Monday, May 18, 2015

Giving It Up To God: My Personal Debt Hell

Money is an ugly topic to those who don't have it, a rude topic for those who are working on fixing their money problems, or beautiful to those for whom it's not an issue. I'm currently in the first category.

I'm in a bad place with money right now. I took Financial Peace University with my sister at our church last year, and learned a lot about how I spend money. In fact, I switched a lot of my bills around so that I was able to have more per month to spend and save.

Spending, I'm great at. Saving, not so much. SmartyPig has made it easier, and I've saved for two cruises on this program, but that's kid stuff compared to what Dave Ramsey (and I) wants me to do.

Buckle up, kids. This is gonna be long, but hopefully informative.

My First Savings Account

When I was eleven, I got my first job, which was a paper route around my neighborhood. I made about $70/month to start, but within two years, I was up to $80/month. When you're a pre-teen that's actually a lot of money.

My dad took me down to the First National Bank to set up a Savings Account with my very first paycheck, and told me the importance of saving. I got a little red book with a register inside, where I watched my balance of half of my paycheck grow every other week. My dad told me to save half of every paycheck, and then I was able to spend the rest on anything I wanted (BOOKS!). My first big purchase was a TV/VCR combo when I was in 7th grade, that I took with me to college. Do you know how many times I watched Titanic on that thing? Too many to count.

Sadly, it started to stay vacant after I quit the paper route for after school stuff (I was without a job of any kind from the time I was in 7th Grade to 10th), I wish I'd learned money management and saved for college when I was in high school. It probably would've saved me a lot of pain in college, and now.

A Collegiate Crisis

When I was in college, I failed two classes that wouldn't be offered again until the year after I was supposed to graduate. I was working almost full time, plus going to school full time, and was crashing and burning. I used student loans to stay in school an additional year, which was absolutely the dumbest thing I could've done. If I could do it all over again, I would've gone to state school (Thanks a bit too late, Rachel Cruze), but in that situation right then and there, I would've stayed living on campus, then I wouldn't have had to worry about groceries, rent, utilities, or excessive driving to and from school. I only lived ten minutes away, but it racked up. 

In 2007, I stopped working at HyVee, where I'd worked since 2003, and started working in a call center. This job was better for many reasons, but one of those reasons was that I got my books for free (correction. I *borrowed* my books). I also got to study and do my homework during my downtime, of which there was a lot for all but four months of the year. 

If I'd been smarter, I would've opened up a savings account. Any kind of savings account, to help pay off my tuition for the following year. The thought absolutely NEVER occurred to me. I'm embarrassed to admit this now, but we all have mistakes that we learn from.

I attended college during the time when they gave loans to everyone for everything, and college got really expensive. Because of living off campus, and failing two classes, I lost two of my scholarships, which were worth $1,000-$1,500 each semester. I tried to get them back after raising my grades and moving back to campus, but was turned down. If there's any advice I would give students starting college, it would be work your butt off to keep those scholarships NO MATTER WHAT.

I don't know the full extent of my student loan debt, because my school convinced us to take out Parent PLUS loans, which my family consolidated (they're with my sister's loans, too), but there is about $20k in my own name. I'm trying to fix this.

Jumping Into Debt, Climbing a Mountain of Uncertainty

I was like a lot of college kids of my generation. I didn't think about the loans I was taking out, because all I focused on was the now. I figured when I graduated, I'd find an epic job, and basically be Jennifer Garner in 13 Going On 30. It's amazing how naive you let yourself be. I jumped into my new life in college believing that I was going to make my dreams come true. The last thing my mom said to me before she and dad got in their car to go home when they drove me to school was to go make them come true. We all believed it would happen. 

When I was in school, I asked numerous people numerous times when I would learn to submit work to publishing houses, what the protocol was, how I could find them, even how to submit work to theaters or production companies for film. There was no class on the business of writing, on how we, as writers, can work to achieve all we can. I graduated not knowing anything about what the future would hold for me. It was like getting ready to jump off a cliff. And I'm afraid of heights.

When I graduated, I didn't learn how to handle my student loans, I had debts that needed to be nipped in the bud, and I needed to figure out how to stay out of debt. Problem was, as soon as one was taken care of, something else popped up. I paid off and cancelled my Best Buy Rewards Master Card. I went to the dentist, learned of several cavities that needed fixing (that I later learned were probably just weak spots), and was coerced into getting a credit card through them to pay it off. I swear, these people see me coming.

When I bought my car, it was out of necessity. My sister and I worked at the same place for about a year before she decided to move away, and I needed a way to get to work. So, I bought a car, and have been paying three hundred dollars a month since January 2012. Life freaking happens.

Learning to Take Charge

As I said, in the start of 2014, my sister and I went to the second round of Financial Peace University given at my church. Dave Ramsey is a hilarious speaker with a lot of good sense when it comes to money management, because he's been there.

I started to take my spending into deep consideration, and I realized that I spent a lot of my money on fast food, and didn't do any kind of tracking. I had no idea where my money was going, like at all.

I've tried to budget my money, but it's something I'm still working on. It's difficult, but doable, if I'm consistent. I just haven't been consistent.

The last several months have been easier, thanks in part to Jamberry. I did extremely well the first couple months, which made my money go further, but I still have creditors calling me, and they're getting somewhat relentless. That's why I've written this blog. I want to chronicle my journey out of debt. I've got a game plan. I've started budgeting my money with Dave Ramsey's new online budgeting tool,, and I'm trying to wrap my head around using cash for everything except bills and gas.

My Game Plan

This is what I'm working on. 
  • Begin tithing 10% of my take home pay every pay period. 
    • I am a Christian, and have been taught my entire life that God asks for 10%. It's an act of obedience, and one I've neglected for most of my life. Speaking to others who've done FPU, they're always amazed to see that when you pay your tithe, your still manage to have money left over to manage your bills. I don't see this as a magic trick, but when you add giving into your monthly budget, you'll always be able to handle your finances. 
  • Save up quickly for my $1,000 emergency fund. 
    • Start doing whatever it takes to get there. Even look into giving plasma again. It was easy money.
  • Write down all of my purchases in EveryDollar. 
  • Look for discounts when grocery shopping.
  • Eat out less. 
    • I'm doing Visalus, so the money I was sending to restaurants should be replaced by my Vi shakes every month. 
  • Look into trading my car for something with lower payments. 
    • I'm paying $300/month for a POS Kia right now. Do you know how much debt I could pay off if my payment was even HALF that?!
It's a start. I will try to give monthly updates on how I'm doing, and how I'm working my way through Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps. It'll take awhile, and a lot of hard work. I'm hoping to get a raise at work, which would be absolutely amazing. Pair that with getting a different car (which, would hopefully have lower car insurance), and I think I could really start to save some money. 
  • Prayers are always appreciated in this endeavor!
  • What are your best money savings tips?
  • Any idea how to get rid of a car you're still paying on?

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