Vanquishing My Debt

I'm 29 and trying to get a handle on my finances so that, one day, I can buy a home of my own. I've been reading personal finance blogs recently and decided to start one chronicling my own struggles and success (hopefully). I am lucky, considering the amounts of debt and tales of tragedy I've read about... but I am making some positive changes and moving in the right direction.

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

Friday, June 23, 2006

Why did I rack up this debt?

I've been thinking about the behaviors, habits, and beliefs that get people into debt... so of course, I thought about the factors that influenced me in my spending.

My mom always raised me to be frugal, not as a life choice, but as a budgeting necessity. She was a single mom with a mediocre job, so that's just how it was. Library books instead of new books, grocery shopping with coupons, and cheap/reasonably priced clothing instead of designer duds. She never taught me to save or invest, but she did teach me not to spend out of my means.

All of these things I have done in my adult life... I love the challenge of lowering my grocery bill and finding great clothing in thrift stores. Every piece of furniture I own has a story about where I got it and how much it was on sale/promotional special/bought at a thrift store or garage sale. I truly love the chase of something great and unique and cheap.

Awhile ago, one of my best friends died suddenly at the age of 32. For the last few years of her life, she was involved with a boyfriend that controlled every aspect of her life - her new extreme diet, her new several-hours-a-day exercise regimen, her money, her ridiculously long commute to work, her community college class schedule, and the parenting of her daughter. Basically she was told to deny herself everything... all in the name of paying off debt, losing weight, and contributing to his household. (I'm not even going to go into the psychological ramifications of this situation.)

She always went along with him, although she talked about how she'd love to order a pizza for lunch at work, or go into our favourite clothing store and buy something... not extravagant purchases by any means, just things that she could afford and would enjoy. But she never did. I keep feeling guilty that I didn't encourage her more in pursuing these small satisfactions. I did urge her to indulge herself once in awhile, but my urging wasn't strong enough to empower her to stand up for herself and say, "I'm taking back control of my finances, my health and my life."

So when she died unexpectedly, after about 2 years of longing toget a manicure or have a piece of birthday cake at the office, I found it hard to deny myself these things. I kept thinking, "If I end up dying tomorrow, I should be making sure I enjoy today." Unfortunately, a part of that became shopping and bad food choices... both of which it's taking my willpower to conquer now. I basically gave myself permission to do whatever made me happy, not thinking of the consequences. I'm very lucky that the damage isn't worse than it is.

On the plus side, I have a renewed devotion to my family and spend more time with them than ever before. It's made me prioritize my life. I had been thinking of going back to school to pursue a degree in anthropology (not the most practical of degrees), but I've decided that I don't want to spend my time in a classroom. I can pursue my academic interests on my own time, in the manner that I like. It's almost too bad, because I had a kick-ass thesis idea, too. :) But I'm happy with my decision.

Now I'm realizing how badly I need to get my financial house in order... if my time is more limited than I think, I don't want my last years spent at a job that I hate. I eventually want to do the same work that I do now, but working for myself. I need to have a savings cushion built up to take a chance like that.

What are the factors that influenced you to accrue debt? What are your motivations now to get out of debt?


Blogger Christina said...

Oh how sad. I was reading about your friend and that is terrible. I agree with you we all need to splurge here and there. I also shop thrift stores and love it when I get something designer for mere pennies. You'd think I won a million dollars.

9:34 AM  

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