What I Wish I Had Known When I Was In Debt

I was recently having a conversation with one of my best friends, who is completely overwhelmed by debt. Whenever I offer to help, she says, “There is no way I can get out of debt. I need to have a life. What am I supposed to do, stay at home and have no fun or social life?”

I want to scream back, “It doesn’t mean you have to stay in every night eating Top Ramen!” But if I'm being honest, it wasn't very long ago that I was in her shoes — stubborn and convinced that digging myself out of debt would mean committing to a lonely and pathetic life.

After that particularly frustrating conversation, I took a deep breath and thought about what I would say if I could go back and talk to myself when I was in her position.

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1. Your life will become richer.
Like my friend, I was convinced that paying off my debt would mean being confined to my apartment, eating instant noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I did eat my share of frozen dinners, but I learned quickly that if you're willing to get creative, you can pay off your debt without sacrificing your lifestyle. For example, instead of paying hundreds of dollars a month for cable, I canceled it, started running, and trained for a half marathon. I turned sacrifices into choices that made my life richer.

2. You don't have to do it alone.
When I was in debt, I thought, “I got myself into this mess, and I need to get myself out.” I was hard on myself and independent to a fault, but I wish I would have asked for help sooner. Evidently, stubbornness comes with a hefty interest rate, and I paid hundreds extra while I tried to figure it out on my own.    

When I finally did pay off my debt, it was because of help from four incredible girlfriends. As soon as we began to help one another, a shift occurred: We immediately felt relief that we weren't alone and we each benefited from each other’s experiences.

3. Keep your credit card company on speed dial.
I would have rather looked at an Excel spreadsheet all day than talked to someone at my credit card company. But when I finally called, I saved myself thousands by canceling a fee that I had blindly paid for years. I cringe at how much money I wasted by not picking up the phone sooner. Look up your bank or credit card company on gethuman.com. This will give you the best phone number or dial combination to get you directly to a real human every single time.

4. You might actually be grateful.
When I wrote down all my debt and put it someplace I’d see every day, I literally broke out in hives. But facing it was what I needed to do to take back control. It allowed me to reframe my experience and say thank you — yes, thank you. Think about what your debt allowed you to do. Were you able to start your dream business? Were you able to travel to Europe for art school? You might be surprised at how easily the disgust you have for that negative balance turns into a bit of gratitude.  

5. Much more than your bank account will improve.
Owning up to my debt meant owning up to my life. Everything changed — I finally met an amazing man (who later became my husband), I started my own business, and I started really taking care of myself (including running that half marathon). Knowing what my life looks like now, I’d tell my old self that it will all be worth it.

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