A fresh start living without credit card debt

Friday marked a monumental moment in history for me.

Dear readers, for the first time in 10 years, I am 100% free of credit debt.

I honestly did not expect the delirious bout of happiness I received upon immediately clearing all my accounts. It stayed with me all day, all weekend, and every minute. I feel like one of my biggest life burdens has been lifted from my shoulders, because it HAS.

I’m going to give you an honest history of my debt and how it became so out of control.

I’ve always wondered why our high school education never included anything about handling financials and dealing with the particulars of living as an adult. Like many 18 year olds, I was handed freedom from the constraints of my hometown when I left for university…and at that same time, I was handed a hefty student loan.

Had I known that I would be paying off my education until well into my 30s, I would have done things very differently. I had regarded my loans as “free money,” something to worry about later. And damn, I did have fun with it. But no one ever sits you down to tell you, “Listen girl, you can do your English degree and pursue whatever you’re passionate in. But you should probably know you’re only going to make minimum wage for many years, and you’ll be trapped in a constant cycle of debt and self-doubt and scraping pennies.”

The student loan debt is actually the only remaining debt I have. I’m lucky, compared to most students, because I was awarded several scholarships, assistance for low-income families, AND I smartened up and worked through my fourth year of school. (Full-time, with a full-time course load, and I still made the honour roll. No excuses, people.)

BUT that debt was the beginning of a sort of “credit lifestyle.” The act of borrowing with the belief and hope that at some point I’d be able to pay it all back.

That, my friends, is 100% bullshit.

I then took out a $10k student line of credit to study in England. While it was well worth the experience, I did NOT need to spend $7k in less than two months. Heavens mercy, how is that EVEN POSSIBLE when you’re a student?

I wiped out that line of credit on Friday as well.

My other mistakes were much weightier. When I was working full-time as a tech writer, I desperately wanted Lasik eye surgery. I applied for their loan, which actually turned out to be a high-interest Visa. I went for it anyway, knowing that as a full-time worker, I could easily pay it off.

Guess what? I got laid off. That $75 monthly payment suddenly became a massive amount I couldn’t possibly afford to fork over.

BUT thank god for that ‘ol Mastercard with its $6000 limit. Yes, $6000. Do you remember that time I was newly laid-off and gallivanting around Nova Scotia and Newfoundland? Guess who paid for all that? Good ‘ol Mastercard.

Then I applied for a card to collect a few thousand Airmiles. And then I applied for a Future Shop credit card so I could upgrade my camera gear.

The cycle I got stuck in was overwhelming and suffocating. By the time my credit card was nearly maxed out at $5400, I was paying upwards of $100/m in INTEREST. INTEREST! I’d take my freelance payments and dump most of it on my credit cards, thus leaving a very small amount in my bank account. And then I’d get overdrawn due to an automated payment I wasn’t expecting, and I’d get charged extra for the overdraft.

You’re probably thinking, “Why the feck didn’t you just track your expenses better?”

And oh man, I tried. But it’s easy to forget that credit is money, especially when you don’t really EARN it. And I watched my bank account be sucked dry every month just thinking hey, that’s life.

It isn’t. Financial stress has been my number one factor holding me back in my life. I am so proud to say that from now on, the money I’ll be making will be my OWN.

(Well, when you subtract living expenses, groceries, Internet bills, etc.)

How did I do it all? The story isn’t nearly as inspirational as you think. Does anyone remember last year when I was planning on buying some property as an investment and then renting out rooms to earn an income? Turns out nobody wants to hand over a mortgage to a 26-year-old freelancer, despite perfect credit history and a full savings account.

I held onto that nest egg for the past year, thinking I could make it work. Over $7k in savings while I dumped endless money on my credit cards.

DO YOU SEE WHY I THINK WE NEED FINANCIAL INSTRUCTION IN HIGH SCHOOL YET?

So unfortunately, while I now have no savings to fall back on (risky biz if you’re a freelancer), I can easily start saving again. And you know, even putting aside some for travel. Or a cute outfit every now and then.

