Today is the annual meeting for the staff of Credit Counseling Services of Atlantic Canada, where I will be recognized as their Client of the Year. I was asked if I could provide a written copy of “my story” that would be presented at the meeting, complete with a professional voiceover. I’m curious to see and hear what it looks like, and am supposed to be getting a copy to take home with me.
Here it is… my story…
We always assumed that we could dig ourselves out of debt… later. Everything always revolved around “later”. Need a new living room set? Pick it out now, pay later. Need a new car? Get it now. We can hang on until things get better. Later.
There are two major flaws with that kind of thinking. First, our definition of “need” was a little too broad. When I think back to some of those purchases, I cringe. We did not live extravagantly by any means, but we certainly lived beyond our means. Credit was our friend, and we slowly sank deeper and deeper into a financial hole.
The other flaw with that thinking was that eventually…“later” would arrive, and we were seldom prepared for when it did. Our idea of setting aside money because we had purchased something on “No Payments for an Entire Year!” never worked out, no matter how sincere we were. There just always seemed to be something else that took priority.
So we continued to pile on the responsibilities. First a mortgage. Then a new car. A baby on the way. Then another. A second new car. We managed to maintain our financial heads above water, barely making our monthly payments, and hoping to be able to hold off just long enough to start paying things off.
Then disaster struck.
I was out of work for 5 months. It’s an unsettling feeling to have to put groceries on a credit card because there is no money in your bank account. Our line of credit was exceeded. The phone calls started. The people on the other end weren’t very sympathetic. The stress of those daily calls began to take its toll.
Eventually I was back to work and things began to improve. With the worst behind us, we figured that we could finally begin to dig ourselves out. But even though we were making payments, the damage was too great. Our creditors demanded back payment for the months that we had defaulted, and we simply did not have the money to pay them back as quickly as they wanted. Amazingly their suggestion often was “Is there anyone in your family or a friend you can borrow from?”. We were being pressured to replace one debt with another.
Enough was enough. Something had to change. Friends of ours were clients of Credit Counseling Services, and were quite happy with how they were starting to turn their own lives around. We talked about it, and decided that we needed to set aside any shame or embarrassment that we felt… It was obvious that we couldn’t do this on our own. We needed help.
Our first session was very humbling. I can’t say enough good things about Ashley, but it was still difficult to hand over a stack of bills and talk about the mess that we’d gotten ourselves into. She assured us that we had made the right decision and that, together, we would come up with a plan to get back on track. Then we cut up our credit cards.
Ashley was right. It didn’t take long before the creditors’ calls stopped, and we were no longer afraid to answer the phone again. If someone did call who wanted to talk about our payments, we simply directed them to Ashley. That alone was worth its weight in gold!
We also began to see results in our debts. I actually looked forward to getting my latest statement in the mail. I can remember when the first bill was paid off. It was a very small one, but the feeling of seeing it completely paid, and knowing that more money would now be allocated toward another bill was a huge lift.
Eventually my wife and I would separate, and in doing so, separate our debt obligations. Once again I went to see Ashley; this time with a list of bills that I wanted to solely take over. I could have lowered my monthly payment, but was determined to pay off my debt as quickly as I could. At the current rate of payment, it would take me 16 months to be debt-free. My goal was to shorten that to 12.
I’ve long ago gotten over any negative perceptions that I had prior to making that initial appointment. I wrote a paper in university for my Personal Finance course on my experiences with CCS. My professor asked me to present it to the other students. Because I was a few years older than everyone else in the class, I had experienced some of the financial pitfalls that the course aimed to help students avoid. I was a living example of what not to do, how it could affect you, and how to pull yourself out, while keeping your head held high. I received an “A” on that paper.
When anyone ever talks about credit counseling, I always say the same thing. “I should have done it sooner!” That’s my single regret. Get past whatever emotion it is that is holding you back, and realize that these people are professionals. Not once did I ever feel judged or looked down upon. The assistance that they provide is invaluable.
Now, my financial outlook is making a dramatic comeback. I continue to set aside money for purchases that I’m interested in, rather than impulsively rushing out and buying something. I have a clearer distinction between my “needs” and my “wants”. I continue to make regular contributions into a “rainy day” fund for life’s unexpected challenges. Things are good.
On a personal note, I would like to thank everyone at CCS, especially Ashley, for everything that you have done to help us over the past few years. I honestly do not think that we could have recovered as well as we have, had it not been for your assistance.
I would also like to thank you for recognizing me as your Client of the Year. I hope that you realize the tremendous value that your services provide. You really do help change peoples’ lives.