The Super Sad, True Story Of How I Landed $20K In Debt

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The day I found my first apartment was the same day I decided to move out. Frustrated with living under my parents’ roof, I woke up one morning, scoured Craigslist, and asked my Twitter friends if they knew of anything available. One did. So I grabbed a pal, swung by my future home unannounced, and signed a lease, all within a matter of hours. I was the apartment-hunting equivalent of Elle Woods: I woke up one morning and said, “I think I’ll go get an apartment.”

Of course, I’d laid the groundwork a little earlier. (I’m not an idiot.) As a two-time-college-dropout-turned-freelance-music-journalist, I knew my less-than-$1,000/month income wouldn’t allow me to live it up (or live at all) in downtown Toronto. Besides rent and utilities, I also had student loans and credit card debt totaling over $10,000. So, I made an appointment with the bank shortly before I went apartment hunting. I applied for a personal loan and promised my parents that if they were to co-sign, I’d hardly use it. (And if I did use it, I'd pay the balance in a matter of weeks.) Begrudgingly, my dad agreed.

A few weeks later (with my first and last month’s rent drawn from my newly sanctioned line of credit), I secured my very own place, and with it: furniture, knick-knacks, a bunch of things I probably didn’t need, and a lot of stuff I now don’t have. As of February 1, 2011, I was an independent woman. Apartment life suited me; I had friends over, I grocery-shopped with confidence, and I knew that if my income didn’t match my $1,000+/month expenses, I’d have my trusty line of credit to fall back on.

“Money comes” became my mantra, plucked out of context from one of my best friends — who worked a lot harder than I did, and who had been working in her field for much longer. Me, I’d just started writing a year before, and had yet to learn the importance of hustling. As far as I was concerned, the fact that I was writing a bit meant that I was writing enough. If I’d learned anything from TV and rom-coms, it was that everything would be fine: I had friends, I had ambition. I thought it was all going to be A-okay. And it was.

'Money comes' became my mantra.

For a few months.

In reality, my super-cute apartment was actually...not. It wasn't condemned or roach-infested, but by the spring, there were mice. Spiders. Centipedes. I could hear it when the guy above me used the toilet, and I’m sure he could hear me crying about my stress-induced insomnia. I couldn’t afford to pay for heat, and as a result I got the flu — twice in one month. Unfortunately, my professional entitlement combined with my unwillingness to budget didn’t solve any of this. And by the time I started ditching the music outlets I had been writing for (in the name of “wanting to write more comedy," even though apparently turning down work doesn’t pay the bills), I had about $100 left in my bank account. And I owed about $5,000 on my line of credit. I even began using rolled coins to make my minimum payments on Visa.

I even began using rolled coins to make my minimum payments on Visa.

That didn’t stop me. In denial, I kept spending. I went to Blue Jays games, bought $40 candles, thinking they’d “help me,” and started Christmas shopping early. I went out for dinner almost every night, and with said dinners, would make sure to split a bottle of wine with whoever was with me. My apartment was always stocked with wine, too — even those weeks when I had to live on Chef Boyardee until payday.

By the time Christmas rolled around, I was screwed — and totally broke. The holidays usually result in delayed payment for freelancers (which is why budgeting and not overspending is key), so I couldn’t make rent come February. My line of credit was at its limit. My Visa was maxed. I had maybe $125 in the bank, and my parents had no money to lend me. My landlords were unwilling to let a month or two slide. I was about to lose my apartment.

Shortly after my one-year apartment-versary, I gave my notice. And, that night, I crawled into bed with a bottle of wine and a shit-ton of Benadryl and cried the ugliest cry in the world until I fell asleep. I was broke. I was defeated. I wasn’t Elle Woods; I was Annie from Bridesmaids. I was so embarrassed, I moved out slowly — over the course of two months, under the cloak of darkness, only telling a select few. Back home, it was just me, my parents, and my $20,000 debt. Oh, and all that interest.
Illustrated by Eliot Salazar.
It was a cold, dark (Canadian) winter, and I blamed my debt on everyone but myself. While my mom and dad were understanding and accommodating, the reality was that I was still in my childhood bedroom and too poor to drive into Toronto as often as I wanted. I was like a sullen teen all over again, focusing less on my parents’ generosity, patience, and love, and more on the fact that my life had gone south. (I mean, how dare they come into my space and ask me where I got the money for that new top?)

It took me well into the next autumn to realize that I had a problem. Thanks to a good therapist and a prescription for mood stabilizers, I finally realized it wasn’t the fault of editors who didn’t want to run with a pitch, or the bank for not extending my credit. It took me until the following spring to stop drinking, and that was a huge turning point. I stopped using my Visa and line of credit, and I finally buckled down to work as hard as I could. No job was too small, no deadline too soon, and unless my gut feeling said “do not even, girl,” I took whatever writing work came my way. Because damn it, I love writing.

It paid off (literally, because that’s how real jobs work). This year — four years after I moved back home, a broken woman — I not only began making payments that were more than just interest owed, but I can actually see an end to the debt in sight. I’m paying off credit cards. For the first time in forever, I’m approaching money like a grown-ass woman, paying attention to what I earn and what I spend. I’m still living with my mom and dad, but now it’s because I’m not sure what city I want to live in (because if it’s in the United States, I need to save up, big time). True, I set myself financially back about five years, but in that time, I learned about accountability, got my drinking and mental health under control, and finally began respecting the industry I was trying to be a part of. I learned that writing is a privilege, and I’m very lucky to get paid for it.

Yes, my friends and I call 2011-2012 “The Sad Time” for a reason. But, it was also the catalyst for a major and necessary life change that led to me becoming a person who better understands how the world works: We are entitled to nothing. Work hard, be appreciative, and for the love of all that is good, do not use a line of credit as a bank account.

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