When Bianca Osbourne* went away to college, she had a lot of new experiences to acclimate to: living on her own, exploring a new city … and opening up her first credit card.
As soon as she turned 18, she was inundated with card offers and started spending like crazy—her parents had always supported her financially, and she was in the dark about managing money. It wasn’t until she graduated from university that her dire financial situation (the debt reached $15,000 at its peak) hit her. “I remember waking up one morning, realizing just how much I owed, and asking myself, ‘How did I get here?’” says Osbourne.
Overwhelmed and uncertain how to begin tackling the debt, she pushed it out of her mind, moved back in with her parents, and attended culinary school (funded by them). Once she finished her degree, at age 25, she finally committed to getting debt-free. She signed up for a credit-counseling program aimed at helping people in debt organize their money and pay their bills, and funneled between $140 to $250 a month into payments.
“In the beginning, paying off the debt felt exhilarating because I was confronting the situation and acting on it,” she recalls. “Then it got frustrating—I had started my own business as a chef and nutrition consultant and it started to really excel, but being in debt was limiting because I couldn’t apply for loans or a credit card.”
Two and a half years later, she could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Great news, right? After all, this was what she’d been waiting for and working toward. But instead of being excited, Osbourne was nervous. “I was afraid that I would end up in debt all over again,” she says.
She also felt tremendous pressure to succeed in her professional life once she was debt-free. “Now I’d have nothing but myself to blame for not being able to accomplish something,” she explains. “Before, if I couldn’t add an aspect to my business or go on vacation, I could pin it on the fact that I was broke. Now I’d have to step it up. My grace period was reaching a close, and I thought that people were going to expect leaps and bounds from me.”
It’s a surprisingly common position to be in: You finally achieve the impossible (or at least what seemed impossible for a long time) and become debt-free, but instead of feeling financially empowered, you have a deer-in-the-headlights episode. You’re so accustomed to being in debt that you don’t quite know what to do without it.