AND of course there’s the possibility I’ll make all the same mistakes again. But nowadays I work so fecking hard for my money, watching it slip away is heartbreaking.

So here’s to spending more wisely and saving more carefully. Cheers to a debt-free life!

  • http://twitter.com/hikebiketravel Leigh McAdam

    Good job on getting rid of that debt. I hope this post inspires other people to follow your footsteps. Having more stuff and even traveling is not fun when you have to pay it off on onerous terms – especially over years and not months. I hope you never go back to credit card debt. Ever.

  • http://www.dangerous-business.com/ Amanda Williams

    CONGRATS, Candice! I’m sure being out of credit card debt is definitely a weight off your shoulders!

    I, too, am trying to pay down my credit cards (I have about $4,500 left to go, which is a combination of study abroad, moving/new apartment, and travel expenses over the past few years). Even though I have 2 cards with balances on them, it feels like a lot more. After that I’ll have student loans to worry about, but those don’t stress me out as much as credit card debt!

  • http://twitter.com/lizzie2404 Lizzie

    I think this is a fantastic story and you really are spot on about needing better instruction on finance in high school. I worry frequently about my best friend who happens to be Canadian and stuck with a lot of student and credit debt. I wanted her to join me in Edinburgh but she couldn’t unless she could get a decent job in her field because of her student loans. She chose to stay in Toronto and do her Masters (and earn more debt).

    I was really lucky. I saved like a nutter before moving to the UK. I managed to pay off my car loan before leaving so even though I am on a ridiculously low salary, I have no debts to pay and can walk to work. I sometimes get very jealous of people I know with bigger wardrobes or who travel fancier, but I know it’s all credit card debt. It’s a huge problem with our generation.

    Congratulations and good work!!!!

  • http://travelicious.me/ Teresa G

    This is a fantastic story! Well written and honest. I think a lot of people need to talk about this and understand how difficult it is to balance this freelance stuff with loan payments. (I’m in the middle of that at the moment) Cheers to smart gals getting debt free, traveling and looking good while doing it!

  • http://www.suitcaseandheels.com/ Melissa

    Congrats on paying off the loans and credit cards! Debt can hold you back in so many ways not even directly related to money. Have you ever used Mint? I use it to keep track of my various bank accounts, mortgage, line of credit and credit cards. I’m a bit OCD about it so I always know what the balance is on the cards and make sure they’re paid off each month. I love that it easily lets me categorize my spending too so I can see where I can trim some fat off the budget if I need to.

  • Bobbi

    Good on ya Candice. I have been debt free now for over 2 years and it’s amazing. You are so right about needing financial education for young people. Now, behave yourself ;)

  • http://twitter.com/nearafar Natalie T.

    I’m in the same boat as you were. I’m getting a big check soon so I’m hoping it will end the credit card debt (though phone bills go straight to the credit card). It feels like a trap and I 100% agree with you it needs to be taught in high school from Grade 9 every year with a course in credit card debt in grade 12. Congrats on debt-free living. SO proud of you! Can’t wait to celebrate when I’m out of it too!

  • http://www.heelsandwheelsonline.com/ Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Congratulations!! That must be a great feeling. Credit card death is the pits. I’ve chosen to stay away from credit completely. I really just don’t trust myself with endless funds. It’s awesome you wrote about your mistakes and your fresh start. This is something a lot of people struggle with these days-so I’m sure it will help plenty of people and reassure them that there is light at the end of the table!

  • http://www.myquicklawyers.com/ Myquicklawyers

    Credit card debt allows people buy whatever they want even if they don’t afford it. As a result, millions of Americans are suffering from massive debt burden and thus extremely poor credit rating. People often need to settle or consolidate their debts. It would be the best to get advice from a lawyer before opting for any of these options. However, paying off the debt balance on time may help improve credit and it is 100% true.

