In the spring of 2011, I was completely maxed out.
There was less than $100 in my checking account, which needed to cover all of my expenses for six weeks, and I had another $100 of wiggle room on my $6,500-limit credit card.
On top of that, I had a $10,000 car loan that I was chipping away at, as well as another loan and $4,500 of student debt. In total, I had managed to rack up more than $28,000 of debt.
The worst part of having that much debt wasn’t the debt itself—it was trying to keep it a secret. My family, who all thought that I was “so good with money,” had no idea that my credit card was maxed out, and that I could barely make the minimum payment. The friends who knew I was making more than $50,000 annually assumed that I was “rich.”
Even when I wanted to talk to someone about my financial situation, the fear of disappointing or being judged by the people in my life always stopped me … so I started a blog.
The Community That Embraced Me—and My Debt
My original idea was to keep the blog—Blonde on a Budget—private, publishing the very boring details of my daily financial transactions for my eyes only. But as I started working on the project, I discovered that there were hundreds of personal finance bloggers all over the world who were writing about their own money situations—from sharing the balances of their bank accounts to offering strategies for paying down debt. No topic was off limits, and everyone in the community could relate.
“Reading personal finance blogs can give [you] a different perspective on how others handle their finances,” says Travis Pizel from Enemy of Debt. “When I started blogging, I had about $95,000 of credit card debt. Sharing ideas—including ways to save money—is a powerful [way] to make getting out of debt a positive experience.”
Much like a support group, the personal finance community accepted me for who I was and the mistakes I had made, and cheered me on to the finish line. I didn’t realize it at the time but starting my blog and joining this community was the tool I needed to get myself out of debt.
With each post that I published, I earned a new reader—and a friend. Even though everyone had a different story and varying amounts of debt, we did have one thing in common: the struggle to not spend.
“When I started blogging, I had just over $14,000 of consumer debt,” says Carrie Smith, the blogger behind Careful Cents. “There was a period of time when I wanted to quit blogging, and stop putting so much money toward my debt. But thanks to [the support of] my readers, I was able to keep going—and even met my goal a few weeks sooner than I’d anticipated.”
One of the things that surprised me the most while writing my blog was just how much knowledge readers had. On top of sharing books to read and new blogs to follow, people had a genuine thirst to learn and share everything personal finance-related. Within a few months, I had learned more about how to budget, how to pay down debt and how to save than I ever could have without my readers’ comments, emails and tweets.
With inspiration from other bloggers, I committed to have as many “no spend days” in a week as possible. Those eventually morphed into month-long “no spend challenges,” in which you try to buy nothing but groceries, gas and necessities for 30 days. For a while, I even switched to a cash diet, essentially giving myself an allowance each week!
The Power of the Accountability Factor
Since I started my blog, I’ve been posting weekly spending reports. And while the list of transactions are still only meant for my own budgeting purposes, knowing that a few eyes could read them has stopped me from making a number of impulse purchases. What would my readers think if they saw that I spent $25 on a scented candle? I couldn’t bear the shame, especially if I’d set a monthly goal to not spend money on anything but essentials, like I did in January.
“It’s amazing how fast your habits change when you know that you have to report back [to the world] every month,” says J. Money from Budgets are Sexy. While J. had only a couple thousand dollars of credit card debt when he started blogging, he’d also just bought a house—with no money down and no budget. “I started blogging because I thought it would be fun to share my finances in a real and transparent way,” he says. While his monthly net-worth updates may not be the “sexiest” posts to read, they’re all the motivation that he needs to be on his best financial behavior.
Along with finding a community of people to keep me accountable, writing about my debt repayment journey has taught me how to challenge myself—I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for this virtual support system.
Since June 2011, I have paid off more than $22,000 of my debt, saved a little bit on the side and even reached a positive net worth. And while I’m not 100% debt-free yet, I am on track to be debt-free by June 7—two years from the day that I was maxed out.
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Cait Flanders lives in Toronto, Ontario, and is the creator of Blonde on a Budget, which she details her quest to be free of debt.