My Love Affair with Debt (We’re Breaking Up)

You all know that I have debt. What you don’t know is how it came about. This post was not an easy one to write, and I am sure some of you will judge me. It’s okay. I am not perfect. I am just a girl who struggled to understand money and spent years in financial denial. I am now recovering from my old financial habits, learning to appreciate every hard-earned penny and building a brighter financial future. Penny by penny.

I grew up in a nice house and was sent to a good school. My parents were not rich, but they earned a good living. My father made a career in construction and my mother was a stay-at-home-Mum looking after us kids until I was 10. Since both of my parents had good jobs, they could afford to buy us kids nice things, pay for private tutors, invest in a summer house for our summer vacations and take us on holidays abroad. My parents divorced when I was 14 and my father moved to a different country, so I have my Mum to thank for everything she has done for us since then. She worked hard to ensure we received a good education and had what we needed.

Whether my Mum was busy building a successful career, or simply did not find this relevant (I was born in Estonia during the Soviet times where the word “borrowing” was non-existent and the word “bank” a foreign concept), we never really had “the money talk”. You know, the sort of conversation where your parents sit you down and explain the importance of money. Perhaps, not even sit you down, but mention every now and again the importance of saving. I never had a piggy bank to save my coins for something that I really wanted, and if there was something that I wanted, my Mum would normally get it for me. Don’t get me wrong, she wouldn’t buy us every single thing that we laid our eyes on, but we were privileged to own nice things. It is worth mentioning that my parents have never had any sort of debt (to this day my Mum does not own a credit card). Everything my family has ever had was purchased in cash. There was enough cash, but it was hard-earned.

I am not sure what went wrong and perhaps this is something worth digging deeper into, but I took out a loan when the first opportunity presented itself. It was a student loan that I took out when I was 18, but… and here is the shocking part… I did not need to take it out as I was one of only four lucky students in my year who got their education funded by the government (how? you had to be a genius at school). Despite this fact, they were offering a low-interest loan and without thinking twice I took it out (not a genius after all?). In my defence, the principal amount of my loan was £3,000 (I took it out one time when I first started Uni), it was at 5% APR and I spent half of this money to get my driving licence. You guessed it, the rest was spent on expensive restaurants, clothes and makeup. I was not a party girl until I turned 25 (and that only lasted for about a year) so I wasn’t spending anything on partying as I was simply not into all that. I was into brands, though. Expensive brands. Perhaps, I wanted to keep up with all my friends back in the day who used to splash their cash on gorgeous Chanel bags and shiny Dior lip glosses. I would never ask my Mum for these things since I was not a child anymore and was supposed to earn my own living, but the reality was I was not making enough cash to afford all the beautiful things that I thought I needed.

When I was about to finish university, my Mum helped me buy an apartment. She made a down payment on my flat which I paid her back within two years. This was the promise I made and I could never go back on that promise or any promise made to my Mum for that matter. The most valuable lesson that I learnt from this was always to pay back on time as promised, always; which is why I have never missed a payment in my life. Unfortunately, this has not changed the fact that I had zero knowledge on how to handle money that was coming in, and I wanted things that I could not afford, and I wanted them now.

I wanted a car and to fund it I took out a car loan. This was not any car, this was a brand new shiny vehicle and it was custom made. All my friends had new shiny cars that were financed, so I figured there was nothing wrong with taking out a car loan.  My car wasn’t an expensive make (by no means Mercedes or BMW, although I do remember spending quite some time at the Mercedes dealership *cringe*), but still it cost around £10,000 back in the day. I paid it in full in 3 years and sold it after driving it for a total of 4 years.

There was another car after that, and this purchase I am still paying for now. I wasn’t going to buy a brand new car this time around and I settled for a second-hand car that I paid around £4,000 for. By “paid” I mean “took out a loan to fund the purchase”. I don’t own this car any longer but I am still paying for it.

