That Terrible Four Letter Word …

DEBT. Yuck, debt. Such a gross word. Debt feels terrible. Depending on how out of control it gets, it can weigh on you every day, stress you out, and affect many areas of your life. I would know, I’ve been there! Let me share my backstory.

It’s hard for me to remember where my bad debt began – probably around the time that I thought getting a line of credit to pay off my OSAP debt was a good idea. It could have been if I had managed it right, but I was young and dumb and didn’t. Yeah, I paid off my OSAP but I had ‘so much money left over’ – what on earth was I going to do with it? Well, I spent it. On what? I have no idea (that’s the worst part)! I spent it on stuff and things I can’t even remember now. From that point forward, it was really difficult for me to ‘get out of the hole’ when it came to money. I was in the negative for more than what I was earning every two weeks at work.

Fast forward a few years – I have a better paying job, a promotion coming soon (or so I thought) that would come with a pay raise, and after a few bumps in my personal life, I thought it was time to get a place of my own. I built a hasty budget that I clearly tailored to make it seem like I could afford to live in downtown Toronto because I wanted it so badly. Among moving expenses, filling my apartment with furniture and dishes and decorations, rent, utilities, cable, the internet, phone bill, groceries, going out, Toronto fun … the list goes on and on, I was racking up some serious debt. Credit cards were maxed out with high interest, line of credit was maxed out with the bank taking my money every week (that nasty term ‘garnishing your wages’ is as bad as debt itself), and I even stooped to payday loans … I basically had no money ever. Anytime I got paid, my money was gone. I could barely afford to pay my rent or eat, let alone do anything fun.

I knew I had to make a change – my first step was getting rid of my tiny condo. I loved living on my own and the freedom it came with but I was tired of barely making rent. So, I bucked up and found a roommate in a ‘cheaper’ area of the city in a less-fancy apartment where my monthly bills would get cut by more than 50%. That still wasn’t good enough. I was an ostrich burying my head in the sand every time I got a bill – I’d rip it up, throw it out, hide it, anything to avoid seeing how bad it was (which ultimately made it worse). Creditors started calling me at all times of the day and I stopped being able to answer my phone – I was scared of who was on the other end and what they were going to say to me.

Moving was a great step but the biggest step I took was finding a debt repayment program. It took a lot of nudging from my parents and friends to even explore this option. The program I chose is with ‘Credit Canada Debt Solutions’ and it was, hands down, one of the best decisions I made in a long time. My counselor’s name is Cathy and she helped me get started with the program. She was extremely non-judgemental (my biggest worry about talking with someone about my debt. “You spent HOW MUCH on clothes last year?”). She walked me through everything, answered all my questions about what would happen next, what this would mean for my credit rating, and the in’s and out’s of working with CCDS. I walked out of the room feeling amazing. They were going to handle all creditor calls. They were going to pay all my debt back – all I had to do was send them one payment every month. Another great thing about using a debt repayment program is that they work with the creditors to lower interest rate. CCDS has lowered almost all of my interest to 0% with the exception of one company, where I only pay $4 a month. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

At this point, you’re likely thinking “great job, Nicole! You must be out of debt by now!” Ha – not a chance. After I enrolled in the program, I ‘fell off the wagon’ after a few months and stopped making my payments. Womp, womp. I figured I could ‘handle it myself’ and I wanted that extra $500 every month to spend on myself. I had moved in with a roommate, I was ‘saving money’, I deserved it! I was wrong. The creditor calls started soon after and after months of, again, ignoring calls and bills, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went back to CCDS to try and get on the program. I had a big wakeup call and learned that my actions had actually made my situation a lot worse. I won’t share the nitty gritty details, but let’s just say the stern talking to and intimidating word “bankruptcy” scared me enough to get my sh*t together.

Fast forward a year after that scary conversation and I’m happy to say I am in a much better place. Not only am I well on the way to paying off my debt, but I’m also saving money and no longer living pay cheque to pay cheque. It took a lot of mistakes, a lot of adjustments, and a lot of learning to get it right. I have to be disciplined with my spending, cut out extras, pinch pennies at times, but in the long run, it feels way better to be able to afford the important things when I need or want them.

Why do I tell this story? Because I was so scared to talk about my debt to my friends and family, I hid the problem until it got too much to handle. I’ve learned that by being open and honest about what’s going on, it holds me accountable to being smart with my money and I know that my debt isn’t anything to be ashamed of. It was bad but it could have been worse. One of my closest friends urged me to look into the program, stating he wished he had done it when he was younger. J asked me if I was ok when I kept getting calls at early hours on the weekend (creditors know when you’re around!). My parents were supportive but realistic with what was going on. If your story feels like mine, know that lots of other people are in similar situations and it’s nothing that can’t be handled. I thought it made me a lesser person to use services like CCDS, but I know now that I was only hurting myself. Reach out, talk to someone like CCDS or your trusted friend – you’ll feel so much better!

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