It started with a Bank of America Student Visa card during my senior year of college in 2006. I was making about $50 per week at my part-time job, but it wasnâ€™t enough to cover gas for my car, my prescription co-pays, toiletries, and my one-drink-only nights out with friends. Then other expenses started to creep up. I needed pajamas. I needed underwear. I needed some retail therapy at TJMaxx. I figured I would have a real job soon, and I could pay it all back then. After graduation, I was $3,000 in the hole.
I moved back home after graduation and started working as a temp at a mortgage company. My entire wardrobe consisted of sweats and leggings, and I needed clothes for work and job interviews. I was no longer a student, so I had to shell out $400 per month for COBRA health insurance. Â For the first time, I was making decent money, but I was more depressed than ever. Â Working at my temp job was like living in the movieÂ Office Space, and I hated it. I aggressively applied for jobs online every night after work, but I also shopped. For the first time, I could buy what I wanted.
After four weeks of temping near home, I started my first job in Manhattan. I was working the evening shift in a newsroom. The commute was grueling and expensive. My mother started charging me rent. Working in an office so close to Fifth Avenue didnâ€™t help with my shopping habits. On my dinner breaks, I escaped from my work stress at my favorite stores and discovered new ones. The clothes, handbags, accessories and makeup were unlike anything I had ever been able to buy before. As a loyal customer, I was invited to open up store credit cards, so I did. Bloomingdaleâ€™s. Saks. Neiman Marcus. Express. Victoriaâ€™s Secret.Â
I wanted a glamorous Juicy Couture winter coat and Tory Burch heels. I wanted a purse full of Chanel makeup. I wanted the limited-edition Prada fairies bag and Fendi rainbow clutch that even socialites couldnâ€™t get. I wanted all of the clothes Blair and Serena wore onÂ Gossip Girl. I wanted perfect highlights. What I wanted most of all was a job at a fashion magazine.Â
I didnâ€™t have any internship experience, so I started blogging about fashion and all of my purchases. This opened a lot of doors for me, but also encouraged me to shop more often. Still, finding success as a fashion blogger wasnâ€™t enough to outweigh my dissatisfaction with my career. I was still working late and never got to see my friends. I sank deeper into debt.
Keeping up with my credit card payments was dizzying and turning into a full-time job of its own, like working as the CFO of a failing company. My whole life revolved around shopping and credit cards and payment due dates. After I made a payment, I charged something else on the card. I used eBay to recycle my wardrobe. I couldnâ€™t break the cycle.Â
In 2009, I used a small inheritance to move to the city. I was miserable living at home and spending three hours each day commuting. (This was just before living at home became trendy.) I always paid my rent on time, but I was constantly stressed out about money. After I made all of my minimum payments and paid for my utilities, there was barely enough money left for food. I couldnâ€™t take it anymore.
I saw a credit counselor and he said that unless I earned more money, I was headed toward bankruptcy. The thought terrified me. I felt like filing for bankruptcy would mean I was officially a failure, and I was also against it because I believe when you borrow money you should pay it back. I owed $33,000 on eight credit cards.
Two years later, I am on a payment plan. When my cards are paid off, they will be closed. I have paid down half of my debt and Iâ€™m a little more than two years away from being debt-free. I donâ€™t have cable and I have taken up extreme couponing on a small scale. My wardrobe is nowhere near as stylish as it used to be. I rarely blog about fashion anymore, although I have written a lot about personal finance.Â
My biggest regret about racking up all of this debt is that paying it off involved sacrificing what is truly important to me. It put a strain on my relationships. Iâ€™m not free to move or travel or change jobs. I have to miss out on happy hours and dinners and birthdays with friends because I simply canâ€™t afford it. I know two years isnâ€™t forever, but it feels like it.