My other big expense that I am still paying for now was my cosmetic dental surgery 2 years ago. I am not going to go into too much detail as really, who wants to hear about someone else’s dental issues? Let’s just say they were working on my smile for nearly a year and ended up costing me around £5,000. The money I did not have and had no desire to save, instead I went to the bank to ask for it because I wanted beautiful white teeth now!

The rest? The rest is on my credit card and this is the cash I spent along the way. Mostly, on things like expensive restaurants, clothes and makeup. The only cash that is due back to me (which technically means my current total debt figure is £11,495 and not £12,495 as I state) is £1,000 deposit that I paid when I moved into my current flat. Yep, I borrowed this money as I was unable unwilling to save.

At the very peak, my total debt figure was £13,830 (yes, this was my original debt that I started to pay off just under 4 months ago, in May 2013). The funny thing happened. On my return from my holiday in Spain where I spent all my cash, I got up in the morning and realised how tired I was living from paycheck to paycheck. Somehow, this thought had not previously crossed my mind. I was making payments religiously but I just wished my debt was gone. Once and for all. Forever.

Years of bad financial decisions. Years of poor money management. Years of throwing money down the drain in interest charges. Just over 10 years being in and out of debt. Wow, this one hurts. It was time to open my eyes and smell the coffee. Unlike my parents who have never been in debt and could actually afford the lifestyle they were living, I was paying for this lifestyle with my bank’s money. The money that I still owe (well, some of it) plus interest. I can’t say that all this cash had gone down the drain, I did get some use out of it, but there is nothing to be proud of. I didn’t save this money, I simply borrowed and paid back with interest later. I call this stupidity, and I have no one but myself to blame. We make our own choices, and clearly I made all the wrong ones. Now that I’ve finally taken my pink Prada sunglasses off (better late than never, right?), I am serious about learning how to successfully manage my money and how to make the most of my money. I made a promise to myself (and my Mum, and you know what this means: I cannot ever break this promise), that once this mess is over and I have paid my debt in full, I will do everything in my power to never allow for anything like this to happen again. Ever. This girl’s financial future is bright and from now on it is all about growing money.

We may have not had money discussions at home, but my Mum taught us one thing that I am overly grateful for: in life do not count on anyone but yourself. This is how I turned out to be a very independent girl. My Mum did not have to support me financially through my university years and ever since then. I do not count on her to bail me out, I never have. I only count on myself, and I am more than capable of sorting this mess out on my own, and this is exactly what I am doing. I think one day this is something I can actually be proud of. I am grateful to my parents and my wonderful Mum in particular for the truly magical childhood we have had and all the beautiful memories we have created. I can only hope that one day I can gift a similar childhood to my children that I earn through my hard work. Earn. Penny by penny. Like my parents did. But you betcha, my children will have regular financial lessons that I hope they can benefit from. Starting early.

Curious facts: 2 years ago I spent my Christmas bonus to fund one year of law school (every single penny of it). I remember being torn (I could’ve spent it on a very expensive handbag or a few pairs of very expensive shoes), but I did the right thing. Also, I have never used a credit card to pay for my travels (somehow, this was the only thing I could actually save for). Maybe, after all, there’s hope for me.

What’s your story?

My Love Affair with Debt - We're Breaking Up - Girl Counting Pennies

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23 Comments

  1. Eva thank you for laying out your story here for everyone to read – hopefully by reflecting on decisions that you made, other people in debt can benefit from your experience. You can rest assured that I for one will not be judging you. I never had conversations about money with my parents either and they never had debt (and weren’t wealthy at all). I think it’s so important to educate our children as best we can. You’re doing a great job with tackling your debt and I’m still in awe of you living on £100 per month in London of all places!
    debtfreeoneday recently posted…How to survive buying gifts for others when paying back debt!My Profile

