I grew up in a household that placed a lot of emphasis on saving money and only spending what you had. Living within your means was the family motto. It was something I really took to heart.
In an ideal world, I would never have landed in debt. When I graduated from high school, I landed a partial scholarship to a public university. My parents had saved some money for my college education. Combined with the scholarship, the savings were expected to cover my educational expenses.
Then a recession hit, my father lost his job, and my car broke down.
I was working in the library as a student worker as part of my financial aid package from the university. My expenses started to mount with the car repairs and other basic needs, so I filled out one of those credit card offers you find all over the student union on a college campus.
I got my shiny plastic card in the mail within two weeks. It all began quite innocently. I used the card to pay for toiletries and laundry expenses. Occasionally I would splurge on a pair of movie tickets or a new set of sneakers.
I kept telling myself it was okay. I would pay it off when the bill came. No big deal. Until the bills started coming and the money wasn't there to pay them off.
I felt really bad, guilty even. This isn't how I was raised. My parents never went into debt. They always paid off their bills on time. Since I couldn't ask my parents for help at this difficult time, I had to make do. I made the minimum payments and went on charging up my expenses.
As you can imagine, it spiraled out of control in no time. By the time I was set to graduate from college four years later, I was seriously broke and I owed a lot of money. Thousands of dollars in credit card debt from late fees and interest tacked onto the original amounts owed.
If that wasn't enough of a problem, the economy was still in bad shape, so I had no job waiting for me when I crossed the stage with my diploma.
I started to feel really desperate. One night I was up watching television and I saw one of those advertisements for credit counseling agencies that help you get out of debt. I wrote the number down and called them the next morning.
I spoke to a counselor who listened to my situation and explained how she could help me with my debt problem. She answered my litany of questions about their fees and the impact that this debt problem would have on my credit and my future. I thought it over for a few days and decided this was my best option.
It has now been five years since I was in that awful situation. I am completely debt free today. I was able to settle with my creditors and pay off the outstanding bills over time, thanks to the wonderful counselor at the credit counseling/debt management agency.
Today I feel so much better about myself and I have resolved not to ever get into debt again. I have a steady job and I save a lot of money so that I can afford to pay off my bills as they come in. I don't charge things on the credit card that I couldn't afford to buy outright.
Being in debt was a terrifying experience, but it taught me some very important lessons. Debt is an easy trap to fall into, but a hard one to get out of.
Contributed by Anonymous from Massachusetts