BONUS! I Regret: My $33,000 Credit Card Debt

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 wasn’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.  For the first time, I was making decent money, but I was more depressed than ever.  Working at my temp job was like living in the movie 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 didn’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. Bloomingdale’s. Saks. Neiman Marcus. Express. Victoria’s Secret. 

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 couldn’t get. I wanted all of the clothes Blair and Serena wore on Gossip Girl. I wanted perfect highlights. What I wanted most of all was a job at a fashion magazine. 

I didn’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 wasn’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 couldn’t break the cycle. 

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 couldn’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 I’m a little more than two years away from being debt-free. I don’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. 

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. I’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 can’t afford it. I know two years isn’t forever, but it feels like it.

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    • Lilac

      I can understand your need for all these nice things but unless you are from a rich family that always spent I can’t understand how you bought so many expensive things. For the way they made you feel maybe?

      • Kimberly @ Twen-Teen

        @Lilac, I am actually not from a rich family. I lost my dad at a young age.

    • Kimberly @ Twen-Teen

      Thanks for publishing :)

    • Melissa

      Thanks for sharing. I’ve always wondered about the pressures that fashion blogging places on women. It’s impressive to watch the constant array of designer duds, but after a while, I wondered just how much most of them make to be able to afford this stuff… From your article, I’m guessing not enough.

      • Kimberly @ Twen-Teen

        In the 5+ years I’ve been blogging, I haven’t earned more than $300. If and when you get established as a blogger, which takes time and effort away from your day job, you can start getting things for free, but in the beginning you have to buy things with your own money. I don’t know how they do it.

    • Kaylin

      I don’t really have a lot of sympathy for your debt problems. You don’t mention any student loans, only debt because of your superficial obsession with brand name products and fashion. I’d understand if you had racked up some unnecessary debt traveling the world or doing something cool, like starting a company or pursuing a career in music/sports/what-have-you, but I can’t fathom spending that much money on shallow frippery like shoes and chanel makeup. like, at what point did you think any of the things you were buying were things you could afford, or things you even needed? I had the same shitty kathy van zeeland bag from junior year of high school til senior year of college. I have one designer handbag that my mom bought from a consignment shop for me in middle school, which is currently hanging on my doorknob in near-mint condition. I still wear the high heeled sandals I wore to junior prom. I don’t engage in “retail therapy” because I can’t afford it. this all-consuming desire for designer junk and inability to make do with what you have is baffling.

      Also “extreme couponing on a small scale” is known as just “couponing”.

      • Kimberly @ Twen-Teen

        I’m going to disagree with you here — going into debt to travel or for anything else without a means to pay it back is just as stupid as racking up debt from shopping in my opinion.
        Not everyone shares my “superficial obsession” with fashion, and that’s fine. It was more of a hobby that spun out of control as an escape from my frustrations with my life as well as compensating for the fact that I grew up in a single-parent family without those indulgences.
        I hope other people will learn from my mistakes. I certainly have, with or without sympathy from anyone.

      • Lily

        Wow! What a fab contribution to the discussion. You’re lovely. Please tell me more about your life and your virtues zzzzzzzzzzzzz

    • Trish

      I must say, reading this makes me feel much better about my $8k of credit card debt (half of which I’ve paid off). I too indulged in retail therapy, and used cards to finance a life in Manhattan. I feel extremely lucky that my debt didn’t go as far as yours, and I applaud your ability to get control over it. People who aren’t in that situation can’t understand how difficult it can be to break the cycle.

      • Kimberly @ Twen-Teen

        Thank you, Trish!