You’re in for a treat today!
My great friend Chris Browning is joining us to talk all about how he and his wife paid off over $27,000 worth of credit card debt in just 4 years! Chris is passionate about making personal finance easy, and in today’s episode, he does just that while breaking down his personal debt free journey.
In this episode, we discuss:
- How Chris and his wife found themselves in major credit card debt
- What major factors lead people into debt
- How Chris and his wife’s debt free journey began
- What changes Chris and his wife had to make to actually see progress
How did you get into debt in the first place?
After Chris graduated from college, he began wedding planning with his fiance when he fell into the trap of feeling pressured to have a nice wedding (even though he couldn’t afford it!).
“Of course, we didn’t take the financially responsible route. We were like, we’ve got to have the full wedding. So long story short, we ended up spending about $16,000 on a wedding. So that was the start of the credit card debt for us because we just put it all on credit cards. We had no cash to cover the cost at all.”
Chris goes onto describe how he continued to put big expenses on credit cards including furniture for a new house and medical bills. In just two short years, he and his wife ended up in $27,000 worth of credit card debt.
What other factors played into getting into debt?
“I think combined with that, we were managing our money together for the first time. And so we weren’t communicating well, we were both using credit cards and still not saying when we were making payments. Every month we ended up spending more on credit cards than we were actually paying. And so in addition to all those other big things, all these other little expenses started piling on to it. And they just built up.”
Money can tend to be a taboo subject. Chris admits that he didn’t tell a single soul (aside from his wife) about his financial situation. This alone can cause you to dig yourself in a deeper hole financially because you can fall into the trap of shame and ultimately avoidance.
“I think what really got us in trouble… was this feeling of — I didn’t want to feel as broke as I really was. We weren’t making enough money. We weren’t making a lot of money at all. We had huge debt payment that we had to manage every month. I didn’t want to feel how my situation actually was. I was like well, I know I can always pull this credit card out and it’s going to work.”
It’s so easy to keep handing over the credit card at restaurants, shopping sprees, vacation. It’s even easier not to log in and actually LOOK at how much debt you have. Chris had multiple credit cards. It wasn’t just 27,000 on one big card. I think that that is one reason why people don’t realize how much debt they have. Because it doesn’t feel as bad when you’re logging on to separate accounts and seeing a smaller number here, a smaller number there. It doesn’t feel so scary until you actually add it all up.
One of the reasons why Chris found himself in so much credit card debt is because he didn’t have a super high income at the time. So he was spending more money on things than he was actually making. On top of that, he felt he needed to keep up with the lifestyle he felt he SHOULD be living, even though he could not afford it.
It’s very easy to justify buying furniture for a new apartment you’re moving into with your spouse. It’s very easy to justify spending money you don’t have to pay for a wedding. Want to know why? That’s what society tends to EXPECT from you. You can feel pressure to overspend in these areas surrounding “life’s important milestones” because that’s “just what you do.”
Chris: “Not only do you have this picture of what you think your life should be, oftentimes, that’s not a picture that you came up with on your own…that wasn’t my unique vision of my future. This was almost like a vision of what I saw other people doing, and what I thought I should be doing, not that I necessarily wanted to do these things myself.”
When you get your first job out of college and you start to make a consistent income (even though it might be low) it’s easy to feel like you’ve done your years of sacrifice in school and now it’s time to enjoy your life. You might have even told yourself, “I work hard for my money, I want to be able to enjoy it.” Next thing you know, you can’t enjoy it at all because you find yourself in crippling debt.
Chris: “Yes, you want to live this life you thought you were going to have.”
Essentially, you have this vision of your life and the things you want –which is great–I think it’s wonderful to dream. But sometimes we think that because it’s our vision, we deserve it. And we’re going to do what it takes to get it. And credit cards allow us to do that.
How did your debt free journey begin?
After Chris realized he had $27,000 in credit card debt, he decided he needed to make significant changes in his life. Chris: “So it was a lot of trial and error. I really didn’t know what I was doing. [My wife] let me take our budget down to where we were eac getting like 20 bucks a month to ‘enjoy’And it was just super tight. We were scrimping wherever we could. And what I found was that it was so restricted that we would just keep failing…you end up, two weeks in, blowing the budget to pieces. And now what do we do? We pull out the credit card, because we’ve already sent too much money to the credit card for payment. And now there’s no cash left. Yes, we would fail and end up overspending in areas…we didn’t plan for it properly.”
I like to call what Chris describes here as “The Crazy Cycle.” You write an unrealistic budget. Then life happens. You overspend. You feel shame, stress and disappointment. And you tell yourself budgets don’t work for me. And then and then six months later, you say ‘I need to write a budget.’ So you write another unrealistic budget, and you just get stuck on this crazy cycle.
What changes did you make in your journey to actually see progress?
Chris: “I made a more realistic of a budget…and I kept re-working the budget…until it seemed a little more sustainable. And then the other thing I started doing was because of the interest rates are crazy on these credit cards, I would do 0% balance transfers. So that was step one to kind of help manage the interest. So that way, I wasn’t getting like racked with massive amounts of interest…The other thing, and really the most like impactful thing I did, (because I tried a bunch of side hustles) I really kind of dug in on my job. And I was like, I’m going to do whatever I can to be like the most marketable employee for new jobs. So I started joining professional organizations…I started adding things to my resume. People are impressed by these things, even though you don’t have to put in 50 extra hours a week – throwing these things on my resume… I started applying, and I started looking at what was out there…I could get paid a lot more doing the same job I’m really already doing just at a different place. And that was one of the biggest things that made an impact because I went from making maybe $40,000, right before taxes to making over $60,000. I just went to work for a different place doing the same thing I was already doing. That was one of the biggest things. I kept doing that. So I did that a couple of times to where my salary basically more than doubled over the course of probably like five years…Because I mean, realistically, you can only cut your expenses so far. You have to eat, you have to have a place to live. A lot of us need a car to drive to get to work. So you can only cut things so far. And after that, what are you going to do? And for me, it was like, I’ve got to make more money, especially because I was making so little relative to the cost of living.”
If you’re reading this chances are you’re looking to get out of debt. And you might find yourself needing a step-by-step plan to follow. If so, then I’ve got just the thing for you! My debt free roadmap is the perfect roadmap if you’re wanting to become debt free. Maybe you’ve just lost a little bit of your inspiration, or you need a step-by-step plan to follow because paying off debt isn’t always as simple as it seems. There’s different mistakes that people are making that cause them to either not make progress or actually stop altogether. So in this free roadmap, you’re gonna get the seven easy steps that my husband and I followed to help pay off all our debt fast! Sign up below!
Follow Chris on Instagram
This is Awkward Podcast
Episode 32 Popcorn Finance: Our $27,000 debt story Part 1
Episode 34 Popcorn Finance: Our $27,000 debt story Part 2
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Follow Allison on Instagram: @inspiredbudget