|my $1000 LA studio bedroom…in a closet.
There was a time when I had money.
There was a time when I thought I had money.
There was a time when I thought I had money and acted as such.
There was a time when I thought I had money and acted as such because it was my only option. This is why I have no money. When I moved to Los Angeles at twenty years of age, I had minimal education on how to manage my finances. Home & Careers class in high school definitely didn’t teach me much. I mostly learned how to peel a potato and make soup from a $.55 french onion soup pack. Maybe the class was preparing me for a life of processed food poverty? My father lived every day as if it were his last, often randomly jumping on his motorcycle and scooting across the US or indulging in fly-by hobbies such a recumbent bicycling or job quitting, so he wasn’t a great teacher either. My mother was the most solid role model in that she informed me I should only put on my credit
card what I could pay off each month. This is a rule she still lives by today and my mother has zero debt. The only price she has paid for this is boredom.
So, what if you move to a city where you know no one and you’d much rather eat out all of the time and be around people than alone in your $1000 apartment because that is the cheapest place you can find in your new city? What if you have to buy a new car because your old one kicked the bucket and you can’t get around your new city without one and the only way you can pay for a down payment is via your credit card because you really don’t know that you may have other options when purchasing a car? What if you need a new computer because now you’re a player in the work force? What if you promise your mother you’ll still take college courses even though you work 60+ hours a week as a personal assistant and you barely have time to go pee let alone study? What if you become so completely disillusioned with your career that you decide resigning is better than daily panic attacks and you take a job that pays less but makes you happier? What if the very little you learned about managing your finances doesn’t apply to any of this? What if this is the way you’re supposed to learn about your relationship with money?
The average twenty-something has $24,000 in college debt
and $5,368 in credit card debt
. I’m not the New York Times so accuracy should not be expected here, but considering these amounts are close to my own debts, I would gather this is roughly $400-500 out of pocket for college loans and credit card debt each month. Throw in moving to the big city ($600-$1000 rent) to find a job that you don’t get for 3, 6, 9 months while you’re working retail just to pay some of the bills though you’re falling more and more behind. Right there we’re already at $1000-$1500 a month with no stable job. Then throw in credit card payment plus late fees and high interest/gas/food/car maintenance/apartment or house maintenance and let’s say that brings you to $2,000 a month. Say you do have a job, but you have $300-$500 taken out of your paycheck in taxes each month. You’d have to make at least $32,000 a year just to pay your bills and have a teeny weeny bit left over. Not enough for an emergency, of course. You break your leg and you have a $500 deductible or you have to fly home due to illness in the family? Good luck. 401k plan? What is that again?
This is the story of many twenty-somethings nowadays.
Sadly, I have many peers who don’t make anywhere close to $32,000 a year with or without college degrees. The ones that are lucky enough to make $50,000+ a year typically have astronomical college loan debt that they’ll be paying for the next twenty-five years. No wonder kids are moving back in with their parents.
Me? I’m now the girl with a cardboard passenger side window. I’m the girl with a compacted wisdom tooth
which is making it difficult to eat and soon will be shifting her teeth into looking like that of Steve Buscemi’s. Now I’m the girl who has to pass up on dinners with friends, treating herself to a book or movie every now and then, or healthier food options. Now I’m the girl that can’t fly home to see her family, to LA to see her friends, or to take a freakin’ vacation once in awhile. Though I’ll take full responsibility for the choices I’ve made in life that have caused me debt (going to college, moving to LA, using my credit card to eat out and put a down payment on my car, leaving my career out of physical and mental health reasons, moving to a new city to start fresh), the rules and fees and high costs and lack of employment nowadays don’t make it very easy for young and responsible people to breathe. Literally. At one point when I saw myself not able to make the minimum monthly payments on my credit cards due to the 29% APR they gave me after being late on a payment, I found myself nearly choking from anxiety.
