Digging Out of Debt: Poor Attitude [Part 1]

Part 1 – Poor Attitude: My early money blunders (Now Reading)

Part 2 – The Pit: How I got myself into the financial hole

Part 3 – Treading Water: 2.5 Years of No Progress

Part 4 – Fire Under My Ass: The wake-up call 

Part 5 – The Final Push: How I finally dug out, and what I’m doing to stay in the black.

This is a series of articles explaining how I personally got myself nearly $20k into debt over the course of 4 years, and then out in just under 2.  For the next week, I’ll post one article a day going through one particular phase of the process, and either how I screwed myself over, or how I started on the road to recovery.

Everyone and their brother is seemingly just now waking up to the reality that if you spend more than you earn, that it’s a bad thing and can get you into a lot of trouble.  Mortgages, credit cards and a general disregard for savings have put a lot of Americans into a bad financial spot.

Me included.

Over the last decade, I’ve gone from having no debt, to being $10k in the black, to nearly $20k in the hole and just now finally digging myself out.

A lot of people will say they screwed themselves over with big-ticket items, ridiculously overpriced housing, new cars, exotic trips etc.  In my case though it was death by a thousand tiny cuts.  Sure, there were a few large costs (computers I didn’t need, an expensive spur-of-the-moment job change and move), but for the most part, I blew through $30k in 4 years through a lot of really terrible little decisions.

Before detailing out every mistake I’ve made, and what I’m doing now to fix it all, it’s important to know a bit about my fiscal background and my early attitudes on money. 

Unlike some who have poor money management skills because they came from either an extremely rich or an extremely poor family, I grew up solidly middle-class.  My parents though were savers.  For most of my life growing up we never went on vacations, we rarely had the expensive toys at birthdays or Christmas.  We never went without what we needed, and always had at least a little bit to keep us comfortable, but every major purchase was deferred until there was cash on-hand to pay for it.  Credit cards were avoided.  Everything major was planned for and budgeted years in advance. 

You’d think that growing up in an environment that so strongly focused on being responsible with money, that I’d have taken some of that away myself.  Nope.  From as far back as I can remember, if I had any money, it burned a hole in my pocket.  $1 or $50, it didn’t matter.  As soon as I had any cash I bought the first thing I could with it, even if I really wanted something more expensive I’d take the cheap immediate thing over saving for the big item.

Despite my parents best efforts, they were never able to really change my attitude on money. 

As soon as I was old enough, I had to hold part-time jobs to fund my non-essential purchases entirely.  I think the expectation was that once it was money I earned myself, I’d be more careful with the cash.  Nope.

While I was incredibly irresponsible with my money, my parents had been exceedingly smart with theirs, and through their savings and a nice discount from my dad being a professor, 4 years of college was paid for without a single loan.  In fact, when I graduated, I received $10k as my start-up fund.  It was part of what was left of my grandparents finances after they had passed away several years before.  The idea was to get me setup wherever I moved to so I could always be on sure financial footing and never have to worry about debt in a serious way.

Sadly, that didn’t do much to save me from my own bad habits and attitudes…