I got the idea for this post from my friend Amanda Piccirilli and her blog, Take Your Pic. She was actually inspired by blogger Jessica Lawlor, who writes here about how to get gutsy. This is a story about how I learned to get gutsy.
Like so many people, I found myself caught in a plastic trap a few years ago. High vet bill? Visa. Car repairs? Visa. Plumbing emergency? Visa.
I relied on my Visa card when unexpected, expensive bills popped up. I wasn’t living beyond my means and buying dumb crap, and it didn’t reach stomach-sickening proportions. Still, it had crept up to about $2,000 over the course of several years, an amount that made me uncomfortable.
And, I barely made a dent in it because I was just paying the minimum payment most months. Sometimes I paid more, but not enough to really make a difference quickly. Even though I hated my debt, I hated the thought of paying more than $40 to $80 a month toward it even more.
Last summer Mike told me I was being ridiculous — because of the interest rate (around 20 percent) it would take me years to pay off the card if I only made the minimum payment, even if I stopped using it. At that point, the balance was about $1,700.
This isn’t a story about how I found ways to cut my expenses so I could scrimp and save and give up all that damn expensive craft beer so I could finally pay off my credit card. It’s a story about how I made a decision to be financially smart after being lulled for so long by the lies and scams of the credit card industry.
“Do you have seventeen hundred dollars in the bank?” he asked, knowing the answer.
“Yes,” I said.
“Then why don’t you pay it off? Just pay it off. Do it today.”
The thought freaked me out. I really had never considered just paying it off, even though I did have the funds to do so. Those small, bite-sized payments were manageable. I don’t spend money easily because I always feel I need to prepare for some huge catastrophe. And, yeah, paying more than small payments every month meant, to me, that I’d have less of a buffer against all of the evils of the world. Looming “bad stuff” could be zapped by having a healthier balance in the bank.
It all sounds crazy considering that I was actually paying more than I owed when I made the minimum payments. More of my precious pennies were flying out the door, deceptively so.
After I processed this, I decided that Mike gave me good advice and I needed to listen. So one morning in September, I got gutsy and paid off what I owed on the card. It was an amazing feeling to see the balance listed as $0.
I was going to wait until I did my 2014 taxes before paying off the $303.15 I now owe on my student loan to take advantage of the tax benefits, but I don’t think what I owe will amount to much of a tax credit. So, I’m going to pay off my student loan this month. I imagine that will feel even more significant since I’ve been carrying it for so many years.
I signed up for a better, different Visa, one with rewards points, and I’ve been using it since October. I had always used my debit card, but Mike pointed out it’s not a good idea to give retailers, or anyone, direct access to your money, and using credit protects you from that.
The difference is that I’m now paying off the balance every month. You gotta do that. You just have to. And you know what? Given what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown and in the past few months, it’s not painful at all.
Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.