    1. Thanks so much for your support! It wasn’t easy to write or publish my story. I just hope you guys understand, not many people would understand. In fact, I don’t think I understand it myself! I think I need to get to the bottom of it. According to the book that I’m reading now (I will share more soon), there’s always a reason why we behave in a certain why… and there’s a reason why people get into debt, and it’s often psychological. I think I may be a bit scared to start digging, you never know what you might find, lol! Thanks again, I really appreciate your kind words!
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…My Love Affair with Debt (We’re Breaking Up)My Profile

  2. Thanks for sharing your story with us Eva! It’s not always easy to come to terms with what we did in the past, but you are taking responsibility for it now and that’s all that matters. We all have our own version of being reckless or careless or going into debt…mine pretty much involved spending on what I wanted rather than saving for it too. Oh I don’t even want to think about the interest I paid over the years. Just money wasted! Anyway, glad to follow your journey!
    Budget and the Beach recently posted…Why I stopped looking for a full time jobMy Profile

    1. Thanks for understanding, Tonya. I agree, I am taking responsibility and that’s what matters. I won’t be out of debt for a while, but somehow I feel much happier to be in a place where I am now. I know what you mean about spending on what you wanted, that’s exactly what I was doing. Luckily, not everything was a complete waste, I think this makes me sleep better at night 😛
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…My Love Affair with Debt (We’re Breaking Up)My Profile

  3. That was a smashing background story Eva 🙂 I wouldn’t be ashamed of any part of it. We’ve all unnecessarily borrowed and spent money at one point of our lives or another. I went into $2000 of debt to buy a memorabilia earlier this year. Your cosmetic surgery is actually a smart decision because people with better smiles statistically make more money. I wrote a post in November 2012, about beauty discrimination and how attractive people make £160,000 more than others over a lifetime, so your £5000 cost might have been one of the best investments you could have ever made 😀 It’s interesting you brought up student loans too. I just published a somewhat sarcastic blog post earlier today about why nobody should feel bad about taking out student loans and having a good time 😉
    Liquid recently posted…Go With The Flow – Student Loan DebtMy Profile

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the story 😛 It wasn’t an easy one to either write or publish, and to see it out there… suddenly so real. Thanks for understanding, it means a lot to me. I never knew that people with better smiles statistically made more money, I have to admit it cheered me up! I think as from tomorrow I will start smiling even more and perhaps I’ll get a promotion soon, lol! I will make sure I check out your post 😛 At 5% APR a student loan is probably the lesser of all evils.
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…My Love Affair with Debt (We’re Breaking Up)My Profile

  4. Great honest and open post Eva.

    It is amazing how many people who have a priveleged upbring go on to be really not great with money, specifically in their early twenties.

    My parents really weren’t well off. They moved from the south of England further North, as they couldn’t afford to live in the South.

    But, they managed their money extremely well! They made sure that my brother and I didn’t go without the things we needed (or in fact those things that we REALLY wanted).

    They also taught us, almost daily, the true importance of treating the money that you do have well.

    Many of my friends who are good with money come from a similar background. Many who are in debt come from a more privileged (not rich, just more priveledged) background. I don’t think that you are alone.

    I also love the style of this post – have you ever read “dear debt” blog? Its in a very similar style to your headline (love letters written to debt). Check it out.
    moneystepper.com recently posted…Attitude to money – the three second testMy Profile

    1. Thank you so much Graham!

      I think that perhaps when I got to the age of 18 (and supposedly became an adult), I wanted to be like my mother. I always looked up to her and wanted to be as successful. I also wanted to earn good money like she did, and then “pay back” to show appreciation for everything she had ever done for me. So, apart from buying things for myself, I was buying things for her (things I couldn’t really afford to buy as I wasn’t earning that much). Perhaps to say “Look, I’m successful too, you can now be proud of me”. Oh dear. The more I think about it, the more depressed I get. I never needed to prove anything to my parents. They are my parents, they will always love me no matter what and they are proud of me anyway. So really, I’m not sure what I was trying to prove. Damn that PF book I’m reading, it says you have to dig deeper and understand why you got into debt in the first place and resolve this issue. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. Perhaps I was simply used to nice things and wanted more of those, and being an adult I was now supposed to provide for myself. You want something, you go and get it. I went the wrong way.

