Every now and then, I forget that I’m still $50,000 in debt.
It’s funny how that happens. $50,000 is a lot of money; in fact, it’s more than I’ve ever made in a year. Yet there are periods of time where I’m busy, life is good, things are going well, and it just slips my mind for awhile.
I’m always glad for a break from beating myself up over past mistakes. However, the bad part about forgetting is that something eventually helps me remember. Like looking at my budget and realizing I can’t have something I want. Or adding said item to the enormous list of things I’m saving for, then noticing that I’m looking at a target date of 2017.
Despite the progress I’ve made – paying off my last credit card balance last year, finding a system to cut down on restaurant spending, and learning to avoid malls like the plague – I still have many years to go before I can even think about becoming debt free. And while I know that’s a logical consequence for all the years I spent money like crazy, it still pisses me off.
We Build Our Own Cages
This year has forced me to put my various debt payoff strategies on hold as I adjusted to self-employment. No more double car payments, and I even deferred my student loans again. Why? Because in a world where I can only estimate what I’ll make in a month (and that’s assuming everything goes as planned), it makes more sense to throw every dollar I can into my emergency fund, which took a beating in the first few months after I left my former career.
Just like the choices that got me into debt in the first place, quitting my job was a choice. I made that decision knowing I wouldn’t be able to pay off my car loan and student loans as quickly as before, and I’m okay with that overall. Then I have one of those days where it hits me - Whoa, there’s $50k hanging over my head - and I freak out a little.
Honestly, being in debt doesn’t affect me as much as it did in the past. For the most part, I live comfortably and don’t worry too much about paying the bills, both of which are improvements over the crazy life I used to live. But that doesn’t mean that owing all that money is a cake walk.
The Shackles are Still There
Last week my internet connection was down again (what a shock, right?) and I wasn’t able to deposit a check into my bank account. On top of that, my bank’s website fell victim to a DDoS attack and was down for several days. All I could think about was how many overdraft fees I was going to incur and how the bank would never reverse them for a frequent flier like me.
Then I remembered that I’ve never ever overdrawn this account. That I’ve had my act together for two whole years. That my savings account is hooked to my checking. And I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized that everything would be okay. Still, it will take a lot of years for me to get used to having money available when I need it instead of relying on credit cards to pick up the slack.
When I make my car payment each month, I grumble to myself about where that money could be going. A year of those payments could fund a fairly nice vacation, or rebuild my emergency savings beyond the highest previous balance. And when I resume student loan repayment next year, I’ll moan about that, too – especially since I don’t even work in that field anymore.
Every single time I buy something that isn’t completely necessary, I have a miniature nervous breakdown. I should have saved that. What if I don’t make any more money this month? All part of my debt’s legacy – creating anxiety, paranoia, and insomnia for the past 12 years of my life.
It Doesn’t Let Go Easily
I can’t really imagine what it will be like to have no debt whatsoever because I’ve never been there. But I can picture myself carrying the burden even after my last debt is paid off. I will always be a reckless spender in my own head, and I will always have to question my purchases and compulsively check my bank balances. In that way, debt will probably always hold me back, even if I don’t have any.
Debt limits choices. It instills a sense of fear and distrust. It causes us to be reactive instead of proactive. It weighs us down, preventing us from becoming the most awesome version of ourselves. And its effects stick around for years. The only way to keep it from holding you back is to avoid it in the first place, and if it’s too late for that, to get rid of it as soon as you possibly can.
My debt’s hold on me is more mental these days, but it’s still there nonetheless. If you’re in debt, how does that debt keep you from doing what you want or need to do? If you’ve gotten out of debt, have you been able to move past the “in debt” mindset?