So there I was, living in DC, kicking ass and taking names on Capitol Hill, brokering power deals left and right on K Street, while in the background loomed a tawdry sex scandal.
That wasn’t me, that was the plot of elentytwelve million movies.
In reality, I moved to DC, and found a job, and began Act II of paying down my credit card. I worked a couple nights a week as a hostess at a local restaurant. I quit that when the freelance work I was doing for my old company, and for a (sadly, now defunct) very fun nightlife and entertainment website (which also sparked my love for and desire to learn more about photography) took off. It was all very lovely and nice, but really? Did little by way of paying down much of the bill.
And so the nagging, confining, paralyzing thoughts came back, and again. More so when this little thing called the ohfuckingshithelldamntheeconomycrashed happened, and the freelance budgets for my mainstay clients went out the window. Hence, so did my extra cash for paying off debt. Around the same time, I remember having a conversation with my friend Poofie, she of the hysterical situation absorber. (By which I mean you call her when you are hysterical, and she absorbs it calmly and then nicely, yet firmly, tells you to get a g-d grip and stop being so dramatic.) I remember voicing my desire to be done, just be done with these stupid credit card payments, and I was going to change it because I was just sick of it.
“I’m going to pay this off by my birthday,” I declared.
“How much do you have to pay?” Poofie asked, and I repeated the number to her. Through the phone I could hear her raise her eyebrows. “That’s a lot, Mol,” she said.
“I know. But I have a little over a year. I can do it,” I replied. “I will. I’m fucking sick of this. I’ve paid off that amount in less than a year before. Granted, I wasn’t paying rent that time, but I’ll make it work. I’ll do it.”
Interwebers, there is something you should know about me. I can get very competitive.
There. I said it.
Usually it’s only about things I know I can win, but still. (Because really, there is no need for me to stress myself out over shit I know I do not have a chance in hell of succeeding at. Like yodeling. Or fishing.)
ANYWAY, nothing like a little competition with yourself to light a fire under your ass, eh?
Yeah. Or something.
So! Where was I? Oh right. I went out and got a part-time gig at a restaurant that is part of a golf club—waitressing, not hostessing, this time. I worked nights. I worked weekends. I gave up a lot of pool time in the summer and football games in the fall to don a uniform and schlep drinks and dinner. I picked up an extra shift on occasion. And like it did the first time, the debt went down really quickly when I first started working regularly at a second job, like a bobsled down a….bobsled track thingy. Part of me was willing to work full-time at both my full-time and part-time job and THINK! of how QUICKLY! I could pay off this last g-d card! Think about it! And then the other, more rational part of me was like, “For serious? Bitch, you crazy. You canNOT work that much without going bonkers and/or your friends filing a missing persons report and by the way you need time to sleep. And eat. And read the paper in bed. And bake things. And then eat those things while you read the paper in bed. And yell at the TV while watching Say Yes To the Dress.”
(The balance thing. That’s always been a toughie for me. But I did my best to not get burnt out. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I failed. Either way, almost every penny I made was sent off to those bastard credit card companies.)
(Actually, I can’t really call them bastards, can I? In this instance? It’s my own damn fault that they’re getting my money. I am probably one of the few people who will admit that the credit card companies didn’t do anything to really screw me over. I screwed myself over.)
And then. Well. And then realityand How Things Work In My Brain happened.
As the golf season petered out, business slowed down, I’d gotten my credit card bill down to an amount that I could feasibly pay off by draining my savings (a step I was not willing to take, because, um, hi, that is way too tempting of the Fate/Karma/Whatever forces of nature and something would happen to surely put me right back into debt this time with NO savings as a cushion), I kind of went…meh…on the whole process. The forces that drove me to throw every penny at my bill waivered and part of my brain went, “Eh, why make a $700 payment when you could make a $500 payment and use that extra $200 to…oh…I don’t know….buy clothes and go out to eat and LOOK PRETTY SHOES!” (Though the bright side of this was I at least paid cash.)
Has anybody else experienced this? Financial goals! So exciting! In the beginning, so much progress, of course, because you’ve spent—how much time? I don’t want to think about it—doing very little or nothing at all. And then, ploop. Excitement discontinued.
Paying off debt, when you think about it (and I know I’m not the first to make this comparison) is a lot like being on the Biggest Loser. Big, HUGE, numbers those first few weeks on the ranch, when you finally get up and do something about your weight/credit card debt. And then, as time goes on…poof…numbers start to dip down and even out, which isn’t bad, so long as they aren’t coming out to zero, or adding on more, but it’s not as thrilling as it was in those halcyon days of first movement.
The months went on, and as my birthday approached, my credit card bill was still getting lower, though my patience with it was growing thinner. I found myself getting anxious to hack away at it like I did before. I also found out that I was going to get a nice, chunky tax refund. The previous year’s refund had helped spark my road to debt-freeness, and this year’s would help me complete the process. That, along with, ahem, some of my savings.
Which, I know, I know, I just said three paragraphs ago I wouldn’t do. But I was willing to do it this time, for a couple of reasons: A) It wouldn’t wipe out my savings, and 2) I knew if I didn’t, those last few dollars to pay off could be dragged out indefinitely. Be smart, I told myself. And for me, this was the smartest thing to do.
Which brings us to our third, and final…for now…act.
Because I’ve written that last check, and like those who have reached their ideal goal, the test now becomes keeping it (the debt) off. I can’t predict the future, particularly financial-wise. I do think the biggest challenge will be keeping the debt off and retraining my brain in how I think about money. It’s already started to happen, I can tell you that much. And it’s a weird, but joyous, and relieved feeling to not have to write a check to Amex or Bank of America, or Insert Credit Card Institution Here. But yet…still weird. When you carry the debt around for so long, when it’s wrapped up as part of who you are for so long, there’s a moment of flailing and confusion when it goes away.
I don’t want to carry that weight around any longer, but I also can’t look back and feel bad about the fact that it was there in the first place. I can take responsibility for it, yes, of course. And I do. Apparently this was an experience I needed to have, a lesson I needed to learn. The very, very ohmyGodwhyareyoumakingthissodifficultonyourself hard way.
I’ve taken, as you may have guessed, to reading a lot of personal finance blogs over the years, and I was reading a post on Get Rich Slowly, that said: Look forward, not back. Base your goals on the future, on what you want to accomplish, not on where you’ve already been. This forces you to think outside the box. Don’t worry about past failures. Concern yourself only with what you want to accomplish in the future.
So I’m not going to feel bad about the fact that I yo-yo debted for so many years, that I spent my 20s racking up credit card debt, paid some of it off, moved to a new city, racked it up again, and then spent the first year of my 30s paying it off. I feel good about it, in fact. You know why?
LESSON MOTHERFUCKING LEARNED.
I have things I want, financial goals I want to reach, and I feel like those things are finally attainable. I’m not going to reach them right away, and if my past dealings with my finances are any indication, it will probably take me a couple of tries to get it right.
But try I will.