It is November 20, 2014, and we just printed the payment confirmation for our final debt payment. As soon as that payment clears, we are 100% debt free. We own both of our cars, we rent our home, and we don’t owe a penny to anyone. For the first time in my adult life, I am totally and completely free.
On July 17, 2012, we filed bankruptcy. It was granted on October 31, 2012, leaving us with approximately $35,000 in back taxes and student loans we still owed. Despite losing Jesse’s income when we left our foreclosed home in Virginia on December 1, 2012, and arrived in our current home in Florida on December 3, 2012, we managed to pay off over $25,000 in debt between December 2012 and August 2014 — including about $4500 in NEW debt that we added to the total.
On August 19, 2014, we walked into our Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class with $10,402.02 cents in remaining debt. Today, three months and one day later, it’s gone. Every penny of it is paid.
I literally never thought I would be financially free. Through my childhood, I watched my parents struggle with finances. I watched my mom cut paper napkins in half to save money and my dad’s face grow tight and gaunt from stress with every rainy day because rain meant lost time on his home-building jobs. These are two respectable people who worked hard and well and could never get ahead. And I thought that would be my life. I just figured that was normal.
So in college, when I had the opportunity to get my first credit card, I didn’t bat an eye when I signed the papers. My mom had always told me to live within my means, but I didn’t even know what that meant. I just knew money was stress. I just knew money scared me. And a credit card felt like safety.
Several credit cards, a car loan, and a debt consolidation later, it felt like an albatross, and despite several fresh starts, I could never quite get it. I married a man who, like me, had thousands of dollars in debt, and the, because some fool gave us a mortgage, we bought a house. Then, we sold that house and bought a larger house with a bigger mortgage payment. We made decent money, we paid the bills on time, but we could never quite get it. We were never content. We were always striving. Which meant more debt — but always things we thought we needed (like a different used car, for instance), or deserved (like a timeshare).
Looking at it in retrospect, it was only a matter of time before our lack of foresight and financial immaturity came crashing down on us. But when I got pregnant and was completely disabled for a year, my disability payments didn’t come close to covering all of our expenses, not without Jesse’s income, which he lost because he was taking care of me. We went from comfortable to crisis in a period of weeks.
When that happened, and when the word bankruptcy entered the conversation, I was so ashamed. I was ashamed for being stupid and irresponsible and not having the maturity and wisdom to see the nicely furnished hole we were digging. But, at the same time, I figured if it could happen to us, two smart, hardworking people with well-paying jobs, it could happen to anyone.
In fact, I learned that it had happened to a lot of people in my life, and everyone was too embarrassed to talk about it. No one wanted to admit that they had made mistakes or judgment errors or just didn’t know what the hell they were doing and ended up in a hole. And instead of climbing out or asking for a rope and a good pull, they kept digging.
Silence keeps people broke. Shame keeps people broke. Being afraid to ask for help, to learn, to develop skills, to hold yourself accountable and develop self-discipline — it keeps people broke.
Repeat filers — people who have previously filed for bankruptcy and are now filing again — make up 16% of bankruptcy cases. In 2012, the average credit-card-holding American household had $15,950 in credit card debt. The average student loan debt load for the class of 2012 was $29,400.
NerdWallet puts the numbers as of November 2014 at:
- Average credit card debt: $15,593
- Average mortgage debt: $153,184
- Average student loan debt: $32,511
This. Is. Madness. And I’m not saying that to be Judgy McJudgypants. I’m saying it because it’s hard to believe that in our debt-driven culture, we got out of that.
We were determined not to be part of the statistics. But we didn’t know what to do to prevent it until we finally owned up to being clueless and needing help. Then, all of these supporters came out of the woodwork with their own stories of financial demise and crisis and panic. Some were telling their stories from a distance, because their crisis happened long ago. But too many were in the midst of it, or just out of the thick of it and as directionless as we were.
That’s why we signed up for Financial Peace University. What we did before obviously didn’t work. We had one big of misfortune, and everything fell apart. Even after the bankruptcy, we had crushing debt and always too much month left at the end of the money. Because we didn’t know what we were doing.
We needed hand-holding. We needed step-by-step. We were on the right track, but mostly by accident. Now, we have a plan, a structure, goals, and most importantly, a united front and a commitment to staying debt free — and teaching our kids to do the same.
For us, the biggest crisis of our lives as a married couple so far was the financial crisis we experienced when I was pregnant. Medical disability was the catalyst, but the choices we made in the previous 8 years were what created the problem in the first place. And it was preventable. If we had learned money management skills, if we had made a plan, if we had set goals and worked together on them, our lives would be very different right now.
We thought bankruptcy was really the end for us. It turns out, though, it was the beginning. It forced us to truly take responsibility for our lives, to rely on each other, and to get very, very real about what’s important. And the fear of going through that stress again or bringing up our kids in a house where “money” and “bills” were four-letter words motivated us to make major changes, admit our ignorance, and set a new course for ourselves and our family.
There’s no shame in screwing up. But there’s madness in doing the same thing over and over and over when it’s clearly not working. If you’re stuck, you can get out. And it doesn’t have to mean bankruptcy. There are options. But if it does mean bankruptcy, it’s not the end. It may be hard, but it’s not the end. Don’t wait for the crisis. Don’t wait for it to get more out of control. Act now. You CAN do this.
Follow my #30day journey of #radicalaccountability here at Amateur Parenting and through my nutrition and lifestyle journal on Instagram. Want to join me? Add these hashtags — #30days #radicalaccountability #coachkristen #dayX – to your social media posts and let’s do this together.
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