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Ashley’s Debt Story

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Note: This is the introduction post sent in by Ashley in her quest to be the next blogger for BAD. Please feel free to ask any questions and express your opinions in the comments below. You can find out more information about the blogger position here

Hi! I’m Ashley!

ashley

I grew up in a middle-class family in Austin, Texas. While my parents instilled in me the value of money and taught me the importance of saving, we never really had any discussions about debt. When I was 18 my mother urged me to open a credit card so I could start building my credit. But I always spent less than I earned and was careful to pay off the card in full every month.

Fast forward 4 years. It was 2007.

I had graduated from college and was accepted to a graduate school in Boca Raton, Florida. I had bought a brand new car (a Kia Spectra – nothing crazy) for a reasonable price and paid off the 5-year loan in a little over 2 years. By the time I moved to Florida I was 23 and had zero debt to my name – no car loan debt, no credit card debt, no student loan debt, nothing. Plus I had a couple thousand in my savings account and over $10,000 in money market funds (my entire life’s savings! Remember – my family instilled the importance of savings and I was always stashing money away, having worked from the time I was 15).

I arrived in Florida with no job, no prospect for getting a job (graduate school is full-time!) and nothing but high limit credit cards to get me through. I also had lots (LOTS!) of student loans, too.

To be fair, my husband Chris (then boyfriend) had moved with me too. He was lucky to find a job the first week there and started working immediately. But even though he made pretty decent money (in our 23-year-old minds, “pretty decent money” equated to $15/hour), southern Florida was $$$$$ compared to Austin. His income barely covered his half of the bills. I still needed loans to (a) pay my tuition, (b) buy books, and (c) cover living expenses, including my half of bills and groceries.

I got my Masters degree in 2 years. During that time I also managed to rack up over $70,000 of debt. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Tuition = approximately $1,000 per credit unit x 12 units per semester (24 per academic year) x 2 years = $48,000 just for tuition.
  • Living expenses = about another $10,000 for the two years.
  • Credit debt = about another $15,000 for the two years.

Clearly, this is where things really fell apart. I went from ZERO debt, to having my credit cards completely maxed out. In addition to my new debt, I had also drained my savings and depleted most of my money market account (I had about $2,000 remaining).

Some of my reckless spending included:

  • Multiple trips to Orlando
  • Trip to Key West
  • Trip to Europe (England, France, and The Netherlands)
  • A cruise out of Miami
  • Countless nights out with friends and trips to the beach

ashley beach

Okay, so while these are really, really dumb things to do when you have no money – I can chock those up to being 23 and having no idea how to handle all the credit I was given. These things didn’t feel reckless to me (though, clearly, they were)…they just felt like “living.” But there were a few other really, really dumb things I did during this time that even I could recognize were very poor financial decisions…

  • At one point Chris was in an accident and his car was totaled. I bought a used car….on a credit card. Yes. I paid $4,000 for a used Cadillac that lasted approximately 28 days until it died. Thankfully, there is a 30 day lemon law, so the dealership was legally obligated to fix it, but it was a lemon of a car. The problems continued and we only had the car for probably 5 months total before it was donezo. That $4,000 balance, however…..still on my credit card even now (6 years later).
  • But that’s not the only ridiculous thing we’ve paid for on credit. One January we didn’t have money for rent (because Christmas spending had been out of control), so we put our rent – $1200 – on a credit card.
  • To finance these disasters, I would play the balance transfer game. I’d get a new card with a fancy 0% introductory APR and transfer balances from other cards. Only….I was unable to pay off the new card, so when the introductory APR expired, I was now slammed with a 17.9% APR! Yikes!

I don’t know how things got so out-of-control so fast. In just the span of 2 years I went from zero debt and decent savings to no savings and loads of debt. I was constantly stressed about money, but I guess since I had no income I felt like there was no way to improve my situation, so I just said “screw it” and went on with my reckless spending.

In 2009 we moved to Tucson, Arizona to continue my graduate career, pursuing my Ph.D. I made the decision to switch schools and move cross-country because my new school offered tuition-reimbursement and a small living stipend (about $300/week for the 9 month academic year). The tuition reimbursement alone was enough to make the decision for me. We had no money for a U-Haul this time around (a cross-country move costs close to $2,000 for the U-haul alone, not including gas and moving supplies). So we left everything behind. We loaded up my Kia Spectra with whatever could fit, and vowed to start fresh in Arizona.

