Goodbye Debt #2!

Started my morning as I have been since I started this blog about a month ago: by checking on our bank accounts and credit card balances. Color me surprised when I saw a particular payment went through:

debt2

Uh. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT.

I am blown away by this. This is debt number 2 that we have paid off- our first being a store credit card. I did decide to use that $200 in wedding gifts to pay off this card a bit faster than I would have without the incentive. Frankly, I just wanted to go ahead and use some of my personal credit to pay this off. 

I know that many out there understand what it feels like to pay off a debt completely. Seeing that zero balance is an awesome, nerdy high that will hopefully help me ride through the next credit cards (our two big dogs with over $3k in debt on each).

However, more than the freedom of not having the load of debt on my back, this card is a symbol of a time in my life that I would rather not have to carry around in my wallet.

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I got this card as a sophomore in college on a complete whim. There was some giveaway prize that if you signed up for a credit card, you’d get a free Subway or something. Seriously, I was that stupid. I’m sure that the application lady was basically salivating while I filled out the application.

When I told my mom that I had gotten a new credit card, she casually began mentioning money problems she was having. Being the sucker I am (Seriously. Subway.), I fell for it. I started letting her use it for gas for the car, for lunch at work, for trips to the grocery store… etc. It became less my card and more hers, and I was too stupid to keep track of it. Instead, I let her give me payments of $40 each month to “cover” her bills all the while she was spending more than $100 a month on it.

About a year later, my mom came clean that she had made the first steps to declare bankruptcy. I went straight to my dorm, logged on to my account, and checked the balance for the first time. In under 12 months, she had maxed out my credit card. The $40 payments only covered the minimum payment + $2 (no interest for the first year).

Taking away the “emergency” card from my mom was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It’s worth about 10 blog posts for the future. What was equally hard was getting serious about paying it back. At one point, I paid off about $500 with tax return money and was content with leaving it at that. Like most, I thought that I would eventually come back and pay off the rest. I never did.

Instead, I lost the card. Seriously, I lost it. It wasn’t stolen. It just got jammed under my car seat for a couple years. Yes, you read that right. A couple of years. I kept making the tiny monthly payments until I realized it was missing. The day after the replacement card came in, I went to the ER with a bad case of bronchitis. What did I use to pay my copay? Yep. That new credit card burning through my wallet. I was back at maxed out.

I wised up eventually and decided that I would pay double the minimum + interest on my monthly payments. For this card, it was about $100 each month. I paid it faithfully with the thought that it would eventually get paid off. It really doesn’t work that way, does it? I stopped paying attention to the interest. I started charging more. I forgot about what it was like to have a small balance. I failed at my plan.

So, here I am today. To let go of this debt, it was less about strategy and more about making the conscious effort to just let it go. Debt is often more than just the money we owe or fail to pay back. Debt can be a symbol of what we are too afraid to look back on. For me- it’s a eulogy for my young adult years, my inability to protect myself, and my failure to face reality. It’s time to move on. It’s time to say goodbye to this debt. And it’s time to kick another debt’s ass! On to credit card #3!

I want to hear from you: What was the stupidest “giveaway” you’ve fallen for? Or, are you more of a strategy or instant-fix person when it comes to debt? 


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A Gift Card Holiday

I am a gift giver. I make notes of what people tell me that they want throughout the year. I start budgeting with google spreadsheets in July. I create shopping lists in September. I get pumped when holiday ads come out early. I research items relentlessly until Black Friday. And when the time comes to give gifts, I ride that high up until my niece’s birthday in January.

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My usual budget for the holidays for 13 people and some small gifts for friends and coworkers: $2,000. And how did I pay for it? CREDIT CARDS.

Obviously, that isn’t happening this year. I am on a mission to remove all credit card debt from our lives. (And we’re on track!) But with my husband’s unemployment, we are limited in what we have to work with.

Our new budget this year? $300.

