Debt Quicksand: The Price of YOLO

This is something that I've been wanting- no, needing- to talk about for a long time, but it's not a pretty subject. I have a lot to say about this (in fact, there'll probably be a series coming soon), so get ready.

The whole idea behind this blog is revealed in its name: Life Is For Living. I started this blog after getting fed up with myself and my self-inflicted miserable existence. At 240 pounds, single, working at a job I hated, living with my parents, and paying Sallie Mae month after month for a degree I didn't even get to finish...I was miserable. There were so many things I wanted to try, places I wanted to visit, and experiences I'd let myself miss out on. In all areas of life, I was impossibly far from the person I wanted to be.

And one day, in the summer of 2012, something inside me caught fire. I doubt this one moment is entirely responsible for igniting the flame inside me that summer, but I clearly recall being sprawled out on the couch, having a snack as I watched TV, when a commercial featuring Sally Field came on. I wasn't really paying attention; it was a commercial for an osteoporosis drug, after all. But something she said jumped out at me and hit me, hard:

That was it. That was all I heard. As silly as it sounds, this one phrase in a random osteoporosis commercial changed my perspective on life. And hey, doesn't that phrase sound oddly like that obnoxious mantra all the kids are using these days? You know, this one:

It's essentially the same message as Sally's. You only live once. This life? This body? This is all I'm going to get (at least outside of Heaven, anyway). Your life and your body? That's it for you. 

That realization can be painful. But it can also incite positive action, like it did with me. I got off the couch and made some goals. I made a list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to go. I wrote what I wanted to weigh and how many miles I would like to be able to run someday. And then, I took my new goals and got busy.


In order to accomplish a good number of my goals, I also needed a little something called money

See, lack of funds was a big part of the reason I wasn't doing things I wanted to do. I made $10 an hour at my crappy job. I had a car payment and a pile of student loan debt. Instead of letting the YOLO wake-up call inspire me to budget and save money so I could do all the things I wanted to do in the near future, I started swiping my credit card so I could do those things now. 

Like so many others out there, I let the YOLO mentality override my better judgment, and I told myself I was entitled to things I could not afford at the time. 

I wanted to see the Parthenon in Nashville. To tour the Biltmore in North Carolina. To visit the historic cobblestone streets of Savannah, Georgia. To go to Disney World. So I did. While these were amazing experiences that made me feel alive again, I went about them the wrong way. I racked up credit card debt in no time and actually ended up opening a second credit card. 

And it wasn't just the travel expenses that put me in a bind. It was the little things- even positive, beneficial things- that added up. Cute dresses that made me feel good about myself. Target mini-sprees as a reward for working out. Regular $25 5K registration fees on top of a $46 monthly gym membership. $100 running shoes. Again, all great, wonderful things, but I couldn't afford them. 

Now, of course we should all set goals and aspire to do things that make us happy. After all, life is for living, not merely existing. But when we use credit cards to attain that happiness, without the ability or intent to pay them off right away, we are only making life more difficult for ourselves down the road. 

This is a real issue with the YOLO movement, and well, with modern society in general. Everything is focused on the now. Do what you want now. Go where you want to go now. But now isn't always the best time. 

That's hard to realize when it appears that everyone else is able to afford to do the things you want to do right now. Comparison will get you down every time. It certainly lured me into trouble. Usually because of Facebook, I saw people my age who were flying to New York, California, even Europe, and heck, if they were doing it, why couldn't I do it, too? (Though looking back, I'm pretty sure those same people either had help from their parents or are now finding themselves up to their necks in debt quicksand.)

Even now, after learning about Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace University, and the Cash Envelope System, I get jealous and frustrated and am tempted to make bad decisions when I compare my husband and myself to other couples our age. They have a house. They have a brand new 5-piece bedroom set. They eat out several nights a week. They have decorative throw pillows. Why are we so stinking poor???

The truth is, almost all twenty-somethings are poor. Bank loans and credit cards just give them- and us- the illusion of wealth. Pretty much everyone is simply living beyond their means. 

And I'm as guilty as anyone. I let Sally Field, her YOLO message, and comparing myself to others control my wallet, and today, despite more careful spending and saving over the last year or so, my husband and I have a combined total debt of over $70,000. Of that heart-sinking sum, over $6,000 is credit card debt, and most of it is from making poor decisions.

You have no idea how much it hurts to type those numbers. It physically hurts. My stomach is in a tight, painful knot right now. To see those words out in the open for everyone to just hurts.

The despair is unavoidable when you force yourself to stop and face the actual numbers. When your debt stares you in the face, it does feel like quicksand. 

But you can climb out.

That's the most recent goal I've set: to become debt-free. A few nights ago, Matt and I sat down with our computers and started looking up the actual outstanding balances on all our debts. We listed all of these debts in an Excel spreadsheet (yay for spreadsheets!) and totaled it up to that $70,000+ jaw-dropping amount. After a lot of dejected sighs and staring helplessly at each other, we resolved to change things. We got to work on a monthly budget and made plans to implement the Cash Envelope System and the Debt Snowball Plan, both of which I'll be sharing more on soon. 

Though it's hard to face the facts about your debt and admit that your own selfishness and impatience has pulled you into quicksand, there is hope. You can always make the choice to change your lifestyle habits, and those changes can lead to incredible results if you stick with them long enough.

Do any of you find yourselves in a similar situation? Has the YOLO movement caused you to make poor decisions? Do you want to share your own struggles with overcoming debt? I'd love to hear any advice about becoming debt-free, so please share in the comments. 


Jessica said...

You know that I have allowed myself to get into credit card debt. Mine is not nearly as staggering a number, thankfully because I don't have loans to pay. But I do have all the trips and unnecessary merchandise bills...and my credit card has a high interest rate. I really want to climb out of this pit and be debt free by the time I'm 25...but uhhh, that's getting really close. So maybe 26. haha. I want to hear more about the cash envelope system. You should do a series!

Lacey said...

Hey, the first step is admitting you have a problem, right?! But really, I think it's good that you are getting a handle on this now. You are not someone who gives up -- that is evident from your weight loss journey! You and Matt totally have it in you to make it out of this. I've heard amazing things about the Dave Ramsey methods, I am so curious to hear how those will be working for you guys!

My parents instilled a deep fear of debt in me from childhood. Money was always a struggle for my parents, I blame us kids because there's six of us, lol. But they didn't necessarily teach me how to handle the money I did earn. I kind of figured it all out myself and somehow managed to attend school without a single penny of debt. I don't say that to brag because there's a bad side of it too -- I, like a LOT of human beings on this planet -- am too focused on money. I think we have to use it wisely but even people who don't have debt can let money steer their decisions. I'm so guilty of that and I definitely spend too much time worrying about it.

Laura Darling said...

We've been paying off our debt too and it is so depressing at first. Especially when you're paying for things you used/did months ago. So frustrating. But you will get through it, I'm sure! Sounds like you're so motivated! Good luck and keep us posted!

Anna Marie said...

You can kind of think about getting out of debt the same way as weight loss. It's no fun, it's easy to "relapse", and it feels like it takes forever. To succeed at getting out of debt or losing weight takes an entire lifestyle change. Just keep yourself going in the right direction and you'll succeed, just like you did with your health!

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