How I recovered from a debt-ridden lifestyle

Marketplace Staff Aug 7, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: The technical term is revolving credit. That’s what the Federal Reserve calls it, anyway. For you and me, it’s the balance due on our credit cards. The Fed reported today consumer borrowing jumped dramatically earlier this summer. We added more than $10 billion to our collective credit card bill. Economists had been predicting a rise of less than $4 billion. And all those billions of dollars are added up one American credit card bill at a time. We’ve got a story right now that looks at debt through the voice of one of those Americans, a woman telling how she climbed out from under a mountain of debt.

JANE: My life consisted of a number of shell games. And my shell games were: I would lend you money and then I would owe someone else money. And they’d want their money and then I’d come back to you and ask you for your money so I could pay the other person. And “Did I forget that I owed you money? I thought that you’d already paid me. Ooh, maybe you didn’t . . .” And so my whole web of debt spun completely out of control. My lowest point was realizing that I had only $11 left to my name.

PETER: My name is Peter and I am a debtor.


When I walked into my first Debtors Anonymous meeting, I was so beaten that I really slunk in.

D.A. MEETING GROUP: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change . . .

I was amazed that these people who talked about spending money and debting the way that I had, but they were talked about in a past tense. They weren’t doing it anymore and they looked happy.

CHRIS: My name is Chris and I’m a debtor.


CHRIS: This week my action is . . .

One of the ways that we turn our money life around, is that we have something called a Pressure Relief Group — a meeting with two other members of Debtor’s Anonymous, where you honestly show how much money that you make and how much money you spend and on what. Together we create a spending plan, which puts our needs first. And then we make an action plan which gives us the steps to resolve our debt and begin to build our cash reserves.

You know, I got into recovery around the holidays. Once I had made a commitment to not using credit cards, I was left to work with the cash that I had. And how was I going do the holidays with $200 instead of $2,000? I was used to coming home and showering people with presents acting like Santa Claus. And that’s how I felt and that’s how I actually got a lot of my self worth. And I ended up, actually, giving people things that I had made instead of giving people things that I had bought for them.

I was $68,000 in debt. Today I have a debt repayment plan and that plan is that I have an agreement with my creditors that I pay them off and I live with those terms. And I also have a spending plan where I take care of my needs today in the present. I have a retirement of a $100,000. I have over a year’s savings for prudent reserve. I can live off of my savings if I lost my job today. And I don’t worry about my debt because it’s gone. I don’t worry about paying my bills each month. I don’t have to worry about seeing people on the streets because I don’t owe anyone anything else anymore.

RYSSDAL: Trey Kay produced that story for us.

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