I cannot tell you how excited I am to share this story from my friend Danielle Fournier.  I got a message from Danielle one day after she read one of my posts, sharing some details of her own story and I begged her to write a guest post for me.  I’ll go ahead and let you discover it for yourself, but I have to say, I am so inspired and humbled by Danielle’s journey and her honesty about the details of how she got herself into debt and then found her way out of it.  All I can say to Danielle is, “Bravo!”, and to my readers, “Enjoy!”:

Confessions Of A Former Shopaholic

I was once a shopaholic.

When I turned 18, I received a $3,000 credit card from my bank. I hit the ground running and didn’t look back.

My first purchase was indicative of a pattern that would lead to near financial ruin fifteen years later. At the time, I lived just up the hill from Frederick & Nelson’s in Seattle. I used  my shiny new credit card to purchase the most useful of items- a full length silver fox fur coat. I celebrated that purchase with perfume from another department, then dinner, then a trip to the cd store. All of it was bought with money I didn’t have.

Credit was cheap in the 90’s. My minimum payments, which was all I ever made, were $35-$75 a month. Easily affordable for a young woman with a roommate, a decent income and no responsibilities or financial planning aspirations.

My credit was so good, I bought a house at 25. By the time I was 30, I had 12 credit cards totaling nearly $80,000 in available credit, two cars on payment, a mortgage and second mortgage. I was a model of credit worthiness, all payments made on time, month after month. My house was lovely, the rooms filled with designer sheets, seasonal decor, and collectibles. I had three sets of dishes, including  a service of fine china, and closets full of fashionable clothes, most with the tags still intact. Life was good.

However, it wasn’t really. I lived on credit. I had gas cards, department store cards, regular Visas and Mastercards, plus an American Express. Debit cards weren’t in high use yet, but I had an active check book and ATM card. I spent money as fast as I could make it. I never, ever had more than $40 on me, because I was breaking $100s the minute I got them. But hey, the money kept coming in every month, so who cared?

Two events happened a year apart that would bring me to my financial knees and change my life forever.

On May 27, 2007, my younger brother was involved in a diving accident that would devastate our family in ways both financial and emotional. Spinal cord injuries require vast amounts of care involving medications, caregivers, and surgeries. My parents saw their retirements wiped away in a matter of months caring for their son when the insurance wouldn’t cover expenses.

I found myself leaving a three generation family business to go into sales in my brother’s business while we figured out what his prognosis was. Three months turned into six, then a year. I spent six days a week traveling. My bills started falling behind.

I sold my car. I used the money for something other than my bills. I stopped buying a new wardrobe every season. I kept working, but the bills kept stacking up in my new position with lower pay. As a family, we all pitched in and just made it work that first year. We all lived in a haze of sadness over the injury, but remained hopeful for both physical and financial recovery.

I received a phone call from my father in October of 2008. I had turned over my finances to him during the past year when I was working out of town. The truth is, I knew I was in trouble and I couldn’t face the facts, so I just let him handle it. I completely stuck my head in the sand.

I knew what was coming. I had to sell my house.

I cried and cried and cried. I had turned a humble chalet with yellow Formica and glued down carpeting on five acres into a charming abode with high ceilings and custom wood floors. I was so proud I had done this in my twenties. I had all these things that signaled me as a success. And now I was going to part with each and every one of them.

I felt like a horrible failure. But it was the beginning of the happiest time of my life.

My beautiful little house sold in less than three weeks. I had no time to sort or even clean. Box after box went into the moving van. I had rented a tiny apartment next to my parents in Seattle that had room for a bed, a love seat, a desk and a bookcase. The kitchen was three burners, a small sink and a mini fridge. Everything else went into three 10×20 storage units.

Since the house had doubled in value, I paid all my debts off. I then closed each card, dying as I cut each one to bits over a trash can. They weren’t any good anyway. I had stopped paying them three months before when I could no longer afford the payments. My cheap and easy credit had ballooned to a whopping $7,000 a month, the mortgage being the smallest of the bills. I decided wrecking my credit was favorable over not paying off the cards. With my income cut in half, my only choice was to sell everything I owned to pay the debts.

There was one beautiful, beautiful blessing in my house sale. I got to see Paris.

With all my debts paid, I had some left over. I was heartbroken over the past two years and I decided I would let my money serve me for once. I was going to make a dream come true. Stuff, no matter how fine or beautiful, has never filled me up. It has never loved me, never held me or wiped a tear, or left me in wonder after a conversation.

Thanks to a travel agent with a a huge heart and lots of experience, I was able to travel for nine weeks on a budget I had previously reserved for a weeklong soiree at a hotel. Armed with three sets of clothes and a pencil, I roved over 16 countries by myself. I came home a changed person.

It turns out, the worst thing that ever happened to me was really the best thing to ever happen. Strangely enough, letting go gave me so much more than I ever dreamed of. I only pay cash now for anything, preferably with real paper money. Now, when I want to buy a pair of shoes, I do so without remorse or guilt. But I have a rule, for each one that comes in, one item must leave my closet. I have learned to create and respect boundaries with my stuff, which has poured over into all areas of my life.

Cutting the ties with things has opened me up to experience. My identity no longer revolves around labels, and I have found peace in simplicity. From the joy of making my own dinners to being able to afford four weeks of travel a year on a very average income (because I no longer shop frivolously), I live a life no longer tied to my financial security dictating every move I make.

And that is the greatest luxury.

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D.E. Fournier’s stories explore the places where the mundane and the mystical coincide in everyday life. A third generation newspaper publisher, ink is in her blood. She studied Ethnic Studies at Oregon State, before earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. She lives in Seattle. Read her travel blog at http://farandawaytravelblog.blogspot.com/

 

 

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