it was, the cold hard truth: a total of $31,948 of credit card debt. And then there were student loans from three years of graduate school: another $52,000. Total debt: nearly $84,000.
My savings account? I didn’t have one.
I knew it was bad but I didn’t know it was that bad. I stared at the numbers for a long hard while and felt sick to my stomach. A feeling defeat came over me, as well as disgust that I had let this go on for this long. What was I going to do?
Then something happened.
Maybe it’s a survival instinct, like the adrenaline that kicks in when you’re chased by a hungry bear and you run faster than you ever thought possible. Something similar rose up from deep inside me as I looked at those numbers. I promised myself that I would pay that money off and never let it happen again. Denial was no longer an option. For reasons that I’ll share next week, I didn’t want to go the route of bankruptcy either.
I vowed that I would never add another penny of interest to my debt. And with one exception (more on that next week), I’ve kept that promise to myself.
How I Found My Way Out
On that January day in 2001, I was 39 years old. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S. My monthly take-home pay from freelance editing and a part-time job was about $1,800, if I was lucky. The journey out of that amount of debt seemed impossible, but I knew deep in my heart that I had to find a way to do it.
So how did I get from there to where I am today, finally having zero credit card debt and a much healthier personal financial situation?
The process was both spiritual and financial. I learned that it wasn’t enough to read books about money, and it wasn’t enough to recite prosperity affirmations. I had to find out how to bring both those threads together in a way that made sense for me. Ultimately, I developed 10 steps that helped me to find my way out of credit card debt. I’ll write about these in next week’s post.
Being in debt is not only a financial reality, it’s an energetic state. When we’re in debt we owe our energy to someone or something outside of ourselves. The years that I had credit card debt weighed down on me like a physical sensation, like carrying a heavy burden. Now there is more lightness to my being and when I use the word “liberation” to describe it, that’s not a stretch.
George Sand once wrote, “One changes from day to day…every few years one becomes a new being.” In those eight years, my passage from debt to solvency gave me a chance to birth a new “me.”
As I learned how to be more goal-oriented with my finances, this translated to other parts of my life. I learned the deeper meaning of “investment.” Where was I investing my energy, time, and love? What was the return on my investment, and was it worth it? I began to apply these questions to every part of my life, not just my finances.
And now, four years later, I am still credit card debt-free. Although $30,000 of student loans remains (down from the original $52,000), the difference is I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s a light that I turned on myself.
I’m guessing some of you might have a similar story. I invite you to share in the comments below if you’ve had an experience like this with your finances, and how you got yourself to a better place and found financial freedom.
I’d love to stay in touch with you! When you sign up for my mailing list, you’ll receive my monthly newsletter with reflections on life and liberation, as well as my e-book, “9 Keys to a Liberated Life.”