I’m currently reading the book, How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously, which is based on the principles of Debtors Anonymous. Yesterday I read a portion that seeks to help people identify the personality traits that have made them vulnerable to debt. For example, there are people who buy things because they believe they deserve them, people who buy things to comfort themselves, and and people who buy things to maintain a certain image. There are many more “types” covered in the book, but none of them really fit well with me. As a result, I found myself wondering how I managed to accumulate so much debt. Sure, there are the practical considerations that I considered here, but what made me think this was a reasonable path for our family?
My parents are both extremely frugal and major savers. They paid for two children’s private college educations completely, including prepaying all four years of tuition at the beginning of my first year, in order to avoid tuition rate increases in the following three years. When I was growing up, we didn’t eat out very often, and when we did, we never ordered drinks, appetizers, or dessert. It wasn’t until I went to college and went out to eat with friends that I really understood that this was an option! My parents always pay cash for cars, and they NEVER carried a credit card balance. And while I wouldn’t say that they really gave us learning opportunities about money, they heavily indoctrinated us in living below one’s means, eschewing brand names, and living without many things.
So how did I end up allowing myself to accumulate over $50,000 in credit card debt? (It pains me every time I type that number!) I think I made the classic mistake of expecting a certain lifestyle, even when the funds weren’t available to support it. I grew up with a successful, professional father and a SAHM mother, went to a private college, and all of my friends were also on a professional track. As a result, I had and still have many financially successful friends, whose lifestyles are what I want for myself. (Let’s set aside the fact that some of them may also secretly be in debt.) I believe that I have allowed myself to get so carried away with having the same things and lifestyle for myself, that I lost track of whether or not I could really afford it. And not only that, but I didn’t stop to think about how the debt would impact our family until it was really huge.