4 Critical Mistakes That Led To Nearly $40,000 in Credit Card Debt (And How We’re Paying It Off!!)
After finally paying off nearly $20,000 dollars in credit card debt in March 2018, we were determined to never let ourselves get into such crippling debt ever again.
Little did we know what the future would bring (and the mistakes we would make!)
Though we were able to pay off $20,000 of credit card debt in just 6 short months, we made several critical mistakes that led to us going back into credit card debt a second time.
What’s worse is that we ended up nearly doubling the amount of debt we had in the first place.
Read below to discover the four critical mistakes we made that led to us being nearly $40,000 in credit card debt.
Mistake Number 1?
Not Creating An Emergency Fund
It absolutely sucked to have nearly $20,000 of credit card debt.
But you know what sucked even more?
Not having an emergency fund.
Here’s the thing.
That credit card debt wasn’t going anywhere…
But you know what was?
And all it’s unexpected curveballs.
In hindsight, we should have chosen to spend those first 6 months of our marriage creating an emergency fund consisting of 3-6 months worth of expenses. We easily could’ve paid the credit card minimums until our savings account was fully funded and then started aggressively paying back the debt itself.
Even if we had even been able to create an emergency fund consisting of 2-3 months worth of expenses, it would have been much better than not having an emergency fund at all.
Emergency funds have been touted for years.
Financial expert Dave Ramsey created the famous 7 Baby Steps on managing your money, and two of his steps includes creating an Emergency fund.
His first Baby Step outlines the importance of saving $1,000 for your Starter Emergency Fund. His second Baby Step is to pay off all debt (except your home,) and his third Baby Step is to save 3-6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund.
While I agree that saving $1,000 for a starter emergency fund is an excellent idea, it certainly was not enough to save us from going back into credit card debt.
By the time we were married, my husband DJ and I had amassed nearly $20,000 of credit card debt. It took us six months, but by March 2018 we finally paid it all off!!
However, by the end of May 2018, I was hospitalized for a severe manic episode and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I was strongly encouraged to take a medical leave of absence, so I resigned from my job and stayed at home for the next 6 months. You can read more about my journey by clicking here.
50% of our income was gone in the blink of an eye and our savings account barely kept us afloat for about a month before we ran out of money.
If we would have had an emergency fund of even 3 months worth of expenses, we would have saved ourselves thousands of dollars of debt that we ended up having to put on our credit cards due to not being able to meet our monthly expenses.
Mistake Number 2?
Using our savings account to finish paying off our original credit card debt
During our final month of paying off our initial $20,000 of credit card debt, we borrowed several thousand dollars from our savings account to pay off the last couple thousand of debt that we promised ourselves we’d pay back.
Problem was, we never had the chance. Due to my hospitalization in May and resigning from my job in June, half our income was suddenly gone, leaving us with barely enough to cover the bills.
By Spring of 2018, DJ and I had decided we were going to move to Tampa, Florida in the Fall of 2018. DJ gave his notice by mid-August, and we were set to move by the end of September.
Here’s where our 3rd mistake comes in.
Going on a vacation we entirely could not afford.
Having found amazing deals for flights from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Honolulu, Hawaii a few months prior, we decided to take a two week vacation to Hawaii to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary in September 2018.
Convincing ourselves that the flights we found were just too good to pass up, we decided to book the vacation with the understanding that we’d stay with a good pair of friends for part of the trip.
We knew we’d have to pay for accommodations for the rest of the trip, not to mention food, a rental car, entertainment, souvenirs, etc., but we convinced ourselves it was a good idea.
(I will say this…when we originally booked the trip, we had no idea I’d get sick and resign from my job in the months to follow. We would have been able to afford the vacation if we both had still been working. It was our decision to forge ahead and go on vacation despite our inability to afford it that was unwise.)
I’ll never forget a few weeks before the trip when DJ began to express his doubts about our vacation. “Maybe we shouldn’t go…” he’d say gently.
I wouldn’t have it.
After having gone through so much with my health, receiving a devastating diagnosis, and being bored out of my mind at home for the past several months, I was convinced going on this vacation would be a great idea.
Don’t get me wrong, Hawaii was amazing!
It was absolutely gorgeous and we enjoyed the time we spent on the islands of Oahu and Maui.
However, that trip was entirely on credit.
Credit we couldn’t afford, that is.
And Hawaii is notoriously expensive.
Every swipe was painful.
But we had no choice once we were there. We even tried to go grocery shopping to cut costs on eating out, but a loaf of bread was $8.00!
To this day, we still don’t know exactly how much we spent in Hawaii while on that vacation.
If I were to guess, I’d say we easily spent at least a thousand, likely more. To be honest, we were way too depressed to calculate the costs and figured we’d just deal with it later. (Not a great way to handle finances, that’s for sure)
And if all those mistakes weren’t enough, cue mistake number four.
Signing up for an expensive online business course
Was the course incredible?
Was it going to give us the results we wanted?
However, we simply could not afford it. Like, at all.
So what did we do?
Why, open up a new credit card, of course!
You’re probably staring at your screen right now like what the %$#@ is wrong with these people…
But, to say you live and you learn is an understatement. This is a reflection on the mistakes we have made, and trust me, it’s safe to say, we have learned. from. them.
To top it all off, it took us several months to find jobs and both begin working once we moved to Florida in the Fall of 2018.
This meant we went several months charging ALL of our monthly expenses to our credit cards because we had zero income coming in.
So, there you go.
The following four critical mistakes, an unexpected diagnosis, and several months of unemployment are what led us to having nearly $40,000 in credit card debt.
1. Not Creating An Emergency Fund
2. Using Our Savings Account to Pay Off Our Debt
3. Going on a Vacation We Could Not Afford
4. Signing Up For An Online Business Course We Could Not Afford
Did we make some unwise decisions?
Was life unfair?
Would we change things if we could?
But alas, here we are…
The choices have been made..
It’s our responsibility to take ownership and get ourselves back on track.
Now the real question is, how are we paying it all off??
We’ve decided to implement the Debt Avalanche technique to pay off our credit card debt.
With the Debt Avalanche approach, the focus is on paying off the credit card balances and loans with the highest interest rates first. The goal is to reduce the total amount of interest you end up paying over the course of your debt.
On the other hand, the Debt Snowball method focuses on paying off your debts in order of size, from smallest to largest.
We decided to use the Debt Avalanche approach to pay off our debt because we wanted to save as much money possible while repaying it.
We currently have three credit cards through Chase, one Sapphire Preferred and two Freedom Unlimited.
Since deciding on the Debt Avalanche approach, we’ve chosen to pay down the balance on our Sapphire Preferred card first, since it has the highest interest rate at 17.99%.
We first began paying off our Sapphire Preferred card in the middle of May 2019. At its peak, the balance was about $13,500. (As of August 2019, the balance on that card is $0! It took us about 3 ½ months, but we did it! )
Now onto the next!
The only reason we’ve been able to be so aggressive with paying off our credit card debt is because DJ and I both pursued (and landed!) jobs that paid us significantly more money as Travel Physical Therapists.
However, it required sacrifice on our end.
In fact, we moved out of the state for work because there was no way we would have been able to pay off our credit card debt as quickly if we would have stayed in Florida due to the average low pay for Physical Therapists.
In the end, we are so happy we made the sacrifice of moving to an unfamiliar area in order to set ourselves up financially.
Don’t be afraid to make sacrifices to follow your dreams and goals!
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