How are we reducing our budget by 85%? Easy. We aren’t paying for the majority of the gifts. Husband and I are blessed to have been graciously showered by our friends and family during our engagement. And like most engaged couples, we were occasionally showered with the same gift several times (try 5 times for one lucky french press coffee maker). We returned over $500 of repeated, broken, or no longer needed items from our registries. Now we have a ton of store credit to spend.*

To top it off, we also have gift cards. We are not big shoppers, so when we occasionally got a gift card as a gift, prize, or reward, we stashed them. To diversify our gift card holdings, Husband and I also participate in online surveys where we earn points for rewards. Our favorite is YouGov. Through this process, we have been able to get countless of gift cards for restaurants, movie tickets, and shopping. And we cant forget about our credit card points. For my US Bank card that’s just about paid off, I was able to change my points in to cash to pay for a gift a gift card couldn’t get (ironically, it was for a different gift card!).

Through this smart saving, we are able to slash our out of pocket gift giving dramatically. And the best part is that no one is getting a gift that they didn’t want or need. My Grandma certainly isn’t getting a Nintendo game just because we had a Best Buy gift card laying around.

How to have a gift card holiday:

  1. Come to the shopping season prepared. Take notes in advance so you’re not running around looking for a perfect gift for Aunt Edith. And while you’re at it, BUDGET. Don’t walk in to stores blind. Research items and sales, and try your best to not get sucked in to Black Friday or Cyber Monday rushes when deals are often better later or earlier.
  2. Have a return at a popular store? Get store credit and save it. Keep your receipts or ask for gift cards. And ALWAYS check how long that store credit is good for.
  3. Getting gift cards bringing you down? Turn it in to a positive and save them! Most people use those gift cards for things they do not need or want. Your trash may be someone else’s treasure. Hold firm! Or, use a service to exchange the cards** for something else if no one would want a gift from Tattoos R Us.
  4. Sign up for surveys or other reward programs where you can turn 5 minutes of work in to points for gift cards. It may take awhile to earn it, but it’s worth it in the end.
  5. Don’t use credit cards to pay for your shopping card. Instead use old points to purchase gifts or gift cards while you work to pay off that debt.

*I realize that using returns on wedding gifts to buy other gifts may seem odd or totally wrong to outsiders. But let me assure you that if the gift was money, it would most likely be used on similar items. We were able to buy everything on our registry that was needed with a good portion of that return money. Thanks family and friends!

**I was not compensated for linking to this service. I have used it three times and have had good enough experiences to recommend it on its own right. There are other services out there as well that offer similar deals. 


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Upgrading WordPress

Just a quick Sunday blog while I’ve got a moment. My yoga mat, a good book (“Discovery of Heaven”), a bowl of popcorn, and Amazing Race is waiting for me to put some thoughts down and get back to the real world.

Anyways, I’m thinking about upgrading my .wordpress.com site to a .com site. At $18 a year, that isn’t much of an investment and would allow me to build a better community. Mainly, I’m annoyed with the limited commenting service that doesn’t really identify my readers or allow them to share their blogs. Oh! And the inability to change color schemes- as someone who is very color and design sensitive, having the freedom to change fonts and colors is HUGE.

My  worries are that I am not sure if I actually have the content for this blog. I have already shifted my focus from weight loss and healthy living to more about financials and our struggles with unemploymentAll I do know is that I have used this blog for about two weeks and have produced content that I am proud of. It’s been personal and real, and I hope that any reader out there (no matter what the number) appreciates honesty and openness.

I have several blog posts scheduled that should reveal a bit more about me and my state of mind, back story, and hopes for the future with my new family. I hope to share all of that with you- the good and the bad. And I hope you can share yours with me whether it be here, on twitter (@fitisthenewpoor), or on your own blogs.

So, anyone out there have an opinion about when is the best time to make the investment in a blog? Would love to hear everyone’s opinions on timing, value and return!