On April 27, 2012, I paid off the last of my credit card debt. By doing so, I finally got the guts to tell my family and friends about this blog and all of my original debt. To say I was scared to tell my parents how much debt I had would be an understatement. I remember driving home from work with Mom and testing my story on her first. I could barely look her in the eye, and that’s not just because I was watching the road. I didn’t want to disappoint her, and I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing it on her face. When I finished telling her that I had paid off (at that time) about $15,000 of debt, the first words out of her mouth were, “You need to tell people how you did that, Caitlin!” My reply: “I do, Mom.”
Only, I stopped after that. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I obviously tell you guys where I cut back on spending, so I can pay down the rest of my debt. But I haven’t really talked about how my relationship with my credit card has changed over the last year (and trust me, it has changed). Let’s talk about what happened first.
I Was Scared to Use It
When I first got my credit card down to $0, I was scared to use it. No, I was scared to even look at it. That baby blue piece of plastic was my answer to getting whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it for years. I knew those 16 numbers like my life depended on it – the 3 digits on the back, too – and when I finally paid off my balance in full, I took drastic measures to try to forget it. I took it out of my wallet and put it in my jewelry box. I deleted all of the things I wanted to buy that were saved in my bookmarks folder. I avoided online sites altogether. And I tried to keep coins in my wallet, in case I ever needed to pay for parking (something I swiped for more often than I care to remember).
I Started to Use It
After a couple months, I slowly started to use my card again. I say “slowly” because I only used it when I had to pay for something online, like airfare, and only when I had the cash to pay it off as soon as the transaction went through. I was still too scared to put it back in my wallet, knowing how easy it would be to go back to my old spending habits. Dad encouraged me to get some type of rewards card and start using it like cash but, the truth was, I didn’t trust myself. For seven years, I was an irresponsible credit card user. Sure, I always made my minimum payment. But I don’t think I paid off my balance in full once after I used my first card at the age of 19, so I had no reason to believe I’d be more responsible with it at 27.
I Still Don’t Trust Myself
One year later, I’m happy to say there hasn’t been a single month where I have carried a balance forward on my credit card. In fact, there’s only been a few months where I have gotten a bill at all. Apparently, this has hurt my credit score, but the fact is that I still don’t trust myself.
I have carried a balance on my credit card since I was 19 years old. When I was 22, I remember owing about $3,000. By the time I was 23, that number had jumped to almost $5,000. When I was maxed out, I had a grand total of $6,500 of credit card debt. I could barely make the minimum payment and I was losing sleep over how close to my limit I was. I don’t honestly believe that I’ll ever let my balance get that high again, but I also don’t know how to use a credit card responsibly. My brain has always seen it as a second (somewhat limitless) bank account, not as a tool. I am envious of my friends who can use their cards to build up rewards and still pay off the balance each month; I would love to be able to do that. But I have no experience with that kind of budgeting system. So, until I finish paying off the rest of my debt, I’ll continue to use my baby blue card sparingly.
How do you feel about your credit cards? Have you ever been in my situation?