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The last time I (Kristina Histen) had a savings account, I was still in high school. During my adolescence, my parents would double any money my siblings and I wanted to put in the bank to encourage us to save. This would have been a great concept had they explained to us why and the importance of this money. Over the years, my $5 here and $20 there quickly accumulated to over $1,000. During the final months of my senior year, I was especially ecstatic about this because I had over a grand to spend on my prom.

An expensive dress, hair extensions and a weekend full of fun nearly drained my account. The remaining I spent on matching dorm accessories to accommodate my college lifestyle. You know, those bare necessities I desperately had to have.

As a sophomore in college, I opened up my first bank account that came with a sweet credit card in my name. I saw it as free money that was spent on elaborate Christmas gifts and new clothes. Despite my begging with the bank, late fees and missed payments made me ineligible for a higher credit limit causing me to max out quickly. Pretty soon, I found myself counting coins just to grab a drink with friends. Nickel night and two-for-one happy hours became my favorite ways to socialize.

After graduation, I didn’t feel like slaving away at a “real job” and decided to keep waitressing. However, all my friends were accepting $40k+ jobs that made me feel incompetent in comparison. Pretending I didn’t want to save so I could “enjoy the moment” I impulsively bought a brand new car with a hefty payment plan and lived in a nice luxury apartment to keep up. When that wasn’t enough, I scrounged up whatever money I could find and moved across the country to one of the most expensive cities in America.

I arrived in San Francisco, four thousand miles later, at the height of the economic crisis. Unfamiliar with the area, I racked up parking tickets left and right. I could hardly get an interview, so I took whatever temp jobs were offered and waitressed on the weekends. Regardless of working seven days a week, my bills continued to take over my life and I was drowning in debt. I was stressed, exhausted and feeling extremely overwhelmed.

Therefore, I jumped at an opportunity to move to Los Angeles. I assumed there would be more available jobs with less expensive places to live and I’d finally be able to break even. However, I could only find jobs that paid between $12 – $14/hour making it nearly impossible for me to pay for anything. My student loan payments due every month were a constant reminder of the education I was not using and the money I didn’t have.

When all seemed lost, a friend invited me to take the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course that she and her husband were hosting. After my first class, I was taken aback. Why didn’t I know any of this?! Why had no one taught me how to handle my money before?! It just seemed so easy…still, with over $52,000 in debt at the ripe age of 25, I was hesitant as to if I could actually be a success story.

However, after each class I felt more inspired and more motivated than the last. I realized that I could in fact grab a hold of my finances and tell my money where to go. I learned about the baby steps and the importance of focusing on one at time. I learned that I needed to budget and have priorities. I learned that I could really do this, like really do it. Me! I could change my life. My first mission: $1,000 emergency fund. Therefore, when a real emergency happens, I can handle it without borrowing and can break the awful cycle of debt.

With the encouragement of my new mentors, a change in my attitude and a confidence I had never felt before, I was offered a job that paid nearly double what I was making. Within a few months I completed baby step 1. I have $1,000 back in my savings account that won’t be spent on a new dress or hair extensions. I am now one step closer to being DEBT FREE!
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Kristina Histen is an aspiring writer living in New York. When she’s not using her money to pay off debt, she is clearance shopping, drinking two buck chuck and budgeting for hair extensions.