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad

    Congratulations for becoming debt-free! I agree that we DEFINITELY should have taken a financial course in high school. We would all be so much better prepared for adult life… it kind of baffles me that I was taking weaving, poetry and ancient history classes in high school but learning nothing about finances, credit or anything else useful. What’s up with that?

  • http://twitter.com/BurnsTammy Tammy Burns

    So great of you to share this, Candice. (And even better that you’ve killed the debt!) So many of us have gone through something similar, and I agree completely that we need to learn this in school. I’m still digging my way out of the debt that university left me with. Silly me, I thought I’d graduate with a degree in my field and end up working for a decent salary – not graduate with a degree that left me working for minimum wage for two years, then going back for another degree so I could try again to get work, all while trying to pay rent, buy food and pay off student debt from the first degree. At one point, my minimum payments on my student loan were so high and my wages were so low that I ended up taking out advances off my credit card just to survive month to month. And well, you can guess where that landed me. I consolidated everything a few years ago, so I no longer have debt scattered all over the place – just one monster bank loan that should be finally paid off in another few years…

  • http://www.facebook.com/krys.c.wanders Krys C Wanders

    Many congratulations. Debt is suffocating, particularly when you’re a traveler. You feel locked in to places, or I at least know I did the one year of my life I let my own finances slide deep into the red. I couldn’t even contemplate travel because I didn’t know how I could enjoy it with that debt hanging over me, knowing any money I spent was only mine on borrowed time.

    Enjoy your new financial freedom!

  • http://twitter.com/TGBlogs Teacher Girl

    CONGRATS!!!

  • Abby

    Congrats! While I don’t have credit card debt I have had student loans since 2003. On December 14 of this year I will be making my last student loan payment! I am so excited :) Best christmas gift to myself is being debt free and a fresh start for 2013. I agree that there should be a financial course in high school to be more prepared and equipped to make better financial decisions. Cheers to financial freedom!
    P.S. I am a NLander too :) heard of Heart’s Content?
    P.S.S. Love your blog!

  • Gail

    I’m currently drowning in debt and hope that someday I’ll feel that relief.

  • sparkpunk

    Nice work, Candice :) So drinks are on you for the #puffinswhalesicebergs tour? ;)

  • http://twitter.com/AndiPerullo Andi Perullo, L.Ac.

    CONGRATS!!!!!!! That is so awesome!

  • Caroline Eubanks

    Congrats girl! So proud. I’m glad my parents wouldn’t let me get a credit card until I graduated from college. There would be a whole lot of travel charged onto it. I now have my first adult credit card, which I have paid off in full until this month (my laptop died). Stay strong love!

  • http://www.travelerahoy.com/ Alouise

    Congratulations. Getting any debt off your shoulders is such a freeing experience. I racked up a few thousand dollars in credit card debt in my early twenties, and sadly I can’t even think of one good thing I bought with my credit cards. I got a full-time job before going back to school so I was able to pay off my credit card debt, but it certainly wasn’t easy or fun. I definitely think more education should be given to students about credit cards and finances. In my Instructional Design class I’m working on a group project, creating a course for new University students, and we have a specific chapter on budgeting, because it’s something we know all students need to learn about.

  • Kate – Canuckiwikate

    Congrats, Candice!! Awesome job- I am completely with you on the line of credit, I also got $10k when I came to NZ for a year, and while it did last me the whole year- I did take 2 backpacking trips without thinking much about it at the time, until I got a job the next year and had to start sending the kiwi dollar home! It’s taking me forever to get through it, and it’s been 3 years. And I had to get an NZ credit card to pay the $700 verification fee in order to get paid my full salary. Even though mine os wuite minimal compared to most, i still find it So frustrating.

