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 mid-20s 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.
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.