I knew something had to change. Getting to Tucson took everything we had left in our meager savings and money market accounts. When we arrived we were flat broke, credit maxed out, and had no new credit available to us. It was the poorest I’ve ever been, and a very scary time. We had absolutely no “safety net” in case of any emergencies.

Flash forward 5 years to present day.

I’m now 30 years old, Chris (now my husband) is 31, and we still have a LOT of debt. Along with the debt, we also have 19 month old twin girls to care for. And we had not been expecting the 2-for-1 baby special. Daycare costs are exorbitant, as are costs for diapering, clothing, and everything else that comes with having young children (e.g., frequent doctors’ trips, etc.).

ashley mom

We’ve had a few other set-backs life has thrown our way, too. An unexpected (and very costly) medical illness for Chris, needing to invite my brother-in-law to live with us for several months, and the fact that I graduated (in August 2013) and have still been unable to find full time employment (though I do have an income doing consulting work part-time). On top of that, my husband owns a small business (a flooring company), and his pay is variable. When there’s a lot of work he does pretty well, but we can never “count” on the next big paycheck because there’s no guarantee of anything.

But even with the curve balls and commission-based pay, we’ve finally really committed to tackling our debt. My number one goal is to pay off all of our credit debt (currently approximately $10,000). We also have other debt to eradicate, including an expensive car loan (new, larger car to accommodate the growing family), medical debt, and….the whole student loan situation, which is currently in deferment.

We have been renters my whole life (outside of living with my parents), and I would love nothing more than to own a home. But, at this point, I feel as though we need to improve our credit scores (mostly by paying down debt), and save up a large down payment instead of falling into the zero-down, high (or variable) interest interest trap that many first-time homebuyers succumb to.

So that’s where we are. I’m new to the debt-repayment game and could use all the advice I can get!

jeffrey

Jeffrey tries to remain in the back ground of this blog as much as possible and support the bloggers so that they can share their stories.

Latest posts by jeffrey (see all)


34 Comments

  • Reply danny |

    It’s nice to read your story and thank you for the photos. It’s always nice to put a face to the blogger. A few quick questions.

    1. With the variable pay and you not having a full time job, what is your normal monthly income and monthly expenses?
    2. Have you put a debt reduction plan into place?
    3. You mentioned that you credit card debt is the number one priority. How long do you think it will take to pay off that $10,000?

    Good luck to you!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Hi Danny!

      1. Our monthly income is approximately $5,000; our expenses total to approximately $4,000 (leaving about $1,000 for debt reduction and/or savings).
      2. I do have a “loose” debt reduction plan (like I said, I’m no expert and certainly open to advice/suggestions from those who know more/better than me). I’ve currently ranked debt from highest interest to lowest and am paying the most to the highest interest credit card and minimums to other, planning to snowball payments as I finish paying off cards.
      3. Given info in #1, I would anticipate being able to finish paying off cards in about a year if I really make them the priority over other forms of debt (and nothing unexpected comes up).

      • Reply danny |

        Thank you for taking the time to answer. You say “approximately” on income and expenses. Have you actually run the numbers over the last two months and know that this is where the numbers are coming in, or is the a guesstimate?

        • Reply Ashley |

          Hi Danny!
          I actually looked at the past 5 months before answering (I keep very detailed records of our income and expenses). I just used the word “approximately” since our income (and expenses, too) can vary from month-to-month. But this is about the average. I should also point out that when I said our income was $5,000 – that was take-home (net) pay, not gross.

  • Reply Mysti |

    Hi Ashley,

    I have twins as well (they will be 12 this year!)….it gets easier in some respects…so hang in there!

    Here are my questions:
    1) What is your Ph.D in, and was it necessary for your career choice, or would have your Master’s been enough?
    2) You said in 2009 that your credit card debt was $15,000, and is currently $10,000. In 5 years, you lowered it $5k…or about $1k a year? Was this because you continued to use it and have just been paying off more recent purchases? Also, is this all on one card, or is it spread across several accounts?
    3) How do you plan to keep up with the blogging schedule?

