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Why I’m Thankful For My Credit Card Debt

Sometimes the best lessons in life come to you the hardest way. That’s how it was for me with budgeting, and in particular—budgeting with YNAB.

I found YNAB in the summer of 2006, back when it was an elaborate version of a spreadsheet. Yep. I’m old school YNAB. I’ve been around for a long time. 

You see, I had a pile of credit card debt. Back in 2006 I’d just finished a major home renovation that I thought I had enough money to complete. But the project ran over budget, as home projects often do. It was a kitchen and bath remodel—and even if you want to stop halfway through it, you can’t really. You kind of have to finish it. You can’t say, “Well the shower is in, but we’re out money, so we’ll put the toilet in next year.” So to finish things up, I relied on credit.

It wasn’t an earth shattering amount of credit, it was about $8,000. But when I added it all up, I was completely overwhelmed. I jetted off to Google and I went searching for budgeting solutions. YNAB popped right up. I started my budget right away. Three years later, my debt was paid off.

It was hard work at times, but there was an invaluable silver lining with the whole process. If I hadn’t borrowed that money and gotten myself into trouble, I would never have found YNAB. But it’s bigger than the Google search, and even bigger than the budget software itself. I would never have learned all that budgeting had to teach me.

6 Things I Wouldn't Have Learned Without Budgeting

  1. I could save for things and pay for them in cash.
  2. I could cut spending that didn’t actually matter to me.
  3. Changing my plan for money isn’t bad, it’s smart and tactical.
  4. I could get a month ahead of my expenses.
  5. Spending and finances doesn't have to be stressful.
  6. I can confidently make financial decisions big and small, something I really trust myself to do now.

So there’s all those things I’ve learned, which is fairly significant. But because of all those lessons, my money has actually done some pretty amazing things and translated to real results.

8 Things Budgeting Has Allowed Me to Do

  1. I’ve taken a number of fantastic hiking trips with my dog, Charlie.
  2. I’ve been able to give regularly to charitable causes I believe in.
  3. I paid off my last car and paid cash for the one I’m driving now. I mean, wow. If you’d told me ten years ago that I would have been able to buy a new car and pay for it in cash, I would have told you that you were crazy.
  4. I’ve been able to handle some high veterinary bills for aging pets, never worrying that I couldn’t afford to take care of them.
  5. I’ve been able to help my family when needed.
  6. I was able to sell one house and move into another with no financial worries.
  7. I’m on track to pay off my 15-year mortgage in six years.
  8. I’ve been able to save more for retirement, giving me more peace about the future.

Budgeting isn’t just a money management tool, it’s a life management tool. A budget isn't about deprivation, it’s about having the knowledge and freedom to make smart choices. It’s the ultimate life hack, helping you dial in and focus on what matters to you most. 

So you better believe I’m grateful for that credit card debt. Without it—sure, I’d have probably figured out a way to pay it off—but I have no doubt I would have run the balance right back up again. Without everything I’ve learned about budgeting, I’d probably have a car payment right now, virtually no money for retirement, and I’d be sitting hoping I was going to make it to payday.

It was a good tradeoff. Be grateful for your financial lessons. If you learn from them, they’ll move you forward.

If you're dealing with a stressful pile of credit card debt, get started on turning your situation around. Check out these 4 Rules for Less Money Stress to get you started.

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Why I’m Thankful For My Credit Card Debt