  • Andrew

    Congratulations on clearing the credit card debt! Well done. :)

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Thank ya!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Totally! I count the “student line of credit” and “student loan” debt as “good” debt, given the alternatives…but it still sucks. And people still get screwed over.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Nice! And also, good on ya for taking care of that early. I kept adding expenses to my credit card because I NEEDED to…i.e., wisdom teeth surgery. But I know now it’s best to have that back-up stash for when shit goes awry.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Hahaha, I’m so impressed you lasted that long! Good job!!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Thanks Andi!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Hahahaha, I will most definitely get the first round #geogasm

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    YOU WILL! Seriously, I’m the most impulsive shopper ever. If I can do it, you can do it.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Ahhhhhhh that’s amazing, CONGRATS in advance! I’ll be pretty stoked when my student loans are paid off, but they seem like a small drop in the bucket these days. And YES I know Heart’s Content AND thanks so much for following! Love having more Newfoundlanders around here.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Thank ya!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    EXACTLY! I’m hoping I can rebuild quickly, because how insane would it be to TRAVEL and not put it all on a credit card? I can’t even wrap my head around it, honestly.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Hahaha, I wish I had brought that up in my post…I know of so many people who just keep adding degree upon degree to their resume, and consequently, student loans. :-/ I’m happy that I left university and didn’t feel the need to go back, although I DO miss it a lot.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    I AGREE! Although, would we have listened? I wonder. I’m going to force my kids to learn that shit someday.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Credit card death…Freudian slip? ;) Either way, awesome! Haha. And thanks!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Thanks Natalie! I still have tons of bills to pay but good gravy, the freedom I’m already experiencing is pretty unreal.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Thank ya, Bobbi! And I’ve just popped a bottle of champagne.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    I’ve attempted Mint, but got too lazy when it came to setting up all my various accounts! Lol. Either way, lately I’ve been meticulously tracking EVERYTHING. Really helps me see where I’m wasting cash. I’m a pretty impulsive shopper, turns out.

    And thanks!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Awww, thanks Teresa! Cheers to that indeed :)

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    It’s definitely a generational thing Lizzie, good call pointing that one out. The lucky few who make it out alive (like you) are lucky indeed! I’m so pumped to be free of it all. Ahhh.

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Hoorah! Thanks! And I had about the same amount as you, a few thousand more, actually, but I managed to do it. You can too!

  • http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/ Candice Walsh

    Thanks, Leigh! I’m seriously really, really hoping so as well. Lol.

  • Franco

    Your story is like so many others. I too am credit free and no longer even have a credit card. It’s too easy to go back and I’d rather just spend what I earn.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BreckDanielDunn Daniel Dunn

    Congrats on getting rid of your consumer debt. I’m in that crappy spot right now. I had a stark realization the other day that I am in major trouble and need to get rid of my debt. It’s killing me and totally sucks. But I’m on it, and reading your post helps with my motivation. Good for you, I’m sure it feels good.

  • http://twitter.com/joanna_haugen JoAnna Haugen

    Congrats Candice! What you’ve done is definitely not easy to do.

  • http://twitter.com/katrinawoz Katrina Woznicki

    I really, really appreciate your honesty about this topic. We’ve also struggled with credit card debt for a variety of reasons and have been credit card debt free a few times. It’s so important to teach kids financial literacy and what credit really means, and we’re instilling those lessons in our daughter. Living debt-free felt great. However, we just booked our tickets to Japan and that money currently sits on our credit card collecting interest, but we have budgeted to pay everything off in the spring, as we typically do when bonus seasons arrives. Living a less consumery life takes discipline and there is a lot of external pressure to spend, spend, spend, but it’s worth it.

  • Srivani

    Hello Sir…

    Thank You Very Much For The Post.It Is

    Very Important Article For All Peoples….Thank You. Credit Card Education

  • Kristine

    Congrats!! I go through such a vicious cycle with credit card debt…I’ll pay it all off just to max it out again. I can’t even carry them around with me anymore because I end up buying things I don’t need. CCs are a godsend when you’re traveling and need a safety net, but I’d love to be able to keep them at home next time.

    PS I was an English major at a private college, and I totally sympathize with the student loan situation. Awful.

  • Amanda

    Hi Candice I was wondering if you ever been to seen the Burgeo sandbanks yet?.
    Amanda (newfiegal80)