My confession: My dad bailed me out twice ... and now I'm in debt again

The financial advice my father gave me was sparse but stern: build your credit score. Use your credit cards, but always pay them off in full each month. Never carry a balance. It's the same advice I would give to other young people today, and the same advice I wish I'd followed — and wish I would start to follow.

The first time I got myself in over my head I didn't even know it. I was unemployed in a big city and knew I was living beyond my means, but I figured that once I landed something, I would just live frugally for a while and pay off my card quick and fast. I lived with that delusion until I let my $7,000 balance slip to my dad. He flipped out about me ruining my financial future. I still didn't "get it" so he showed me a scary spreadsheet that basically explained that I would be paying off this "latte debt" for the rest of my life. He said he didn't want me starting off adulthood with that debt burden, so he said he would pay off the credit card for me, with the caveat that I would repay him, someday, and that, before he did it, we had to go over my statements line by excruciating line so that I would to understand why I could never, never do this again.

You guys, it was painful.

But: I was debt free, and determined to stay that way. Except that I quit my job and moved and had to live off my credit card (what else?) for three months. Two more rules I ignored: never quit a job before having another job lined up, and always have two or three months of savings (savings? what savings) squirreled away. I don't know if you've ever had a credit card before, but $1,000 turns into $2,000 turns into $10,000 very, very quickly. So: there I was again. Back where I started, and worse, this time I didn't have the innocence card to play. My father flipped again, this time out of pure disappointment. He rued the day he thought me adult enough to deserve a bailout.

I considered a number of options, all of which sounded unappealing (selling my car, moving to a smaller place, ceasing to go out ever again), until I came upon the genius idea of refinancing my car — another quick fix. I went to a credit union, upped my monthly payment marginally, extended my loan terms substantially, and paid off my credit cards. Never again! I said. This time I got it. This time, it hurt. I could have been done with car payments in two years. Now? Five. But it was worth it. Free at last.

Until I decided everyone needed Christmas presents, and that I needed a trip to visit old friends, and that it would really benefit all involved we all went out for drinks tonight, my treat.

The balance is back. And this time there is no quick fix.

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