    Thanks!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Hi Mysti – thanks for the reassurance about the twins! The first year was TOUGH! : )

      In response to your questions….
      1. If I am able to land my “dream job” then, yes, a Ph.D. is required over a M.A. Basically, I want (and have been applying for) positions as an assistant professor. I could have taught adjunct with just a M.A., but that is not my hope or my goal. So far, however, I’ve had difficulty landing a “dream job”….and so I’ve been left doing things that really only require a M.A. Soooo, yeah.
      2. There has definitely been some fluctuation with my credit card debt. For the first couple years in Arizona I wasn’t really committed to paying down debt and we weren’t in a financial position to do so anyway. Once I started trying to pay down credit card debt, it always seemed like something would come up that caused me to have to use them again. Things have changed recently (since August 2013) now that I am no longer a student, am able to work more, and make a higher wage than what I made as a graduate student. We still don’t make a ton, but we make enough to consistently pay toward debt (instead of having months where we have to incur more debt). I could also tighten my belt in a few areas of spending (hopefully I can elaborate on this in future blog posts! *fingers crossed*)
      3. I currently have my daughters in daycare 3 days a week so I can work on my other work projects. I also have time available in evenings and during nap times and have a very flexible working schedule, which would allow me to blog regularly. I also blog already (a private family blog) as a hobby, so its something that I enjoy as a hobby anyway. Plus, I’m motivated to get out of debt (and can use advice/suggestions/encouragement from others), so -from a selfish perspective – I think blogging would really benefit me.

  • Reply J-415 |

    I read here a lot but don’t comment often. I have to say that out of the 2 people introduced so far I like Ashley best so I hope we get to see her featured on here.

  • Reply Tammy |

    You are so brave to put all this information out there. I truly hope you accomplish your goals of being debt free and buying a new home. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Jess |

    I like Ashley…she’s relatable to my current debt situation, so would like to hear more from her.

  • Reply Angella |

    I vote for Ashley. Her entire introduction kept me interested and I believe she’d have plenty to share with readers. I share some of the questions above, but particularly, how long do you think $10k will take to tackle?

    • Reply Ashley |

      Hi Angella! Thanks for your kind words! Right now we have about $1,000 extra per month to put toward debt and/or savings. Given that, I’ve estimated that it would take me approximately 1 year to pay off all of our credit cards if I am able to keep to the goal of paying off cards first, as opposed to other debt…which I’m open to for advice or suggestions from readers (hopefully I can talk more about our miscellaneous forms of debt and interest rates in future blog posts!) : )

  • Reply Diana |

    We are working on paying off a lot of debt as well. From a high of $61k to now right at $30k. It’s a long, tedious process and it doesn’t go away overnight. But you can do it. I follow some of Dave Ramsey’s principles (Bible based debt advice). And also Mary Hunt – you can find both of their books at the library. I especially liked Mary’s book Live Your Life for Half the Price. When I added up all our debt and saw the total, I got serious about couponing and controlling our grocery budget and eating out and that has really helped us in our paying off debt. If there was some way you could do your work without paying day care, that would really help too. Maybe only do your work while they are napping and your husband is home? Or make a friend with another mom of littles and do some trading of child care? I have always been home with my kids and got licensed to do in home child care when my girls were little. They are 12 and 14 now and I am still home but deciding what I want to do to make money that is flexible and not a real job. I walk some dogs in the neighborhood. And I just took an editing course online and would like to do editing freelance. Good luck in your endeavors.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Hi Diana!
      Thanks for the advice! I’ll definitely check those books out from the library (I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before because I LOVE the library, but I’ve never gotten debt books before!)
      Yeah, I have a couple things up my sleeve. First, a couple of avenues that could potentially increase our income. Second, a few ideas for spending less. Child care is a HUGE one! We do an in-home daycare with someone we know for WAY less than the “conventional rates” (literally half the price)….and yet its still $600/month. I’ve thought a lot about possibly scaling back to two days per week. I’d be really nervous about cutting back further, but its definitely something I should think about and seriously consider. I know there are LOTS of work-from-home moms that make it work…and that would free up a serious chunk of change for more debt-repayment!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Ha! Side note – I just checked out my library’s reserves and the first book to pop up under author Mary Hunt (obviously another author) was titled, “Good Sex: Feminist Perspectives.” Hmmmm……probably not so relevant to debt payoff, lol. (Don’t worry – I found the correct Mary Hunt, too)

  • Reply Jessie |

    I vote for Ashley. She is very relateable and I look forward to reading about her journey to be debt free.

  • Reply OC Budget |

    $10,000 in debt doesn’t seem like a huge tackle but thank you for sharing your story with us! I wish you & your family a debt free journey!

