On August 14, 2016, I released Debt Free or Die Trying: How I Buried Myself in Over $30,000 in Debt and Dug My Way Out by Age 30. The book tells the good, the bad, the ups and the downs, the mistakes I and others made, and the lessons I and we learned. Through PaychecksAndBalances.com/DebtFree, my goal is to show others that living a debt free life and living life do not have to be mutually exclusive. Debt and I have had a very rocky relationship. I don’t hate debt. I don’t love debt. I’d describe our relationship as, “It’s complicated.” If you’re like me, maybe you’re ready to end your relationship with debt.
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The First Time I Fell In Love With Debt…
I was only 18 years old.
I worked at IHOP. I was a baller. A shot-caller. I made cash-in-hand every shift — sometimes as much as $100/day! I saved over $2,000 in cash for my first car. With no real bills, the ease of saving money created a false reality: that I could do it again, whenever I wanted to. Back in the real world, I wouldn’t save $2,000 in cash again in any account, savings or otherwise until I was in my mid-20s!
You see, I was cash-rich but mentally broke. My dad used to say, “You got more cash than sense.”
The first time I learned about credit was when I went to purchase my first cell phone. I had my eyes on the top of the line phone. My real Millennials know which one: The Nokia 5100 with the interchangeable faceplate. A young man of expensive taste and leisure I went with the red Spider Man, blue Lightning Strike, and of course, the infamous, clear faceplate.
But, before I could leave the owner mentioned two words I had never heard in my 18 years on Earth…
He said I would need to put down a deposit because I didn’t have any “credit history.”
I didn’t even know what these terms meant. Technically, I could have left with a FREE phone but I would not be deterred from wasting my money on the greatest purchase legally available to me: the Nokia 5100, with the interchangeable faceplates, and notoriously difficult Snake Game.
I put down $200 IN CASH and I walked out of the store a broker but satisfied customer. This temporary peace would all be shattered soon after I graduated high school.
Age 18: The College Years
The year was 2001…
I don’t remember exactly what I was doing. We could say “studying” but we would likely be lying.
I do remember being interrupted by a fellow college goer. I was a freshman at the esteemed (at least in Texas, anyway) THE University of Texas at Austin when an exasperated teen free from the burdensome restrictions of his parents burst into the hallway. He looked around. He huffed! He puffed! It was clear he had something life altering to share with us based on the bewildered excitement in his eyes. He collected himself and announced to any teenagers that were listening to him.
It was clear he had something life altering to share with us based on the bewildered excitement in his eyes. He collected himself and announced to all the entranced teenagers staring at him.
THEY’RE GIVING AWAY FREE MONEY AND T-SHIRTS IN THE MAIN HALL!!!”
I had only been in college a few days but I was already learning the value of money since I already quit my job at IHOP making me no longer a baller. I was transitioning into my new, more familiar college lifestyle: flat broke.
The benefits of “free” anything were already demonstrating their value in my life. Like many other wide-eyed teens, I eagerly race to the main hall to validate these claims for myself.Sure enough, he was right. There were tables as far as the eye could see lined with young teens and schwag. They were, in fact, giving away FREE t-shirts and money! I couldn’t believe it!
He was right!There were tables as far as the eye could see lined with young teens and schwag. They were, in fact, giving away FREE t-shirts and money! I couldn’t believe it!
There were tables as far as the eye could see lined with teens and schwag. They were giving away FREE money and T-Shirts! I couldn’t believe it!
All you had to do was sign up for this thing called a “credit card.”
“There goes that word, again,” I thought to myself.
I hadn’t heard “credit” mentioned since I bought the greatest cell phone ever made: the Nokia 5100, with the interchangeable faceplates.
I needed this free stuff in my life. I chose the desk with the freest swag, signed my name on a contract I didn’t read, and I left with a fist full of free t-shirts…and a monogrammed yoyo.
“Suckers!” I thought to myself.
A few weeks later a piece of plastic with 16-digits and my name emblazoned on the front in platinum letters arrived in the mail. Like most 18-year-olds, I promptly discarded the contract language where it belonged: the trash can outside of my dorm room. I didn’t waste any time following the instructions on the card:
- Call this number
- Remove this sticker
- Start spending your free money
Age 21: The Drinking Years
The year was 2003…
Now legally old enough to drink, and without monetary restrictions, I charged everything I could get my hands on to my various credit cards. Yes, various. By now, I had several.
Alcohol? Charge it! Rent? CHARGE it!! Everything in life? CHARGE IT!!!
From what I vaguely remember and have been told by others, I had a great time supporting a half-decade of my life on credit.There were the Spring Breaks to South Padre Island. The numerous hotel chains around the country. For 4-full years of college I never “ran out of money.” There was always the credit cards to charge up when the money ran low. All I had to do each month was
There were the Spring Breaks to South Padre Island. The numerous hotel chains around the country. I think I visited 35 of the 50 continental United States!
For four full years, there was always the credit cards to charge up when the money ran low. All I had to do each month was make the minimum payment.
My friends without credit cards would join me to spend their free tuition reimbursement checks!
The money was limitless, the friends were bountiful, and life was good!
We never worried about the costs because we all knew we’d pay it all back as soon as we graduated. That’s why we were going to college in the first place! DUH!! When we graduated we’d make so much money your head would spin!!!
By now I upgraded to the second greatest cell phone of all time: the Motorolla RAZR flip phone.
The year was 2005…
I didn’t panic when I graduated college with about $9,000 in debt for that free T-shirt I got when I was 18. I told myself I’d be debt free in 5-years!
I had no plan or concept of how much money that would cost. I think I just liked the way “five years” sounded rolling off of my 22-year-old tongue. It sounded like a really good, responsible, adult-like number.
Sure, I’d struggled through numerous months of college trying to make the minimum payments; I’d gotten so desperate on various occasions that I paid credit cards with other credit cards; and more than once, I mailed a check praying the bank wouldn’t cash it before payday.
But, I never missed a credit card payment. Plus I had an excellent credit score! This validated me as an adult, right?
I’m not sure which of these numerous irresponsible behaviors intrigued financial institutions the most, but after college graduation, I started receiving more solicitations, not less.
Every institute you can name — and some you can’t because they’ve since gone out of business for fraudulent lending practices — offered to extend me ever increasing lines of credit.
In my early 20s, making barely $19,000 a year, I had over $20,000 in available lines of credit extended to me.
Other institutions began offering me another, better, improved, debt vehicle than those mediocre credit cards I had been using during college. I had graduated alright, to Debt Consolidation Loans.
The first time I got approved for a debt consolidation loan, I treated it like a winning lottery check. In one weekend, I went from $9,000 to $26,000 in debt. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun spending money I couldn’t afford!
I even managed to buy a new (used) car…with rims!
But, even the good times must come to an end…
Cick Here to read Part 2 of The First Time I Fell In Love With Debt and watch the bonus video clip.