I thought I'd feel a sense of accomplishment as I paid my debt off. Turns out, I don't. More than anything I feel slightly annoyed and more embarrassed than ever. Whenever it comes up in conversation ("Hey Nikki, how's that massive debt war you were waging going?" "Great! I paid off all my credit cards!"), instead of being met with the following:
"Holy sh*t how'd you do that? You are the God of all debt! Mere mortals bow in your presence while being smothered to death by the thought of the millions of dollars they themselves owe. Please, impart me with your infinite debt-slaying wisdom! Oh miraculous girl with such grand perseverance!"
I find instead:
"Well, that'll teach you. Your puny, undeveloped 20-something brain has yet to grasp the complicated and deceiving power of the Wicked Debt Witch of the West. Maybe this lesson will finally show you the way to responsible savings-filled-adulthood. God bless you along your journey and may your childlike ignorance soon fade...however, we don't dare hope for as much."
Which, to be honest, baffles me.
Are these people not the same people with hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in a mortgage they can barely manage? Are these not the same adults who spent the second 20 years of their life trying to pay of the first 20? Did no one mention that the average debt a 24 year old has after college is hovering somewhere around 24k (an amount more than double anything I've ever racked up)? Forgive me, but am I missing something?
Sure, I don't actually expect anyone to be impressed by the fact I've managed to pay off a comparatively microscopic bit of money, but I would like a high five or a "cool" here and there. Really, even a shrug and a sigh would be more satisfactory than the responses I've actually received. Almost everyone has looked at me with pity and said something regarding my poor decisions and then that person will allude to the fact I'm far to young to understand finances.
And to that, I would like to finally defend myself.
I made a very conscious and very calculated decision to take on debt. I paid two hospital bills and a security deposit on my credit cards. It's only because of a broken lease due to unfortunate circumstances that I wasn't able to pay back at least the security deposit. Then I got accepted to two art shows. So I spent nearly 1000 dollars in art supplies. Why? For the chance of a lifetime. And yes, it did work out well. Unfortunately when you absorb yourself in work that's unprofitable for so long, you usually need to spend any eventual profit on things like food... rent.. necessities that keep you alive. So my art supply debt stayed. Oh, and remember that little stint at school that I had? The microscopic one that put me within a year and a half of graduation before I dropped out? I managed to only rack up 7,000 in tuition and books. That's money that I borrowed from my dad with the condition that if I did not graduate I would pay him back in full. And when I dropped out it was no ignorant decision. It was with full knowledge of what I was doing and if anyone believes a single part of that was based on inexperience, I beg you to reconsider. It was based on complete understanding and to this day I will guarantee the fact that I would be absolutely no better off had I stayed in school (if you don't believe me, feel free to email me any time and I will send you a spreadsheet of the projected costs of school vs. the cost of my lifestyle including my income vs. the average college graduate's income. And I'd also be happy to lay out my reasoning for dropping out in no uncertain terms any time you feel I'm not fully aware of my past decisions).
So no, I did not make a terrible mistake. I made several small allowances based on a careful calculation of debt vs. reward. In all of the above circumstances the debt was needed with the idea I would pay it off as soon as my situation improved.
And guess what? I did just that. I paid it off when my situation improved.
Which leaves me in my current position. I'm 22, have a job that pays me more than the average national income (according to government statistics in 2009) and I currently live in one of the most expensive cities in the world (that I love with a passion that few people ever experience). I travel at least once a month, have lived in three different countries and have absolutely no external financial help.
You heard that right. No external financial help. My parents don't give me money. My relatives don't give me money. I didn't start with a trust fund or an excessive graduation gift. I worked hard from the time I was 14 and I never stopped.
And now, I've pulled myself out of a comparatively small hole that I dug with full understanding. And even if no one else thinks it's an accomplishment, I will gladly pat myself on the back knowing I am continuing life at 22 with just as much debt as I had until I was 20 - exactly $0.
That. Is pretty darn good.