ALRIGHT. Let’s do this. I went out for drinks tonight, but a vow is a vow, and there will be a half hour per day of writing, sobriety be damned. (*sips on mezcal and ponders what topic to write on today*)
As of the end of next month, barring any unexpected life crisis, I will finally have paid off the last of my credit card debt. I realized this last night and there were celebratory beverages with friends tonight.
This is something I’ve been trying to do for almost twenty years.
The Narcissist wanted to spend extravagantly and was upset when I didn’t. He would gallantly offer to pay for things I didn’t think we should spend money on, and then hang his generosity over my head like we had purchased something I had been begging for. When I wanted to spend money on things I found important (like a mattress for our guest bedroom when my parents were coming to visit), he held the purse strings and refused to spend more than the bare minimum.
The most important thing was that I get out of debt, he would argue. But if it was his money being spent, there were conditions and stipulations I usually didn’t agree with. And even though theoretically he was paying for most things, somehow being with him was still far more expensive than being on my own, and my expenses and debt both increased over time.
(Quick little vent: In the mattress scenario, my father and stepmother were finally coming all the way across the country for a visit after I had begged for ten years for them to do so. The Narcissist wanted to buy the cheapest, thinnest, crappiest mattress possible and make two 70-year-olds sleep on it for multiple nights. I’m still furious that I wasn’t allowed to be a good hostess to them during what was such an important visit for me.)
When I finally ended the relationship I had nothing in savings. I hadn’t planned to break up with him when I did; I hit a point where I saw him clearly and I knew I had to get out of the relationship immediately. Financially, however, there was simply no way to physically leave. I couldn’t afford movers, much less first, last and a security deposit on an apartment.
I was totally stuck until our house was sold and I had my share of the proceeds. And then I had to pay lawyers to get my fair share of the proceeds.
I’ve now vowed to never again be in that situation. Ever. I will never again be in a situation where I have nothing in savings and I am completely devoid of financial independence.
Between the legal fees, buying a new home, moving expenses, and the need for furnishings, last year wound up being a bit expensive. A lot of expenses related to the breakup wound up having to be charged to my credit card.
And yet, I’m almost done paying it off. All told, it’s taken twenty years. At the worst of it, many years ago, my credit card debt was around $20,000.
It felt like something I was never going to be able to pull myself out from under. I was resigned to having it hanging over my head for the rest of my life.
Because I never had much in savings, I always needed to use my credit card for emergencies. But whenever I had any money, I would put it towards paying down my credit card, so the next time there was an emergency the pattern would continue. It seemed my debt was never going to decrease.
Budgeting and paying down debt is so much easier to manage now, from a purely organizational perspective, than it was twenty years ago.
There are so many wonderful tools available to help one manage all sorts of financial situations.
Back in the day, I tried to use a spreadsheet for my budget. One thing I’ll give credit to the Narcissist for is he did help simplify my budget to a point where it was usable. When I tried to budget previously, I accounted for every possible line item (clothing, pets, social outings, entertainment, hair and makeup products, haircuts… you get the idea). It was overwhelming.
The Narcissist showed me that breaking it down to only the necessary expenses was all that was needed. Everything else was just money in my pocket that I could spend however I wanted.
Here’s a sample budget. There are plenty available online, but if this one makes sense to you and you want to use it, please feel free. I have it stored on Google Drive and it’s publicly accessible. Just click File/Make a Copy to copy it to your own drive and edit it as need be.
While this spreadsheet version was helpful, and I still use it just to check myself once in a while, this didn’t help me manage my expenses on a monthly basis. I knew when I had (or didn’t have) money in my account, but I didn’t know how much had been used for each budget item. To make matters more confusing, my monthly pay is somewhat variable.
I had tried a few software programs but ultimately ran up against the same problem.
Enter: Internet. And free online software.
A google search for “What’s the best online budgeting tool?” led me down a rabbit hole of research, but ultimately led me to Mint. I’ll spare you a sales pitch but will recommend this review, as well as doing your research and reading others. I’ll just say, Mint is free and it works for my needs.
I punched in all my budget line items, and voila, my budget was created. I log in once in a while and make sure each of my transactions (which are automatically fed in from my bank account) are categorized appropriately.
I can quickly and easily see the status of any line of my budget (under budget, met budget, or over budget) for the current month. I can also view trends over time and see where I’m consistently over or under budget, and adjust my budget accordingly.
Finally, and most wonderfully, Mint also allowed me to set a goal of paying off my credit card debt and provided a tool with which to track that goal. It automatically became a line item in my Mint budget.
Achieving this goal has required twenty years of living a sort of half-life, where I was making enough to live a much different lifestyle but was consistently stuck paying off the mistakes of my past. But, finally, I’ve done it. I will soon be credit card debt free.
And now, I can start putting money away for new adventures, as I continue to live my life for me once again.