Here’s a story of a lovely lady (maybe two) who incurred a lovely amount of debt, all of it on cards of gold like the adverts, the oldest one maxed out.
We’re a couple and, if you ask us, we’re lovely. We’re not as lovely as Mike and Carol Brady, but you should continue reading anyway, especially if you’re currently drowning in debt.
Like many people, we sought the validation we didn’t get in school from stuff we couldn’t afford as adults. Despite being money pros, we fell victim to routine financial mistakes. Using the four principles below, we overcame our debt. Before we continue, let’s start when The Brady Bunch took tube television “to the max.”
How We (& Our Debts) Met
One born in Germany and the other near Philly, we were two dancing queens when we met on a gay disco dance floor in Denver. By then, David spent most of his life in Denver and John just arrived to find thrills in the snow.
David got his International Business degree and spent his working life in finance. John also got into finance and earned his MBA. But, like any good script, there was an antagonist. Ours was debt. We climbed out of it and stayed out of it with these four principles.
1. Use Cash
David’s trouble started at age 21. His mother co-signed for a credit card to take to Ireland and England. He had a limit of $500, which was a lot for a 21-year-old pre-Clinton Administration I. This card was for emergencies and not the Stacy and Wayne “What Not to Wear” kind. David returned home with a maxed out credit card, never seeing a British hospital or jail.
David then succumbed to catalog shopping. Catalogs were bound paper with lists of stuff to buy. Over the phone David ordered bright and shiny stuff that came in the mail, Amazon shopping of yore.
This is why using only cash is so important to us. The benefit is that we can’t spend more than we earn. While spending all that we earn stinks, spending more than we earn stinks more.
2. Live Below Your Means
John struggled the most with living below his means because he was spoiled and didn’t understand the value of a dollar. Living on someone else’s dollar is great until they no longer let you live on their dollar.
With $5,000 in his pocket, John was “rich” when he moved to Denver. Adults don’t hang posters on their walls and sleep on futons. They have new, queen-size beds, fancy furniture and pots and pans. John needed boards and ski passes, and a new-to-the-world car. He burned through his $5,000 cash plus $30,000 of credit fast.
As a couple, we continued to live on someone else’s dollar — the bank’s dollar. We were caught up in living the superficially perfect “gay lifestyle.” Perfect house, cars, clothes and six-pack abs. We spent more time at the gym than on a budget. We were a match made in heaven and neither of us had been to London. We were validated.
3. Have a Financial Plan
But without a financial plan, we validated ourselves into a basement apartment and it wasn’t long until reality Moonstruck us in the face. We were two 30-something men, advising people about money and in debt up to our mascara-lined eyeballs.
We’d always be young with wealthier days ahead, right? Without a financial plan, we didn’t realize we were anchoring our future to our past with debt. We didn’t have a road map and were always surprised when we never arrived where we wanted to go. With a financial plan, we’ve had clarity that’s taken us from a basement apartment to a 12th-floor condo bested only by The Jeffersons.
4. Be Money Conscious
Before we knew it, John had debt for seven years and David for 17 because we spent, saved and lived unconsciously. We haven’t done the math, because math is hard, but we probably spent equal amounts in interest despite the disparity in balances and age of our debts.
Combined, we had $51,000 in credit card debt when we had our “come to Madonna moment.” It was then we decided to become money conscious. We calculated how much we truly earned, monitored our expenses and chose financial goals.
“Be money conscious” is the most important principle we impart because all the practical and theoretical knowledge in the world is lost if we hide our financial truth in the closet. Just being money conscious, alone, turned our lives around. As Oprah’s friend Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.
More on Managing Debt:
- The Credit.com Debt Management Learning Center
- How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt
- Understanding Your Debt Collection Rights
Image Courtesy of David Auten and John Schneider