Getting into debt is by far the biggest mistake of my college years. I used my part time job to justify a car loan. I was paying tuition with student loans, and the biggest mistake of all: I was dim-witted enough to fill out an application for a Master Card and a Sears card in college. The tables with the applications were right there in the hall. They told me that going to school was my job; I didn't need a real job, and presumably real money, to pay the bills. Yes, I'm still asking myself why I needed a Sears card; I lived with my parents and had no need for furniture, appliances, or power tools. I was 20, light on good judgment, but with credit cards, I'd be a grown up!
Part of being grown up implies taking responsibility for your actions. Charging a trip to Mexico on the Master Card with your friends and not paying it off right away was not responsible. I found a use for the Sears, also. I wear contacts, and where better to go than the Sears Optometry Center? I let that balance ride also, minimum payments only. Living beyond your means is fun and easy!
Fortunately, I had a part time job that let me keep up with the minimum payments, but the minimum payments always went higher. I was living proof that you can't spend your way out of debt. Some CD's (music, not savings) here, a new stereo there, even things I would pay cash for would detract from adding to the minimum payment, and the balances kept growing. Lack of common sense, and more importantly, lack of discipline was driving the debt higher (sound familiar?).
The ride continued after I graduated from college. I left Illinois and moved to Houston, Texas and went to work for a software company that didn't pay particularly well. With rent, utilities, and a host of other bills, the car payment, and now paying for the student loans, I was making no progress on the credit card debt. In fact, it kept rising to the point that I had the cards maxed out, and minimum payments left me very little spending room. If I had a financial emergency, I was going to be in real trouble. This was the point that reality began to set in.
In the cold, hard light of reality, I had to face what I had known for a long time. The road I was on was unsustainable, and there was nothing good at the end of this road. With some discipline, hard work, and roommates, I was able to drastically lower my spending and really work toward paying down my debt. It's not easy, it's not fun, but it is worthwhile and the feeling of accomplishment is unbeatable. The best lesson, though: stay out of debt.
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