The Day I Realized My Credit Card Payments Equaled My Mortgage

financial stress
Every one of us has had "aha! moments." Epiphanies. Days when we reach a crossroads and realize that we have to make some changes. For the next two months, we're sharing moments like those in our Life Stage Lessons series: Real stories straight from the financial lives of our DailyFinance contributors about times when they realized they were due for a serious course correction. So read on, learn from our mistakes, and get inspired to improve your relationship with your money.

I had a blast in my 20s. I graduated from college, got a job, bought a house, bought a Jet Ski and bought a lot more junk. It was awesome -- until it wasn't anymore. Before my wife and I decided to have a baby, I was skating through my 20s using credit card after credit card. From the outside, we probably looked like we were doing well, but in reality, we were drowning in debt -- well over $50,000 in credit card debt alone. Worse, I was never clear on how badly I was doing. I didn't have a budget, and the minimum monthly payments weren't bad -- or so I thought.

Since those payments were spread out over so many cards, I managed to avoid looking at the big picture for a long time. I just logged into my different banks and made payments, moved on and spent more. In retrospect, it's embarrassing, but you can't change your past.

Then one day I threw all my minimum payments on a whiteboard -- and I had to take a step back. The total overwhelmed me. I was paying nearly the same amount in minimum credit card payments each month as my mortgage payment.

I realized I needed to change, and move on from the "stupid spender" phase of my life. It was time to take control of my urges to buy shiny new products and start getting down to the business of busting debt. I set out on my journey toward credit card debt freedom as the market and economy crashed. While the economic turmoil didn't help me, it did help cement my resolve. My first step was figuring how how to pay down the cards.

Snowball vs. Avalanche

There's a long-running debate about which is the best debt repayment technique: The two favorites are nicknamed the snowball method and the avalanche method. To be quite frank, which you pick almost doesn't matter. What matters is that you actually use one and stick with it. Familiarize yourself with both and figure out which is most likely to suit your personality. I went with the avalanche, and it worked for me.

Even with the avalanche, it took me about four years to pay off the credit card debt. It was a constant struggle. I had to learn the art of dealing with temptation. I also had to teach myself about smart money management, budgeting and all things financial. If my wife and I were going to be parents someday, I wanted to start off on solid financial ground.

Along the way, I learned that the real key to tackling any debt is to always keep fighting to reach your goal. There will be stumbles and hiccups along the way, but the people who succeed are the ones who keep pushing.

Just don't let your past money mistakes define your financial future.

Grayson Bell is the founder of Debt Roundup, a personal finance site dedicated to helping people fight debt and grow wealth. He is also an avid home brewer, is a car junkie and loves all things DIY. He also shares his thoughts on how to make money at Sprout Wealth.
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