Debt was holding me hostage

by - July 18, 2016

I was in my 20s. Young and, well, stupid. I was showing off and my status symbol of choice was a credit card. The bank offered me a credit card worth R10 000, I signed on the dotted line and I began to spend and within a year I maxed it. 

Woolworths food, trendy clothes and numerous unaccounted for items were just some of the frivolous items that led to my financial demise.

The credit card was supposed to be for emergencies. It was supposed to help me build a credit score. But my lack of financial education and fear of not having all the things I need just made things worse. 

One day I woke up feeling like I don't want to work 9-5 anymore. I needed my freedom - freedom to travel and to study. But now I couldn't do what I wanted because I had to pay for things that I didn't have anymore in my life. Debt was holding me hostage. 

My repayment plan was R250 a month and since I didn't have a lot of responsibilities (just my student loan which was R1100 and my rent which was R250 a month), I  thought that I was fine and that I would be able to manage. At the time, I was earning R3 800. This was in 2001.

Then for some reason that I can't remember now, I started missing out on payment on my credit. After missing three payments, I didn't call to explain why. I just ignored the bank. 

My credit card was taken into collections and they started calling me morning, noon and night. Sometimes they phoned, sometimes they wrote.

Whenever they called, I felt overwhelmed and honestly didn't even know what to say. And then I started ignoring them. And I also learned that when companies want their money, they STOP being nice.

I also felt a lot of shame because there was no specific reason why I had such chaos in my life.

After going through a grueling period of my life, one day, I decided to look at my statement and I couldn't believe it. My credit debt had accumulated a lot of interest. I cried and cried. I prayed and asked God to help me.

After a few weeks of feeling sorry for myself, I woke up one day and decided to attack all my debt. 

And so I decided to move back home, I stopped getting new hairstyles and new clothes every second week, and I started working as a waitress to make enough extra cash to pay the card. My credit and student loan took me two years to pay off.  By the time I was done, I was tired from having two jobs. But I was also thrilled to have finally paid them off.

That credit card cost me R35 000 to pay it off.  And my student loan was R30 000.  I vowed that I will never be held hostage again by debt nor will I ignore my debt responsibilities.

I learned that debt doesn't go away, it just gets bigger and more unmanageable.

So this is my message to you if you are in debt, keep fighting to pay off your debt and soon that  overwhelming feeling will go away. There will be times when you want to give up, I dealt with that myself. My encouragement to you during those times is to envision what your debt-free life will look like and put your head down to tackle that beast of debt.

I’ve also learned that money is just money. It’s a tool that can be used to do good things or bad things. The problem with money is that it can have a lot of power over your life if you don’t know how to manage it well.

And if you find yourself struggling with the lifestyle changes that need to occur as you make your way out of debt, understand you’re not alone. What you’re feeling is entirely normal.  You’re grieving your old life and it’s ok. I 've been there and I made it out to the other side  – and you will too.

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