David from Money Under 30 attended college when he was 18 years old. It was 1999, and that same year he received his first credit card from a local credit union. Unfortunately, at the time, his parents were experiencing some tough financial times.
David noticed that they used their credit cards often. “I modeled my credit card spending after my parents,” recalls David. “I used it in college to live above my means, spending money on things I really didn’t need and the balance started growing.” What David probably didn’t understand was his parents needed to use their card.
After he graduated, David took a job in New York City as an editorial assistant at SmartMoney Magazine. He didn’t make much money and, as most people know, NYC is terribly expensive. So, he used his credit cards.
“I realized the irony, working on ‘smart money’ and abusing my credit cards,” David says. “I knew it was wrong, but after paying my bills and other expenses, there was literally nothing left in my paycheck.”
After a while, David understood he was in trouble. He had five or six credit cards – some he maxed out, others he stopped using, and others he paid off but then something would occur and the bills started mounting again.
He finally had enough. David told me, “I had $28,000 in student loans which gave me some value, and a car loan, which gave me some value too, but the $40,000 in credit card debt gave me no value – I had nothing to show for it.”
Making huge changes
David decided to make some life-changing decisions: He moved back home to the suburbs of Boston and he started hustling like crazy. He found a full-time job and started working part-time jobs as well.
David says, “When I was paying off my debt, I worked full steam for the better part of three years. In addition to my full-time job, I worked up to 20 hours a week at Starbucks at night and on weekends. This, obviously, left me with very little free time.”
David worked 6o to 70 hours a week. He told me that he feels like he lost two or three years of his younger life because of his debt. He remembers one day in particular:
I clearly remember a beautiful summer Saturday when some of my college friends were in town for a wedding. The house where I was living at the time with several roommates had a small pool in back, and I invited them over to swim around lunch time. I, however, had to go in and work an eight-hour shift at Starbucks – from 1 to closing time. Leaving them there having fun on such on nice day was not easy to say the least.
Those lost memories don’t hurt as bad now. In 2006, David founded Money Under 30 – a site that focused specifically on financial issues for people in his age group. And by 2009, David paid off his debt and got married. He remembers the last payment occurred one month after his marriage.
Fast forward and David works full-time on his website. He’s gone from the debt dregs to running a successful business. He believes anyone can do what he did if you’re willing to sacrifice.
If you’re suffering through tough financial times, this is what David recommends:
- Find the largest cut you can reasonably make to your budget, and think beyond coffee. Housing and cars are usually your biggest opportunities. Can you take on a roommate or move in with one? Move in with parents or relatives? Can you sell or trade-down a vehicle? Remember, these changes aren’t forever. But freeing up several hundred dollars a month with one change will make a bigger impact than cutting out several smaller expenses.
- Find communities of other people going through the same thing, like online forums or private Facebook groups. I found listening to the Dave Ramsey radio show to be helpful, not so much for Dave’s advice, but to hear the stories of regular people also working on paying off their debt.
- Finally, take care of yourself. Paying off debt is a long road. There will be ups and downs, but the thing that matters is making progress over time. I came dangerously close to burning myself out from work and stress. It’s OK to reward yourself with a small indulgence after making a large debt payment.
That’s smart money management.