Part 1: Let’s Talk about Debt, Baby

Freedom is defined by you!

The life you want to live is yours to decide and control. Your goals are personal and specific to you. Everyone’s idea of freedom is different, and that is okay. But it is very important that you define freedom to yourself and that you are taking the steps in life to get there.

I never gave much thought to my financial situation until my early 30’s. It always seemed normal to still have some student debt, money owing on my Credit Lines and to be using my credit card often. I was making the minimum payments, working a full time job and slowly chipping away at all 3 of my loans. Eventually I would pay it all off, right?

Thing is, it wasn’t happening.

I had no money management plans, and what’s even worse is I would not talk about it. Clearly I was embarrassed by my situation and thought it was normal to hide it. It wasn’t until I met my husband Stanley that a dreaded financial conversation happened. I was forced to lay it all on the line.

When I Met Stanley

Date Night in Toronto, Summer of 2015

When I met Stanley in February of 2015, I knew he wasn’t like the other guys I had dated in the past. He was working as a General Manager at East Thirty Six, a restaurant he was a part owner of. He lived in the basement of a house in High Park that he owned with his best friends (and business partners). His lifestyle was modest and he didn’t divulge too much information on his personal life or his finances. He was nice, polite and a gentleman. I knew he had his life together and I knew I liked him. As we continued to date I learned a bit more. By Spring of 2015 this is what I knew:

A Bit About Stan

Stan was a hard worker. Born in Sri Lanka, his family moved to Toronto when he was 13 years old. From 15 years old he started as a dishwasher at Canyon Creek Restaurant and worked his way to becoming a cook. He knew that in order to make more money he should move to the front of house and become a server. So he learned as much as he could and pushed for any opportunities that presented themselves. All through his 20’s he continued to work in the restaurant industry. He saved, saved and saved some more. He was living at his parents house and paying $500/month in rent. He had used his savings during the market crash in 2008 to buy stocks and invest. He made some money. He purchased the High Park house with his savings and borrowed some from his parents, which he paid off quickly (a lot faster than I would ever pay back my parents). He also had invested in two condo’s downtown Toronto. One investment was with his brother and the other with a friend.

These were just small tidbits of information I picked up through conversations, and already I knew I was no match given my financial situation.

A Bit About Me

5K Run for the Cure, September 2015

I was renting a two bedroom apartment with my sister in Little Italy. I was working as an In Room Dining server at the Trump Hotel (now the St. Regis by Marriott). I had about 13K in my student Line of Credit from Toronto Dominion Bank (TD) and just under 5K of OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program). I also had a Credit Line from Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) that was around 4K and an RBC Visa Credit Card around 2K. Don’t get me wrong, that money paid for a Bachelors of Business Degree from George Brown College and a post graduate degree from a Hospitality Institute in Switzerland. I had travelled a lot and been enjoying my life in my 20’s. One of my goals in life was to have my own business, so in 2011 when the opportunity presented itself I took over a British Bakery in Waterloo, ON. With the help of my family and friends I ran it for 3 years. In 2014 I sold it and moved back to Toronto.

So here I was, sitting at almost 24K in debt but I had some wonderful life experiences to show for it.

24K is Not THAT Much in Debt

I mean really, how bad is 24K in debt? I should have paid it off in 2 years, easy. But I didn’t. That amount started at over 40K when I finished school back in 2008. That means it took me 7 years to pay down 16K.

7 years for 16K. Just think about that for a moment.

During those years I was still using my credit card and Credit Lines for spending. I was a PRO at incurring consumer debt. I was oddly comfortably with always carrying a balance on my cards. I always had it, and I knew no different.

“Now, the problem wasn’t the debt. It was that I had no plan to pay it off.”

Me Finally Analyzing my Finances, 2015 😉

I didn’t understand the gravity of the 19.99% interest on my credit card, and the 10% interest on the Credit Lines. I was making my minimum payments but with so much going to interest and a measly amount toward the principal, It would probably take me 20+ years to have it paid off. That doesn’t even take into consideration the additional spending still going on.

I was living paycheque to paycheque. I was living beyond my means. I was spending money I didn’t have.

This just seemed normal at the time and I hadn’t given much thought to my future financial situation.

The Dreaded Debt Convo

I can’t pinpoint exactly when we had the first “debt talk”, but I know it happened at the end of May 2015. I remember wanting to hold off having the conversation, thinking that if we invested a little more time in the relationship maybe he wouldn’t end it, when he learned about my debt.

Once I finally started to open up about my financial situation, Stan began to help me put solutions into action. He suggested consolidating the debt and trying to lower the interest. He said we would go to TD and ask them for an increase on the Credit Lines, so that I could pay off the higher interest Credit Card. I instantly got a knot in my stomach.

“What if they say no?” I had asked him, thinking it was the be all to end all of solutions. “Then we will ask another bank”, Stan said so casually. “We find another way”.

Relationships with Money

Why was I nervous to go to the bank and why wouldn’t I ever think about simply asking another bank, after being turned down? I’ve heard people talk about their relationships with money, or thoughts about money. I just never knew I needed to work on my personal relationship with money.

Here I was, with a wake up call.

Clearly I had some thoughts about money that needed changing, and I had a lot of work to do. I knew the journey would be a long one, but it felt so good to start. TD said yes, they extended the LOC and I paid off the RBC credit card. I was ready to start making some changes.

“Debt to Freedom” Journey: Part 2
“Debt to Freedom” Journey: Part 3

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