Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Free at last, free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! Wouldn’t it be cool if those were my original words? Do you ever have those moments you think something sounds really cool, only to run your checks with Google to see that someone else has already done it, made it, eaten it, said it, encountered it, blogged about it, etc? Yeah…that was me earlier when I clicked the “Submit Payment” button about an hour ago. I was saying “I’m free!! At last! Thank you God!” (a la Dr. MLK’s I Have A Dream) because I’d just accomplished what so many Americans desperately want to do—I just paid off my debt.

$0.00 due? excitement beyond belief.

Poof! My colossal burden is no longer my problem. It’s now my credit card companies’ problem to find revenues elsewhere! I sacrificed a lot, and yet it wasn’t as hard as I’d feared. I won’t say I did this all on my own. I definitely had help; and for that I’m grateful. I gave up my sweet apartment in the medical center area in order to get myself back on the right track. I left all my friends inside the loop behind to move in with my mom. I still paid her rent but at a much lower rate than market! I know what you’re thinking… Dude! You live in your mom’s basement! No! We can toast to the fact that I’m debt-free, yes I watch Californication, but this isn’t some Timbaland song! Plus we don’t have basements in the H. But yes, I live with my mom. At twenty-seven years old, it’s a bit of downer. But it was the responsible thing to do for my future. My future spouse’s future. My future family’s future. I only gave up a year and a half to ensure the rest of my life is going in the right direction. That was my trade-off and how I convinced myself it was the right thing to do. Thankfully I have a loving mother who would actually take her ingrate of a son in for a few months! Now on to how it was done…

In college I had two credit cards with different billing cycles exactly two weeks apart. I would use one credit card for two weeks and then pay it off when it was due two weeks later. While I was waiting to pay credit card one, I’d use credit card two. Both credit cards had rewards programs so I used them instead of my debit card or cash. Both cards were paid off every single month. Doing this allowed me to never have to keep track of the whole “minimum amount due” or “statement balance” or “current balance.” My balance was my balance and there was no confusion. I waited tables at the once-famous Chili’s #249 (holla! fellow chiliheads!) and made really good money. We were the only location for hours, so everyone from mall-goers to people from BFE making their once-a-month trip into the big city would stop in. We were on a wait every weekend night and during the week management would cut servers so that the rest of us could have more tables. I was bringing home two-grand a month in tips at least (because I rocked. Attentiveness and brains go just as far for us non-pretty fellas!) and had way more money than I needed for bills. This was an ideal situation for a college kid who just wanted to have fun!

Skip ahead to post-graduation. I have no “real” job and I’m waiting tables at a new Chili’s in north H. The money is terrible. The area is flooded with all sorts of restaurants so no one wants an awesome blossom. I manage to make really high-percentage tips, but when you only have 5 or 6 tables a night…you can’t really make money. This is where the (slight) downfall starts to begin. The credit cards I once had no trouble paying off are starting to escalate as my spending habits can’t be broken. When I want something, I just go get it. I’ll pay for it later! As my buddy Dave would always quip: I’ll let future Dave worry about that! I thought a couple grand of debt was peanuts when I finally landed my career job!

Only my career job doesn’t pay much because my career is…well, normal? Accountants grow on trees, ya know. So what do I do with my low mid-rangish paying job? I go get a swanky apartment! A treat to myself! And what the heck, I’ll get a brand new SUV while I’m at it too! Idiot. 22-year-old me was an idiot I tell you! Living beyond my means… You can’t phrase it any better. Throw in a few beautiful girlfriends along the way, and my weak, weak, weak frailty for pleasing the ladies and you’ve got yourself a sizeable debt.

Was I worried about it? No. Should I have been years ago before paying thousands of dollars in interest? Sure! But when you see that number slowly rise over time…you never fully realize it’s massiveness until it’s too late. Ever had a long-term girlfriend that was skinny when you first met and fell in love with her? Then when things just don’t work out, you two split and you go back and look at old pictures of all the good times you had? Yeah—you know where I’m going with this. You think: “Wow! Look how skinny I was! Look how skinny she was! I had no idea we’d let ourselves go…” Same thing with credit cards! You’re having so much fun along the way that you don’t even realize the underlying issues that will ultimately be your downfall.

