I had to finance a used car at 18% interest back in 2010 because I’d destroyed my credit in college. Rather than trying to fix my credit, I thought I could live without credit. But when my old Corolla died at close to 220K miles, I had to buy another car. I drove a lot for work, so going carless wasn’t an option.
I was a used car salesperson’s dream. They knew I had to drive a car off the lot that day and they could charge me exorbitant interest rates and fees since my credit was so terrible.
I only had about $1,500 saved and that all went to the down payment. It was a terrible feeling to know that once the down payment cleared, I’d have less than $100 to my name, especially since I’d seen how quickly life could implode. My dad and brother had both recently died. We were coming out of the Great Recession, and my mom and sister were both out of work. My mom was on the verge of losing her home. I knew I had no one to turn to in the event of an emergency — and that if another crisis were to strike someone I loved, there was no way I’d be able to help out.
It was a really chaotic period of my life, but that car loan gave me something to focus on. I wasn’t going to pay a cent of interest that I didn’t have to, so I started putting every cent I had into paying extra on my car payment. My car payment was $199, but every month, I made sure to pay more. Some months that was really hard — like when I needed some expensive dental work I’d put off. I was tempted to just make the $199 payment, but I still made myself kick in an extra 11 bucks to make a $210 payment. But by cutting my expenses to the bone, most months I was able to pay a couple hundred dollars extra.
I paid off the car in 20 months, instead of 60 months. Then I started saving the $400 or so I’d been spending each month on the car payment and built a small emergency fund. Because I’d established a positive credit history, I was also able to qualify for a credit card again with a $300 limit.
I guess the big takeaway is that when everything feels out of control, try finding just one thing you can control. Focus on one goal. When I had to buy the car, I had debt, no emergency fund, nothing saved for retirement, no money saved for other goals. If I’d tried to get control over my debt, my savings, my retirement, etc., all at once, I’m sure I would have failed. But by having one thing to focus on, I was slowly able to take control.