How could I go from being fresh out of college without a worry in the world to lying awake at night wondering how I was going to survive? Realizing that no one was going to answer this for me, I took control of my debt and did my research. I consolidated my credit cards to one low monthly payment on a 4-year payment plan. I talked with the lenders on my car and college loans about other payment options. I worked 75 hours a week to make sure I paid my bills and then some. I realized that this is all a part of growing up and you can either make mistakes and play the victim or rise to the top. Though I’m not exactly sure when I’ll be able to remove this wisdom tooth or put glass in my car window, within two years all this griping will be done and over with because I took control. This has been no walk in the park, but I view it all as a life lesson I was destined to make. I talk to peers who tell me they just stopped paying their credit card debt or haven’t made a payment to the IRS in years. Their complete lack of concern in managing their debts astounds me. Turning a blind eye to your finances will not make the problem go away and will only cause further stress down the road. If you are twenty-something that has questions about managing your finances, here is some info that could help:
-If you’re thinking about consolidating your credit cards, make sure you do your research first. I chose a debt consolidation company referred by the non-profit organization NationalFoundation for Credit Counseling. There I discovered that there are only two not-for-profit credit counseling facilities in Austin. The first facility was wonderful and helpful, but after discovering that their funding had been cut, I opted to go with the second company. I’ve been with the second company now for 22 months with no problems. They called my creditors, lowered my APR, consolidated my payment into one lump sum that I send to them each month for a $25 fee. After four years, my credit cards will be paid off. Even before I signed the paperwork with the company they made sure to inform me that I could do all of this consolidating myself if I wanted to. They gave me the tools and the information to handle my credit card debt. I opted to go with the company because it saved me the hassle of dealing with the creditors and now I only make one payment a month (which is easier to remember).
-Brush up on the Federal Trade Commissions’ Bureau for Consumer Protection. There are many predatory debt management companies that guarantee to lower your debt or improve your credit score (which are mostly scams). The website above is a reliable and safe resource to learn more about managing your debt.
-If you’re falling behind on your car loan or college loan payments, call your creditor to work out another option. Many college loan lenders let you alter your payment plan or you may be eligible for forbearance. For my car loan, I was able to skip one month’s payment and add it to the end of my loan.
-Suze Orman and all of those snazzy people will tell you to keep tabs on your credit score, so that’s what I do. I am alerted if my credit score has changed, why it has changed, and if anyone is running a credit check on me. FreeCreditReport.com will give you access to your credit report and score for seven days, after that you will have to pay a monthly fee. I was able to knock the fee down to $8 a month.
-If the creditors keep calling you, you can request that they stop calling. Either put the request in via phone or mail in the request to the creditor. If they keep harassing you, it could be deemed illegal.
-Don’t stress and don’t do anything drastic if you fall behind a bit. IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. Trust me on this one. Take a deep breath, talk to people you love and trust, andcome up with a plan on how to manage your situation. It will be ok.
Lauren is a writer and professional Jeff Goldblum lover.
sadly, http://tlc.discovery.com/videos/extreme-couponing-videos/ may be your only answer in America 😉
On the serious though, I understand. In. every. way.
what company did you use? I feel like you just wrote an article about me… you even got the salary right!
@tuna- holy crap. holy crap. holy crap. i can't imagine living like that!
@amanda- i used consumer credit counseling service of austin (subsidiary of consumer credit counseling service of greater dallas)
Good post. Two tools (free!) that I use which help me with finances are:
-www.mint.com It’s like Quicken, except online and free. I was weary at first about entering my CC, bank, and investment info online, but I haven’t had any issues and haven’t heard of any either. It’ll pull recent transaction, categorize them for you, and track versus a budget you set.
-www.creditkarma.com It’s like FreeCreditReport except, well, free. No monthly charge and it grades your credit score versus others in your state, age group, etc. Also suggests ways to improve your credit score reduce monthly payments on auto loans, student loads, insurance, etc.
I certainly fall into the "makes 50k+ but has huge college debt" category. I have everything pretty much under control, but the trouble this year is that I am invited to 5 weddings, all from close friends or family. That'll put a damper on any "cushion" or investing I was planning on doing
I need to send my roommate over to live with you for a month. He might learn something.
Is the federally sponsored one that is free.
Great going, Lauren! This is a subject that often takes place in hushed tones and behind closed doors. You are brave to lay out you story and encourage other to follow your lead. You rock, Kid!
@Adley- Hey, thanks, bud! Great suggestions! Where is your blog, huh…? 😉
@Kryger- 5 weddings!?! Who is all getting married?
@Carol- Which roommate?
@Tim- Nice! Thank you for the link.
@CJ- Yeah, I was a littler nervous writing at first, but we all have debts in one way or the other. I used to be so ashamed and stressed for having credit card debt. I felt like I screwed up. Then I talked to everyone else…
A very interesting blog post.
"I realized that this is all a part of growing up and you can either make mistakes and play the victim or rise to the top." Well said.
In 10 years time you'll look back on these times and wonder how you made it through. Soldier on, be practival but don't give up living.
You're doing well for being so aware of your issues. Some people are so naive about life (and debt).
This was a public service. You may want to add this to your skill set and be the Suze Orman to the hip crowd.
Brilliant article. Brilliant, brilliant article. I wish I had've read this twenty years ago.
