This is a long story.
I grew up in India in a family where money was not plentiful, but my parents were frugal and we had enough money for what we needed, but not always for what we wanted. One of the things I wish my parents had taught my sister and me is how to manage money. Instead, what happened was we told our parents what we needed, and if they made the decision about whether we got it or not. Until my late teens, I never had to manage money at all. When I finally did, I was uneducated about how it all worked.
I got my undergraduate degree on a scholarship. My parents gave me enough money to cover living expenses, and I never thought about money – everything was working just fine. Following this, I was accepted to a graduate program in the US. I received a partial scholarship, and flew to the US when I was 22 years old to start my grad program. That is when my financial woes really began.
My scholarship would pay for the tuition aspect of my education, but I was responsible for my living expenses, University fees, and non-tuition college expenses such as books, etc. As an international student, I was only allowed to work on campus legally for 20 hours, and I took an on-campus job which helped towards meeting some of these extra expenses. Things were looking not too bad when a series of things happened that put me into a chunk of debt.
First, I signed up for some credit cards because a booth on campus was running some special and they told me it would help me build a credit history. In India, less than 1% of the people use credit cards. I had no idea how to use one. I was stupid and treated them like free cash. I used the cards to the tune of about $5000, forgot to make payments, my APR shot up, and I was in debt that I could not afford to repay. By the time I learned how to use credit cards properly, I was in trouble and had no idea how to get out of it. I kept making minimum payments. But I was too proud and ashamed to ask for help, and since I was only making minimum payments on cards with APRs of 27.99%, my debt kept growing.
Secondly, I was in a relationship that was going pretty well. We were both students, but he had less money than I did. He was going to graduate sooner than I did. He was a smart guy and we had no doubt that he would get a good job as soon as he graduated. So, we were reckless in our spending (on my credit cards) with the plan that he would start paying off what we thought of as “our debt” as soon as he got his job. But less than a year before he graduated, he cheated on me and we broke up. I was saddled with the debt that he showed no inclination of helping with – another several thousand on my debt list. This was totally avoidable. But I was stupid and young and having fun and being in love seemed more important at the time than being sensible and frugal did. Needless to say, I have learned my lesson!
Thirdly, I made a major shift in my career. I realized that after I graduated, I would be doing a job that I would not like. I made the decision to change my major after spending 6 years of my life in school working towards being an engineer. I made this decision against the advice of my parents and other friends. This meant going back to school for what would only ultimately lead to a lower paying job than if I had continued on as an engineer. Despite the additional cost to me, I have not regretted this decision. I love what I do, and I know I would have been miserable had I not changed career paths. However, as an international student in the US, I could not apply for federal financial aid, and so all of my educational expenses went on my credit cards also.
Fourthly, I bought a car. This is my lowest interest debt, and I needed a car, so there was no way around it I suppose.
The real trouble started however, after I graduated 5 years later. By this time, I was laden with consumer debt. But I had a job that paid me well. Not too well, but certainly more than the part time jobs that I had had while I was a student. It started out well, and I was determined to pay off my credit card debts. That is when I discovered gambling!
This is horribly difficult to write. I am so ashamed of my gambling habit. It seemed at first to help – I could “earn” money this way and pay my debt off sooner. However, soon my bets started getting larger, and so did my losses. I tried many times to quit, but like any other addiction, I felt “powerless” over this habit. I read somewhere that what sets gambling apart from other addictions is that if you are gambling in order to pay your bills, the addictive behavior itself can seem like the solution. This makes it an extremely difficult behavior to change.
I hit rock bottom at the end of last month when I had maxed out all my credit cards and my personal line of credit at the bank. In order to make ends meet, I had to borrow money from my sister (but I did not tell her the reason I had to borrow the money). I felt more ashamed of myself then than I have ever felt in my life. I resolved to quit and am “sober” now. I need accountability, and my hope is that by posting my spending on this blog, I can be accountable.
I feel a sense of hesitation to post this entry. I have a feeling that I might go in and “delete” it if I feel too ashamed. Anyway, there it is – my stupid story of my stupid choices!
How I Sold Myself Into Financial Slavery
This is a long story.