  • Reply Teri |

    Thanks for sharing your story–I think you would be very relatable and because you currently blog you have an idea of the job you’re getting yourself into!
    More personal finance bloggers to check out: Jean Chasky and Suze Ormon. I say you don’t need to subscribe to only 1 persons set of ideas, use a hybrid. My husband and I did that–Dave Ramsey/Suze Ormon….and paid off all of our debt in 3 years. (CC, Student Loan, etc.) While raising 3 kids and on 1 income. You can do it!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Wow! That is incredible!! I have serious debt-repayment envy! : )
      Thanks for the other tips – I know of Suze Ormon but hadn’t heard of Jean Chasky – I’ll definitely check her out!

  • Reply JayP |

    Good luck and hope to hear more of your story. I do hope your goal is to get rid of ALL that debt, and not just debt reduction to secure a home loan. If you do that, you’ll regret it eventually. Thanks!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Hey Jay!
      I definitely agree! My #1 goal is the credit card debt (which is primarily fueled by my interest in home-ownership), but I do want to eradicate all of the debt! The student loans are certainly the most daunting at this point (and, as I said – they’re currently in deferment, so I’m a little bit “head in the sand” about it right now). My fear is that it will take me so long to pay off the student loans (ummm…. potentially 10 years???) that its not really realistic to have that be a focus of the blog if I were to get a position blogging here. But who knows – I could get a full-time job, double our take-home pay, and then it could be more of a realistic goal. We’ll see where life takes us.

  • Reply Julene |

    Is your husband willing to have his life story (as far as debt goes) put out there for all to see also? Is he willing to be held accountable by the readers and be in the fish bowl too?

  • Reply Ashley |

    Hi Julene!
    We have talked about it a little and he was totally on-board (of course, he REALLY wants to get out of debt – most of which is mine). We have a very interesting financial relationship that I think is pretty unique compared to most couples that I know, but it works really well for us. I don’t want to get into it here (hopefully for a future blog post!?!?), but basically, I don’t think his life will change too much from the debt-payback process. It will certainly mean more of a tightening of MY belt rather than his (not that I’m necessarily more frivolous…we both have our spending weaknesses). I want to give you so much more information that really belongs in a full post, rather than a reply to a comment, but to give you the short answer – “Yes.” He’s on board and willing to be held accountable. : )

    • Reply Rachel |

      I’m interested in learning more about how you all have worked it out finanically between you and your husband.

      Interesting, and alarming! to me, when you say that his life won’t really be impacted by the debt payback process. What about in terms types of the food you all eat — cutting the grocery bill by eating less meat, for instance,— or in terms of him spending off hours from work as the primary care giver so that you can try and do more work for extra income?

      With the debt load it sounds like you have (those student loans must be a lot!) in addition to the credit cards, it sounds like the only way to really get on top of that is to work together. Would be interesting to learn what that ‘working together’ looks like.

  • Reply Benjamin Feldman |

    Hi Ashley, I just came across this blog today and I’m glad I did. It was interesting to read all the posts from the prospective new featured bloggers and I found your story particularly compelling. I think there are a lot of people like you who did the “right thing” by going to graduate school but wound up with a lot of student loan debt as a result of it. That trend, combined with the recent recession and high unemployment rate, has made it really hard for a lot of young people today. It will be great to read more of your story if you are chosen.

  • Reply Joe |

    Agree with the others, I am looking forward to following this journey most out of the three prospective bloggers so far. But bravo to all for putting yourselves out there!

  • Reply Kathleen |

    I vote for Ashley! I think her story, age, and life circumstances are very relatable to a lot of us who are working to get out of debt, and I really enjoy both her writing style and her candidness.

  • Reply andrew |

    My vote goes for Ashley for the next BAD blogger. She has the writing style and the debt-busting determination to do the job. Plus, I can’t wait to see how she gets rid of the $10K in debt. That’s what I am currently working on in student loans.

  • Reply Theresa |

    Maybe it is possible to include your Car, Credit card and medical debt in your journey here if you are picked and consider your student loan debt as a longer term debt (like a mortgage). I hope you are picked Ashley!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Definitely! All of it would have to be considered (since there are obviously payments due to the other debts, too). If I were selected I wouldn’t be opposed to continuing blogging until all the debts (minus the student loan) were gone. That would change my time-frame a bit (my goal is to eradicate the cc debt in 1 year, but I haven’t crunched the numbers to see how long everything else will take), but I’m open to it.

So, what do you think ?