10 years ago, I was living waaaaaaaaay outside my means. My very generous parents were giving me a monthly allowance for living expenses, but they provided for needs … not all of my wants. I was in my final year of law school, and terrified of being a “real adult.” So like any 24 year old with good credit and no concept of the value of a dollar, I got a bunch of credit cards and financed everything and everything that I didn’t save and budget for.
I will spare you the full details, but it ended with $7,000 of debt and a low 700-something credit score. Little did I know… 2010 would go down as the worst year to join the workforce. Those $100,000 salary jobs that every law student thought they would get just by passing the bar was completely elusive. I settled for a $40,000 salary and no benefits, kept living outside my means and guess what, I had $20,000 of debt and a high 600-something credit score. About the time that I met my husband, I was completely cut-off financially by my parents (is I should have been) and finally started to understand the value of a dollar. I even figured out how to budget. All the while, my dirty little secret I was that I was totally overwhelmed and embarrassed by my bad debt. So, I ignored it for a while.
Finally- I wanted to get married and I paid for a certified financial planner to break it down for me- how do I overcome by debt? It took 8 years, but I did it… and saved, invested for retirement, bought a house, and opened a business with a salary of not more than $60,000. Here is what I did and how I make my credit work for me now.
1) Get clear about what you have and what you owe.
Spreadsheets are great. I make a list of all of my assets and liabilities including the percentage of anything financed. That was traumatizing, but it made it very clear to figure out the biggest problems. The accounts with the highest interest rates had to be refinanced or paid ASAP. Opened a new account with zero-interest financing for 12 months, transferred the balance and paid the most that I could to pay it off. This was actually different from the first tip that I got, which was to pay the smallest amount first. I actually did both, but only because of my second tip.
2) Get serious about your budget.
It doesn’t matter if you make $14,000 or $140,000 – live within your means. Look at your income and your responsibilities and cut the financial fat. I’ll even make it easy for you by sharing Mrs. Make It Rainka’s Family Budget Example, which you can customize. (The password is MakeItRainka). It includes your monthly budget, 60-day trends, savings goals and a liabilities spreadsheet where you can look at all of your debt and the interest rates in one place.
3) Play with the numbers.
I kept track of my credit score the whole time with Credit Karma. I used their handy stimulator tools to see what I should and shouldn’t do to get that score as high as possible. It actually became a fun game. I like Credit Karma, but there are so many free services that you can use to make a plan and execute.
4) Make you plastic work for you.
All credit cards are not create equal and what works for my credit my not work for your credit. Because there are so many credit cards out there, credit card companies have to do more than just offer low interest rates. I used Nerdwallet to identity credit cards that I could get an additional benefit from by simply using the card and paying it off each month.
First – I identified the stores that I shop st exclusively and that offer some sort of card. So, I opened cards at Nordstrom, Amazon, and Target. I get 5% cash back from Amazon, 5% off at Target and to shop early at the #NSale at Nordstrom (plus Nordstrom notes/points).
Then I made a really big choice after a lot of research on ThePointsGuy.com and splurged on a card – The Amex Platnium Card that costs a lot ($500) to have but I did some math and it made a lot of sense. For example…
- All access at any and all Centurion clubs, Amex lounges when I travel. (Probably received $500 in free food and drinks.)
- $200 annually toward any airline. We choose JetBlue which is what we fly to Boston. We book the cheapest seats then upcharge the baggage, get food and drinks on the plane, and it’s all reimbursed.
- -I Uber a lot and I get reimbursed monthly.
- My $80 TSA Pre-Check was covered
- I use the points that I get to buy gift cards and presents with points in December.
- I have access to Fine Hotels & Resorts which means that I can get $100 resort credit, free breakfast and upgrades. We use that at least three-times annually.
- I used the world-renown concierge service to send my sister a bottle of champagne at an isolated resort in Greece when she was engaged.
In sum, it’s comes in very handy.
My Current Credit Card Rules.
Now, I only use my credit cards. If I am spending a dollar- I’m getting a point or a percent back…period. This is the epitome of getting the most “bang for your buck.”
I have 21 accounts open, and I pay them down monthly and my credit score is solidly in the 800s. With excellent credit, I have been able to get low rates on loans to meet other financial goals. I have my eyes peeled for another good deal if one is out there. I do a little audit annually to see if there is a better deal and I will switch allegiance in the drop of a hat to benefit my credit. I finally have my hands on the Amex Rose Gold card!
The biggest thing that I want you to take away from this is that I did all of this making $60,000 gross. I have a child in day care, and a mortgage. The key is scrutinizing my budget every month to make sure that I put every dime to good use and that I am very clear on what I can afford.
If you’re faking it until you make it with lots of debt, let me know! Tag me @mrsmakeitrainka and tell me your plan to be debt-free! Confession is good for the soul.