@Katie- Thanks, Katie! I think it's easier for some to pretend like it's not there. It's scary facing your mistakes (and creditors) and it's often easy just to ignore it. Definitely doesn't help you do the road though. I appreciate your comment!
@Mark- Ha! You give me way too much credit all the time! I wish I was Suze Orman, then I'd be rich (but have a really terrible hair cut).
@Tennyson- Thanks! I wish I knew enough back in the beginning so I wouldn't have to write this article!
No one from high school. I don't really keep in touch with many people from Cortland. 4 fraternity brothers and my cousin are all getting married between now and the end of October
I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THIS FEELS LIKE. I have good credit but I grew up super poor. My mom stressed to me at an early age the importance of paying my bills on time and taking care of business.
I still live at home, though. My mom recently moved out of our house and in with her boyfriend. With it she left me the house note, electricity, insurance, internet, and all the little necessities to make a house a live-able environment. I've got a steady job, and I make about $35,000 a year. Sometimes it is really hard to keep my head above water. Especially when I have to help my sister pay her bills since she has the shittiest job in the world.
I've been trying to save money to move out but it seems like every time I have more than $100 in savings something happens (like my car crapping out) and I've got to clean out my account. It's way too hard to get ahead. It's depressing as shit.
@Kryger- Yep. I guess we're at that age where we're supposed to be getting married, huh? F that. 😉
@Kelly- Kelly, I know it can get depressing but try not to let it get you down. Having to watch my money taught me what I need and don't need in life. In some ways it's been good, but sometimes it's stressful. As long as I pay my bills, I'm happy. When a little extra dough pops up, then I'm even happier.
Good for you. I love a success story.
I don't know why you would take full responsibility for your financial situation. Any reasonable analysis will reveal that the system is rigged to concentrate money in as few hands as possible.
Transfer all your credit cards to one. Stop paying that one. You only get a single strike against your credit, you only have one creditor harassing you (change your number if you like), and you get to stick it to the pigs, all in one fell swoop.
As a really young mother I fell behind on EVERYTHING. I was literally hiding my car for fear of repossession and none of my credit cards had been paid on time in months. It was a survival game. Rent was first. Then food/electricity/gas. And then whatever was left. Not much.
I managed to catch up on the car payment but the credit cards were fucked. I waited until tax return time and threw a bone to each credit card and paid off one. Four years of that to pay them off.
Wish I had consolidated instead and saved me the anxiety I got every time the phone rang for four years.
I understand what you've gone through all too well. At one point I had over $18,000 in credit card debts and loans. I went the debt consolidation route and paid all of those accounts off in a little over 4 years as well.
Unfortunately, when WOXY went under last Spring and I ended up unemployed for a full year, things went to shit. I've racked up a fair amount of credit card debt again in the last year, mostly to stay afloat.
Of course, I am a thirtysomething now and while I think I can get back on track this year, it's difficult. I do worry about what the future/old age will bring because I so poorly managed my finances over the last decade.
At the same time, I don't panic about it TOO much because 'you can't take it with you.' I am not planning on having children and only need to take care of myself (and AustinBloggy, of course). That makes it a little easier to deal with. I think I would be in a constant panic if I had to provide for a family.
This was a great post…I'm currently in the middle of my college career and have already racked up a ton of debt with student loans. It's depressing to think that I'll be paying them off forever, but I guess (or hope, really) that it will be worth it someday. I have two credit cards…One is a store card and the other is a credit card with a low limit. After reading your post, I decided to close my store account card, pay the debt off, and not get another one. If I don't have the cash to buy something, I don't need it.
Aw, Hipster, I feel your pain. My L.A. adventure was pretty much ad lib. Got a job right away, went to the Nick Harris Detective Academy and began working investigations at approx. $15 an hour, then eventually went into the porn business (strictly office) and started knocking down 65K a year. Even then, it wasn't enough. The more you make the more you spend as they say. With rents at 1k to 2K for a decent place, any young single that can do ok on his or her own should be commended. Most just give up and head back to wherever they came from.
I started using Mint.com halfway through my college career, and I hold it fully responsible for any financial control I have today. Another tool that I recently came across is http://www.creditsesame.com. It sounds a lot like creditkarma.com, so I'll have to check that one out as well.
I don't think that this issue is restricted to 20 somethings. Our economic growth has been built on the mechanisms of credit, and now that it's time to pay up, the economy is tanking. The entire nation needs to learn these changes in behavior.
Great post. It hit home for me in a lot of spots. Great work on working to find the path out.
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The timing of this couldn’t be more perfect! This post was so insanely helpful. Thank you!