I was watching the Suze Orman Show today (because I’m suddenly a CNBC Prime junkie), and she was talking to a woman who had endured lots of random hardships in her adult life (divorce, being laid off, having crazy medical issues), and had subsequently racked up a sizable chunk of debt.
It hit me: oh emm jeee she’s talking to me.
I mean, she wasn’t. She had a legitimate guest on her show who just happened to have very similar life circumstances to me. You better believe I started paying careful attention, though. I love Suze, but she can be pretty harsh. I was expecting her to basically tell this woman that she doesn’t give a crap about her sob story and that she just needs to buck up and get herself out of debt before she finds herself unable to retire at the age of 98. That’s surprisingly not what happened.
Basically, Suze told her that money is not the problem. More money would not change this woman’s debt situation. In fact, this particular person had actually been able to pay down her debt, only to find herself getting back into debt immediately afterwards. She was deep in debt for the third time in not-so-many years. How frustrating!
I started thinking about my own debt problem and how it started. I was raised by good parents who were great with money. They taught me the value of money at an early age, and I was almost overly responsible with it. I got a job when I was 15, and I worked all the way through college. I saw my friends get into trouble with credit cards, so I vowed not to even get one until I felt like I was responsible enough to handle it.
I got my first credit card at age 24 and never once carried a balance. I built up a great credit profile and an even better FICO score. I bought a home later that same year. I seriously thought I was invincible, you know, since all of my young-and-stupid years were far behind me. Boy, did I have a blind spot.
You all know what happened to the housing market in late 2005, so I don’t even need to mention that. And as if that wasn’t enough of a stressor….
In 2007, I went back to school to get my Master’s Degree. A year later, right after turning 26, I went through a divorce that left me financially unstable and without health insurance. Then I got really sick. Then every single piece of my car decided to break, one by one. I think 2009 goes down in the books as possibly the worst year I’ve ever had, as far as “shit happening TO me” is concerned. I lived off credit cards for the next two years while I finished the grad school program I’d started while I was still married, and it was shocking how much debt appeared out of seemingly nowhere.
Then the student loan payments started. Fortunately, I had scored a full-time job right out of grad school (one of the lucky ones), and even though the job turned out to be one of the most difficult and emotionally draining experiences of my life, I was getting back on my feet.
Until I got laid off due to budget cuts at the end of 2010. Are you kidding me?
Ok, so a lot of those circumstances were beyond my control. I know this. But I was also raised in such a responsible environment, I am crushed by guilt when I think of my financial situation and the alarmingly large amounts of money I owe. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to grad school at all. Maybe I should have dropped out once I got divorced. Maybe I should’ve forgone treatment when I got sick. Maybe…. so many maybes.
I’m in a position now to get myself out of the mess, ever so slowly. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, let me tell you. The thing is… even though I know I just need to be patient and take everything one payment at a time, I’m still punishing myself. Even Suze believes that you have to allow yourself a little bit of wiggle room each month to do something fun or else you’ll drive yourself mental (and probably give up and go bankrupt). I have the hardest time allowing for anything enjoyable that costs money. All I can think is “I’m a debtor. I don’t deserve this. I really don’t deserve this.” And you know what I learned today? That is exactly the attitude that is going to keep me in debt and miserable.
I’m certainly not saying that I would keep myself in debt on purpose. I don’t think any unlobotomized person would choose that. But I might do it subconsciously. I might be likely to sabotage my good efforts just so I can stay unhappy and lament my frustrating circumstances. The truth is, I can see the light at the end of a very long tunnel, but I refuse to act as if I’ll ever be standing in the light. I act as if the tunnel will be my reality forever, and that’s just not true.
So the moral of all of this is–I am more than my debt, and I am a worthwhile human being. Once I pay all of this down, I should be super proud of myself. I should then remember that I’m worth it, and not ever get myself in a mess like this again. I know some situations are beyond my control, but I sure could do a better job of preparing for emergencies, and believe me, I will from now on.
Thank you Suze for everything you told that woman today. I took it to heart and will try to stop beating myself up about this financial situation. It may be a long road, but it’s temporary. Day by day. Payment by payment.
I’m so Ready for Zero.