$88,000 Nightmare

Amy Nickson

THE YEAR 2011 WAS horrifying. I learned my mom had a life-threatening disease. She passed away six months later.

That forced me to confront the $88,000 of debt I had accumulated during college, including $51,000 in credit card debt. I was in grief, I had no idea what to do about the debt and my mom wasn’t there to advise me.

My friend John told me to seek professional help. A debt settlement company helped me get rid of $16,000 of higher-interest credit card debt, but I needed to tackle the rest on my own.

John suggested I use the snowball method: Get rid of the smallest debt first by paying extra, while making the minimum payment on the rest. Once the smallest debt is paid off, I used the financial breathing room to focus on paying the next smallest, and so on.

How did I end up with so much debt? It was easy. If you use credit cards randomly and avoid making the payments, you will quickly end up with too much debt, just like me. But while accumulating debt was easy, getting rid of it was far more difficult.

  • I had no savings, except the house that my mom left me. I was determined not to lose the place where I have so many memories of my mom.
  • I had to transform myself from a spendthrift to a frugal person. I was a pampered child of a single mother who always fulfilled my wishes. I never realized the importance of living a disciplined financial life.
  • I sold the expensive car I had bought in college and used the proceeds to pay off the car loan.
  • I had a fulltime job and started blogging part-time to earn extra money. I used the additional money I earned through freelancing to make bigger debt payments. I also rented out the garage after I sold the car.
  • I created and followed a budget for all expenses. I had to make financial needs a priority and cut out all financial wants, like eating out, trips, Starbucks, fancy parties and hanging out with friends. I was determined not to amass further debt.

After three-and-a-half years, I was free of credit card debt. I still have student loans, but I’m paying them off gradually. Most important, I sleep peacefully—and I no longer worry about calls from creditors.

Amy Nickson is a writer in Atlanta, Georgia. She has her own blog, writes for the Oak View Law Group and also contributes to other sites. Follow Amy on Twitter @AmyNickson86.

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