Our hearts go out to all those affected by the recent events at the Boston Marathon. Please know that Stephanie chose to tell her story before those events unfolded, and we published it in the hopes that her success will be an inspiration to you. —LearnVest
The quote on a shirt from my first race says it all: “The miracle isn’t that I finished, but that I had the courage to start.”
It’s a fitting statement, seeing as training for a marathon was the key reason why I was able to dig out from under $15,000 of credit card debt.
Although I’ve now been running for more than a decade, at 35, I’m what you would call a “late in life” athlete. My hobbies prior to running? Shopping, drinking and socializing with friends—habits that started in college, continued well into my midtwenties and ultimately landed me in my bad debt situation.
I had no clue where my money went or even what interest rates my credit credit balances carried. And I certainly didn’t have a monthly budget. I just assumed that debt was a fact of life—I mean, everyone I knew had it.
The crazy part is that I actually considered myself to be financially responsible—for the most part. I’d secured a good marketing job just a month out of college. I wasn’t driving a fancy car. I had a roommate, and I paid my share of the bills on time. I even kicked a few dollars each pay period into my 401(k).
Yet, despite all of this, I was a financial disaster by the age of 25.
My Financial Wake-Up Call
The proverbial lightbulb moment finally happened when I realized that, although I had a well-paying job as a creative manager for a toy catalog in Columbus, Ohio, I didn’t have so much as $1,000 saved for a down payment on a car. I did, however, have seven credit cards with high balances, a closet full of clothes and designer handbags, and plenty of vacations under my belt.
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To get a better sense of the damage that I’d done, I added up all of my credit card balances—they totaled more than $15,000!—and then drafted a plan to pay each one off by prioritizing them from highest to lowest interest rates. I also created a spreadsheet detailing what I made each month, less my living expenses. Once I accounted for everything, I was left with just $80 a month to put toward my credit card debt—beyond the minimum payments that I was already making. Given that my debt was about half of what I earned in a year then, it was clear that I’d have to make some major lifestyle changes if I had any hope of resolving my debt.
Finally having that clarity was a great start, so I hung the sheet with my credit card balances on the refrigerator to serve as a constant reminder that I needed to pay off my debt—and to keep the fear of the beast I had created alive and well.