$15,000 in consumer debt. How did I end up here?

The answer to this question is both simple and complex at the same time. My debt story began with me getting accepted into the University of South Florida and I was the recipient of both a full track scholarship and a full Bright Futures scholarship. So, what that meant for me was my tuition and room and board was fully covered. I did not have any student loans or credit card debt. My parents gave me $200 a month to assist with groceries and incidentals and I was happy with that. I was in college, I didn’t need much. I wasn’t a shopper or a party girl, so I was just fine with the allowance they had given me.

Starting in my Junior year, NCAA changed its rules and student athletes on full scholarship with also received scholarship funds from another source were able to receive the funds over and above the cost of tuition and room and board as a refund check. My track scholarship had been reduced to cover the portion that Bright Futures wasn’t covering in the first two years of school, so when it came time for the extra money that was owed to me, it was a bit of a battle, but I did receive some money as a refund check. Now, that money combined with the money my parents sent me made for a very enjoyable time in college. I moved from my apartment that I shared with a roommate into a 1 bedroom apartment by myself, which meant I now had to be responsible for all of the bills. Shortly before my Senior year began I learned that I was pregnant. Me. The good daughter. I was pregnant. Scared, I told my then boyfriend about the baby, then my parents, and my coach was the last to find out. To my surprise, he didn’t take my scholarship from me. God had blessed me to be able to remain in school and not to have to worry about finances.

This, is where my debt story starts. I was 21 years old when I gave birth to my daughter. I was so proud of her and was so determined to show the naysayers that I could push through and achieve all of my goals. I was determined to make my own way. A part of making my own way, in my mind, meant not asking for help. After graduation, I came home during the summer while I was waiting to start law school. My parents and my boyfriend convinced me to let my parents keep my daughter while I went off to school. In my mind, I was burdening them. My boyfriend was paying for daycare and diapers, I breastfed and pumped and stored milk away for her, and I had applied for food stamps to help bridge the gap with snacks and formula. I took out the maximum amount of student loans possible so that I didn’t have to ask for anything on top of what was absolutely necessary. When I got my net checks, I paid 3 months rent up front and 3 months of car payments. In between net checks, my parents paid for my rent and car payments. I felt so bad for them. I felt like such a let down. It wasn’t until later that I learned my parents were actually proud to do those things for me. They were proud of me for continuing my education. They were proud of the sacrifices I made for my daughter. They were proud of the daughter they raised. But, I couldn’t see that. I could only see the disappointment.

So, slowly, I stopped asking for help. If I needed gas and didn’t have the money, I used a credit card. I was going home every weekend to spend time with my daughter and gas was starting to become a huge bill. Whatever I could buy with a card, I did. Slowly, my debt was rising and I was struggling to make the minimum balance without a job. When I entered my second year of law school I was allowed to work. This job paid $10/hr, but it was more than nothing. I worked 20 hours a week in West Palm Beach, and I also did legal research and writing for two professors at $10/hr for 20 hours a week. Combined, I had a full time job (albeit low paying) and going to law school full time. This money allowed me to take over the car payment full time to alleviate the financial hemorrhage from my parents, but in doing so, it made it more difficult to manage the credit card payments. I was barely making the minimums, but I knew it was important to at least pay that.

when law school was over, I didn’t work while I studied for the bar, so I took out a private loan for $10,000 that is not included in this total. But again, I paid for my necessities on a credit card. To my credit, I wasn’t frivolous with my purchases and I wasn’t just racking up debt splurging on clothes, trips, and things of the like. I was doing the best that I could to take care of myself and my daughter and not put so much on my parents and my boyfriend who were also helping me.

After passing the bar on the first try,  and substitute teaching until I landed a job in the legal field, I started working at a firm in Miami temporarily. It was a great paying job. With this job, I was making enough money to handle my car payment and start saving to pay my card off. You see, at this stage of life, I thought it was better to save and pay my cards off at one time, rather than make larger monthly payments to save myself some interest fees.

Then, I made a decision that was both terrible and great in hindsight. I decided to move out of my parents home and take care of my baby on my own. It was a terrible decision at the time because I couldn’t afford it. It was a good decision in the end because now, it is an income property for me and my husband. My realtor advised me that it was better to use the money I had saved to make a down payment rather than paying down or paying off my credit cards. I listened but that was the wrong move to make. I struggled to make ends meet but, I stopped buying necessities on credit. But, by this time, I had racked up $15,000 in credit card debt, had a $50,000 mortgage on a town home, with an annual salary of $40,000.

What was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking of the future, I was thinking about the then and now. I was thinking about others more than I was thinking of myself. I wanted others to see me doing it on my own, but at what cost?

There is one word that sums this way of thinking up that I shared in this video. Watch to find out what that word is. Are you guilty of the same?

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