I’ve had thousands of dollars in credit card debt since 1997. I remember applying for a job in March of 2001 which I calculated would help me erase my credit card debt in about twelve months. I didn’t get that job. Nobody got that job, in fact, the entire web design sector was crashing, and I had just moved to Seattle. Almost two years ago on this very website I declared that I would be free of credit card debt six months later. That didn’t happen, either. I admit that this problem is almost entirely my fault, even though circumstances beyond my control have made the problem worse, like a 10% pay cut from last Spring that still hasn’t been fully restored (even though we’ve hired two new people).
But in January of 2010, I decided (again) that enough was enough, and I started posting regular debt updates, and limited myself to spending only $100 a week. I thought it would be plenty, but on weeks that required gasoline or a haircut or car maintenance, well, it didn’t always work out as planned. On the upside, I have more than one source of income, and I’ve been able to maintain a regular schedule of paying about $1,300 a month toward that debt.
It hasn’t been a joy funneling every dollar I could toward the ghost of debt that has been haunting me for thirteen years. We missed an entire growing season in the backyard because we didn’t have the money to pay someone to fix the faucet, to say nothing of every other home improvement project that was put on hold.
Thanks to the obligation to post regular, detailed updates, I found places I could be saving more money, and on May 7th, I was able to completely pay off one of my two credit cards. Now here I am, on the cusp of paying off the second, and last, credit card that I ever hope to carry a balance on. No, I really mean it this time. I got paid today, and between that and the extra money from side jobs, I am able to bring the balance to just a couple hundred dollars.
Now, even if I double my weekly budget for myself, and ignoring side jobs and the restoration of my proper salary, I’m still going to have $1,100 a month that I don’t owe to anybody. I can’t stress this enough: this is completely new territory for me. First, of course, I’m going to throw a party. There will be good wine and delicious snacks. You can’t talk me out of that.
After the party, though, I’m conflicted about how best to deal with the extra income. We still have car loans and a mortgage, but I don’t feel a strong compulsion to pay those down faster than is scheduled. I know that most of our very smart readers will encourage me to start saving toward a three- or six-month emergency buffer. When I look at the three-month number of $12,820, I feel the same dread I used to feel when my credit card debt totaled a similar number. Suffice it to say that I’ve never saved even 10% of that amount in my life, and I’m shocked that we go through that many expenses in just three months, but we do.
At present, mostly because of my previous credit card payments, my wife and I put 10% of our leftover income into a joint savings account. If we kept it to 10%, we’d meet our three-month buffer in twenty-six months. If we bumped it up to 50%, we’d meet the same goal in five months, and we’d have about $200 each for weekly expenses. In reality, we’ll probably settle on something higher than 25% but lower than 50%. There are still all those household projects to take care of, vet bills, maybe some occasional new clothes, etc.
All of the above assumes that both of us want to stay at our current jobs, earning the same salaries, which isn’t necessarily true. We both have strong creative urges that are better fulfilled at the kind of projects you find outside of offices, and if we could still live without fear of homelessness, either one of us might be persuaded to seek a job with a lower salary and fewer hours and/or brain requirements, so that we might have more opportunities to pursue those creative projects.
If you sympathize with that, or even if you don’t, I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.
Published or updated July 29, 2010.