I had a roommate a few years ago who was doing something so noble, it changed my life. He was feverishly paying off debt with a debt consolidation plan, while also saving up for a massive ring to slide on his suspecting girlfriend’s finger. What was admirable was that he probably makes about the same thing as me but he was sacrificing so much more than me. I could see the drive in his eyes to be debt-free before he married this girl and it all clicked: money issues are the leading cause of divorce and he was eliminating that chance! Smart dude.

Now, I wasn’t looking to get married but I did have my sights set on some personal goals that would be hindered with that darned debt monkey on my back. Purchase a house? Get a better rate with no debt! Move to a new, more-expensive city? Make your paycheck go farther with no debt! Want a new job? Reduce your debt, because HR is gonna perform a credit check on you! I started to cut back, but not a lot. It was hard to begin with. I was so used to having fun at the expense of “future David” that I didn’t know how to control myself.

Then my job picked up. I finally started to get noticed for the hard work I was (always) putting in and I was starting to be rewarded appropriately for it. I had a boss I clicked with that enjoyed my working style and the quality work I produced. Then I moved into a three-bedroom apartment and my total “cost of living” dropped a bit! I was able to use that savings to make larger credit card payments. I made payments to all three cards and my line of credit, but I attacked the smallest credit card first like a bully. A few months in and a credit card was down for the count. Months later, another one bites the dust…running away with its tail between its legs. My apartment lease ends and I make the decision to expedite this plan—I move in with la madre. No electricity bill, no cable bill, no internet bill, no water bill—instead I just sprinkle some Benji’s every now and then and everything’s taken care of. Now I realize not everyone has the luxury of moving in with someone and getting free rent or seriously-discounted rent, but this is where I consider myself lucky. Hopefully I can do this for my kid in the future should they need it.

With discounted rent freeing up some serious cash-flow, I paid off my line of credit within the first month. This left just the one colossal credit card to haunt my dreams. The debt mountain looked so tall, but not nearly as tall as it once was. I knew I could do it, it was just going to take an even stronger sacrifice than before. I thought to myself: If I’m gonna live way up here in the boonies, I need to take full advantage of the situation and knock this puppy out (put a sock in a it PETA, no puppies were harmed)! I got a gym membership to eat up most of my free time so that I didn’t spend it trying to spend money. I cut out a lot of my domestic travelling. I sat at home on weekends going into the deepest corners of Netflixville…streaming everything from Sin Nombre to Visioneers. I watched entire seasons of Weeds and Arrested Development.

Where did this extreme dedication and commitment take me? Ultimately, everywhere. I’m free. I’m freee!!! I feel like a college kid again, back when I didn’t have to really worry about debt. I owe no one! It truly feels amazing. If I wasn’t so tired from a 13-hour workday, you’d see more of a hugely ecstatic look on my face! Debt-free. It still doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t look right, flying into the screen, letters arranging themselves in place as my fingers type it. Debt-free! A huge relief. Debt-free. I feel like I’m singing a song now and the chorus is “debt-free.” I like the idea of not having to worry about it anymore. Debt-free is the way for me! Debt-free. I’m rambling. Because it’s late. Dammit! I just realized I owe Neal a Dos XX.

Guess I’ll just have to wait a little longer to be truly free…


  1. LOVE this post! i fully advocate doing whatever you can to get out of debt - moving in with your mom was the smartest thing to do. i have a very healthy fear of debt, they don't call me Parkerstein for nothing :) I'm all about living BELOW your means and having a fat savings account. that way, you can go to europe for a month when you decide houston is too hot in july :)
    congrats david - this is a HUGE deal. i'm very happy for you!!!
    and arrested development!!!! my favorite show of all time.

  2. Thanks Erin! Still envious of your eurotrip!

  3. David- you are a great writer! I totally enjoyed this... and I'm glad you were able to accomplish this for yourself! Now, make a promise to yourself and your future self to never live in debt again!