The following was originally posted over at my 43 Things list:

Starting about 15 years ago, I was introduced the world of credit cards. Coming from a typical lower-middle-class family that never talked about money except in the most abstract way possible, I had a very poor idea of what “money management” was all about. I had an income and I spent it on stuff I liked.

Then I met some friends who strived to be upper-middle class, and who said things like “It’s not like it’s real money; it’s credit” and assumed that it was normal to have credit cards maxed out and just pay the minimum balance. Whoa. Talk about falling in with the wrong crowd.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that buying groceries on a credit card with a 21% APR was a Bad Thing. Of course, by then, I had been dragged through the modern-day gauntlet of dealing with Collection Agencies. I had to figure out on my own how to say no to abusive phone calls and demanding voices on the other end. I shifted from thinking I’d never have to pay all this back, to thinking… well, that I won’t ever be able to pay all this back, so why bother? I decided that the only thing “good credit” got you was more credit, and tried to run.

In other words, my thinking went from bad to worse. I didn’t differentiate between unsecured debt, like credit cards, and secured debt, like a mortgage or a car loan. And I discovered that yes, if I had to, I could live without a car, but that it would be nice to own a house someday. But not with my credit history.

About ten years ago, I met a man who took me under his wing and helped me see lots of my life in a different light. I realized, in part, that I did, in fact, incur those debts, and that if I wanted to maintain my good mental image, I needed to pay them all back. Part of that was having a career plan (hard to pay back debts when I bounced from low-paying job to low-paying job), and the other part was actually setting aside the money towards those looming unpaid balances.

There’s way more to this story than I should tell here. However, my main point is that I have felt like I’ve been in financial prison, figuratively speaking, for at least 10 years. I screwed up and I’ve been paying the price (heh) to undo my mistakes.

And I now stand within 3 months of being finally, forever, completely free of all my past and current debt. I’ve got just under three months and I will be a free man once again.

I have been meaning to add to the above and edit it a bit to give more history, but that will do for now.

43 Things is a great idea that shows the power of distributed communication. It’s basically an online “to-do” list, and that’s how it got started. But because of a couple of additions, it’s become a community-building tool and a social network, also. What happens is, people can search for other people who are trying to do the same things they’re doing, and link to them. And ask for, or offer, advice, and cheer people on… it’s a great idea. Did I say that already?