I sit here writing this in a brand new pair of wedge heels that I bought for fun, and I’m surrounded by a pile of new clothing (some brand new, some only new to me). You shouldn’t have done that, says one part of my brain. But, you earned it, is the stronger message.

And I did earn it. This pile of clothes is worth $11,000 — to me.

That massive amount of debt came from: things, travel, and general aloofness/disregard when it comes to math and reality.  So when the time to Pay Off My Credit Cards came up, I needed a plan.

But I didn’t have a steady job. I was a freelancer, which meant weekly paychecks were non-existent, and paychecks in general were unreliable. Prior to deciding I had to pay off my card no matter what, I let the fact of my inconsistent income stop me from making a plan. What if I didn’t have enough to pay other bills? Well, I changed my attitude about that, and pushed paying off this part of my overall debt (I had student loans and a car payment as well) up to the top of the list, right behind rent, the gas bill, my car payment, and groceries.

So how did I do it? I followed these three very hard, reality-driven rules:

  1. Utilize a balance transfer for the right reasons. The first thing I did was, reluctantly, buy myself more time. I did this using two balance transfers — but these were different than the transfers I’d done in the past. They didn’t have usable cards attached to them. Balance transfers gave me a 12-month period of wiggle room, and a hard deadline.
  2. Make a plan and stick to it, no matter what. I had 12 months. I had $11,000 to go. That meant $916.66 per month. I decided to bump that number up to an even $1,000 in the beginning, so my last few months would be an earned walk on Easy Street–in theory.
  3. Be flexible. You’re only human. Some months, that $1,000 goal was too lofty and I simply did not have the money. So, I paid the absolute most I could–even if it was $711.86–and kept a record of how much I was missing, aiming for it in the next month. Some of my self-imposed balances rolled over… and over… and over. But I was always aware of them, and didn’t let myself laugh them off. I finally found a more steady job and was actually able to catch myself up to that goal, bringing my last two payments down to $930.
  4. Find a better plan for other debt and payments. This rule is intentionally vague because everyone’s situation is different. I took advantage of the Income-Based Repayment plan offered for my federal student loans, lowering my payment to $0 for the first six months. At first, they rejected my application, but I called customer service, and they encouraged me to reapply. I essentially begged–in detail–in my second letter, telling them why my income was so sporadic and unreliable. I didn’t mention my credit card debt. I didn’t mention anything else about my life except my income sources, and they graciously allowed me the freedom of a $0 payment. My payment went up to about $200 in the new year, when I finally had a job.
  5. Hide your credit card–in plain sight. The balance transfers weren’t magical. They didn’t make a single cent of my debt go away. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) put those shiny plastic rectangle nymphs in a box, taped that box shut with orange duct tape, and wrote “HAZARDOUS: DO NOT OPEN” on it. We placed the box where we could see it. And it reminded us, daily, of what unnecessary things, un-earned travel, and general aloofness about math and reality will do–and it made us laugh just enough to make our goals seem plausible.
  6. Cut off something (or some things) you love. I love clothing. That’s why I’m surrounded it by it right now–it was a big part of my weakness. So, that’s why I cut myself off for the whole year, allowing a caveat only for necessity. I bought a coat (on clearance) for the winter, but other than that, I didn’t even buy so much as a pair of socks.
  7. Plan a reward to look forward to. Many self-help blog posts I’ve read say to reward yourself every time you make a payment. But, I knew that a once-per-month purchase was too much. After all, what if I gave myself a $50 limit, and I saw a reward that was $55? Would I get it? Yes! Let’s be real here! What if I did that every time? What if I got myself a $100 reward in June, saying I’d stave off in July, only to conveniently “forget”? Nope, it was all or nothing, baby. Instead, I decided to let myself have a reward when it was all said and done, and I planned to let myself have the amount of half of my last payment to spend–which amounted to $485. I actually ended up spending only $313, and I don’t want to buy anymore.

Now, I’m credit card debt free, and it’s time to turn my sights on my student loan debt. Am I hopeful? Honestly–no. But am I going to go for it anyway? Unfortunately, yes. I think I will tackle one part of the loan at a time. I’m glad I spent my $313 on pretty versatile clothes.

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