      That’s really great that your parents taught you the importance of money. I think it is important for the child to understand where the money is coming from, that you should work hard for your money, save and reward yourself.

      And yes, I’m reading M’s blog too! Perhaps, I should write a letter to debt too! 😛
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…My Love Affair with Debt (We’re Breaking Up)My Profile

  5. I think I’ve mentioned it to you before that reading your story is kinda eerie to me because you really are like my Russian twin, Except I’m the older one because I’m already 30 😉

    Our debt stories is really similar except I grew up in a poor family which is why I think I always wanted “nice” things as a young adult. I also have a huge student loan which you don’t have. I’m so glad you wrote this post because it just makes me want to root for you to win even more! 🙂
    Girl Meets Debt recently posted…GPS: Saving My Relationship One Roadtrip at a TimeMy Profile

    1. I’m glad we can be twins, I always thought how cool it would be to have a twin sister! And now I have one! 😛

      We ARE going to win! What choice do we have really? I just got so tired of having to make unnecessary debt payments, interest charges in particular started to really bug me. I really don’t need this in my life. I want freedom!! 😛
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…My Love Affair with Debt (We’re Breaking Up)My Profile

  6. Thanks for sharing your story, Eva! I think it’s a great thing that you don’t ask your mom to bail you out – I know a ton of people who are older than me that still ask their parents for gas money! It’s ridiculous!

    I love reading your blog and I’m going to continue reading your journey out of debt and into financial freedom!
    Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans recently posted…Weekend Recap: KoinoniaMy Profile

  7. Thank you for sharing your story, it is inspirational and I’m sure it will help many people change their ways.

    My folks were poor, so everything they did was paid by loans. The only thing is that these loans were not as ‘tough’ as they are now, so it wasn’t hard to pay them.

    I had 2 loans: 1k Euro for a laptop. It wasn’t wasted money since I used the laptop to learn web design and had clients too. So it kinda paid for itself, for my first 2 years as a small business owner and the downpayment for the car.

    And yes, this is no.2, 13K euro for a car. I paid the money in 4 years and it was HORRIBLY hard, especially since, one year into the loan, I lost my job. I was fortunate enough to get back on my feet and my business started making good money, but it could have been a disaster.

    Now I am debt free, I save money and spend just as much as it is needed. I will never get a loan in my life, if I can help it 😀
    dojo recently posted…Blogging: How to make your blog use up LESS resourcesMy Profile

  8. Thank you for sharing your story so open and honestly. We have some similarities in that my mom never gave me the money talk, and I loved indulging in brand names, as well. Like you, I also had an “a-ha” moment of being sick to my stomach with living paycheck to paycheck. Thanks for giving us more insight into your background, and I look forward to seeing your debt repayment progress through your blog. 🙂
    anna recently posted…Four Reasons Why I Still Love The Big Bang TheoryMy Profile

    1. It was not easy to share, but I am glad I did. Ah, I know all too well what it feels like to live from paycheck to paycheck! I hope I will never have to experience this again. Thank you so much for reading, Anna, and I look forward to seeing your debt repayment progress (along with all your other updates) too! 😛
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…My Credit Score RevealedMy Profile

  9. Thank you for your honesty and not feeling sorry for yourself! You are realistic and have loads of good old common sense. Plenty of people will be in your position and not have your determination and grit to improve your situation. Well done so far and the very best to you for a new future. Keep it up- you’re an inspiration to us all.

  10. First of all I want to say wonderful blog! I
    had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind.
    I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before
    writing. I have had a hard time clearing my
    mind in getting my thoughts out. I truly do take pleasure in writing
    however it just seems like the first 10 to 15
    minutes are wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips?
    Kudos!
    Kathie recently posted…KathieMy Profile

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