What I Learned From Years Of Being In Debt

Money and finances have always been a sore subject for me. Ever since accumulating a lot of debt from student loans when I went to college, I started to view money very differently than I had before. I saw it more as a concept rather than a practical reality. It was something I would be making one day, as I was a very poor college student. I took out the loans because I was told to, and I honestly didn’t really understand the gravity of what that meant as a barely 18-year-old. I wasn’t mature or responsible enough to understand money at that age because I hadn’t been taught about it. I was just told to take out the loan — everyone else was doing it and I needed to get my degree.

Well, life happened. A lot of trauma and change occurred during the years that followed my early college days. I eventually accumulated a massive amount of credit card debt to accompany those student loans. Things were not looking good for me financially.

I still struggle with my finances, and it is something I have to work on every single day. I had an addiction to spending that I didn’t even realize was there. I just bought things I wanted without actually weighing the costs and benefits of buying them. I didn’t save any money to pay off my loans or to pay for the future. I was living in a state of fight, flight, or freeze mode for so long that it wasn’t an issue I felt capable of conquering at the time.

Now that I am in a bit of a better place, I can see that had I just tackled my finances early on and made it a priority in life, I wouldn’t be in the situation I am currently in, paying off loans from years ago and continuing paying off credit card debt with no savings. I hadn’t been taught about financial literacy and was very un-resourced in that area of my life. As a result, it caused me to be very ungrounded and unstable in other areas of my life, because having enough money to survive is the number one thing we should be focusing on in terms of self-care.

I started keeping a budget so that I know where my money is going and where I want it to go each month. Once I started looking at it from a more logical perspective instead of avoiding it out of fear and thinking about money in a more holistic and practical way — as a currency to get me where I want to go rather than as a concept — my anxiety began to calm down a bit. Even just having a budget in front of me and a plan about where my money would go was enough. It didn’t need to be perfect, and as I said, it’s still a work in progress. I am working to break a bad habit that happened to be a lot more important than I ever emphasized before.

In the past, I was largely asleep when it came to money. We will likely mimic the way that our parents managed their own money. My father happened to be very poor at managing his money, especially after he lost a lot of it during the 2007 financial and real estate market crash. He’s a lawyer and he makes a good amount of money, but he’s in a lot of debt because I think he sees money in this conceptual way as well. Like him, I took a job out of college and just spent money without having a real plan for it. It seemed to work for me at the time, but really, as I woke up to the error of my past ways, I realized it wasn’t working.

To manage money, you need to have more of a plan and a strategy. It’s a basic skill that we unfortunately do not learn in school, but it is one that is vital to our survival if we are going to be capable and intelligent human adults.