Monday 13 June 2016

The Debt War

A personal story.

Five years ago, I had over $7,000 in credit card debt. For months I had been carrying on, paying a bit here and a bit there, but never really making any progress. Most of the time, I tried to stick my head in the sand and just not think about it. Slowly though, the debt began to weigh more and more heavily upon me. It started to affect my thinking about life and the future, about what was possible. One day, while sitting in a dark mood, I thought to myself that I would trade everything I owned just to get out of debt. Suddenly, the mood lifted. I realized that I really would trade most of my possessions to get out of debt. I determined then and there to launch a war against my debt, a war that I wouldn’t stop fighting until I had won.

First, I needed to understand my enemy. Most credit cards, including mine, charged an annual percentage rate (A.P.R) of around 20%. (Personally, I think that should be criminal, but that’s a topic for another day). On a $7,000 debt that worked out to $1,400 of interest – every year! Of course, it was worse than that. Credit card companies don’t calculate your interest every year, they calculate it daily. Meaning your debt grows every single day, and because of that you are actually going into debt at a faster rate with each passing day!

For my purposes I didn’t need to know the exact figures, it was enough to realize that each month I did nothing I was drifting around $125 deeper in debt. Or, to put it another way, if I paid my credit card company $125 a month, I would never pay off my debt. I would continue to pay this bill until the day I died, and then pass along a $7,000 debt to my wife.

So that’s what I was up against. I needed to pay $125 just to stop the bleeding. If I was going to start pushing the enemy back, I needed more than that.

I took a good look at my finances. If I was going to go to war, it was time to start rationing. Yes, it hurt to end my subscription to all of my magazines and to my Doctor Who audio adventures. The Sky television package got chopped down to the minimum. Movies, concerts, meals out, they all had to go. Tough times called for tough measures. This was war after all. When I got through with my monthly budget, I found I could put nearly £200 towards my debt.

One advantage I did have at the time was the exchange rate between the UK (where I earned my money) and the USA (where I kept my debt). At the time the pound was worth about $1.50, which was a nice psychological incentive as it made all of the money I put towards debt feel like it was gaining an extra 50%!

So, £200, which translated to $300 a month, more than twice what my debt was costing me. Not bad, not bad at all. However, at that rate it would still take me 3-4 years to pay off the debt, and in that time I would be losing all kinds of money to interest. Unacceptable.

I determined that every month, I would find another $300 (just £200) to put towards my debt. I looked around the house, and started in the most obvious place – the lead mountain. Most miniature wargamers have a lead mountain, that gigantic pile of unpainted miniatures that you tell yourself that you will one day paint. In my heart, I knew that I would never paint most of them. So, I set out to sell them.

To sell my miniatures I used a combination of Ebay and Lead Adventure. Ebay is great for collectable items that could possibly start a bidding war and sell for high amounts; however, its fees are also high. For more standard items, I used Lead Adventure, my favourite miniatures forum. I used the forum to make dozens of deals, and I can happily say I never had any issues with any of them. Occasionally, I worried about selling my minis, but I just kept telling myself that I could always buy them back if I wanted them (it hasn’t happened yet).

In those first couple of months, it was remarkably easy to make money and to hit my target of paying at least $600 a month towards my debt. At first I would make a credit card payment immediately whenever I received money, then I ‘discovered’ that the credit card limited me to making five payments a month (so... it could charge me daily interest, but I could only try to pay back my debt five times a month...yeah, that’s fair). Fine, I just had to be a bit smarter about it.

Having cleaned out most of the unpainted minis, I started in on the painted ones that I had from projects long ago abandoned. Even with that though, I needed to find other income streams. I looked around the house, the only thing that came close to miniatures in numbers terms was books. I’ve always been a bit of a book hoarder. I kept almost all my books, including ones that I knew I would never read again, even a bunch that I didn’t even like that much. Why? It didn’t matter now, they had to go! After a bit of searching, I found the best place for me to sell books was A lot they don’t take and some they pay only pennies for, but overall, I was able to convert a lot of books into a good chunk of cash. Also, I found that if I just held onto some titles for awhile, they might take them later. I soon learned that they also took CDs and DVDs, so most of those went as well!

I was also lucky enough to pick up a few allies in my war. One of my friends allowed me to sell some of his minis and keep 50% of the profits. My father also helped out, when he realized I was determined to kill my debt. (The prodigal son fund). Still, I am proud to say that I obtained most of the money myself.

I sold off most of my gaming books. I sold comic books. Any time I used Tesco points or Nectar points, I immediately put a corresponding amount in my debt war fund. I cashed in all of my change; I sold off some collectable coins. I wrote a couple of online articles for a bit of cash. I refused to let up, because when you are beating the enemy back, never give him a chance to regroup. If you are paying off your debt, never let up until your debt is down to zero. If you stop, it will come back. That is the key, never stop, until the debit is dead!

In the end, it took me about a year and a half to pay off that $7,000, but I did it. The day I won the war, a huge weight lifted off me and a felt a new sense of freedom. Along the way, I probably cleaned out 75% of the stuff I own, and actually, I’ve come to realize I’m happier without most of it. Just like the debt, these useless possessions were also weighing me down.

So, the moral of my story: if you have debt, especially high-interest rate debt, you need to go to war. Now! It is so easy to get into debt. I did it, and I consider myself a generally intelligent, math capable person. It is hard, hard to get out of debt, and it only gets harder as time goes by. Even as deep in debt as I was, I kept buying stuff. I kept buying miniatures to throw on top of the lead mountain. Put simply, I was crazy

These days, I’m actually in the miniatures business. I make a few pennies every time a Frostgrave miniature sells. I hope people buy them because it helps me, and I think they are good figures, but, please don’t buy them if you are in debt, and please don’t go into debt to buy them. I assure you, you will be happier without the minis and without the debt. I also assure you, if you want them later, they will be there.


  1. Thank you for being so open and honest, and for sharing with us both your methodology and your results. To quote a 1980s cartoon, "Go Joe!"

  2. It is a nice feeling to get out of debt. I did it a couple of years ago then opened a business and now I am back in debt and it sucks in many ways.

    Glad to see some people can fight their way completely free.

  3. Well done for being so open & honest, and for your heartfelt advice not to buy! It is so easy to continue spending on stuff we don't need, just to take our minds off of things. I think the biggest plus with FG is the fact that it doesn't have to be a money pit to be good fun... good karma to you dude, and congrats on winning your war.

  4. I won my personal 4500€ war in 30mounths... revolving credit cards with ascending limits are pervert chaotic evil beasts

    Now I ve only a rechargeble Visa :)

  5. As a bonus, I am sure your home looks less cluttered now. :)

  6. Excellent read Joe, I am another Miniature Mountain guy, & though I have debt, I also have a wife who is looking ahead as we have both reached the top of the bell-curve of life & are now on the downward slope. It's time to start digging out the collections which never are displayed ( a home is just so big) & work through like yourself, miniatures you will never get too. I am starting with model kits (some of which I bought while I was stationed in Germany in the 80's!) & find new homes for them, where they may actually sit on a shelf built vs in the box.


  7. Well done. This is an inspiring read. I was in a similar position but got much deeper. I did learn who judged me and who cared. I thought me important lessons in frugality.

    To anyone reading this. It is a war. A war to get you into debt and keep you there! Don't put your head in the stand and take the steps to beat the debt. There are many debt charities out there. In the UK I found Step change is one of the best. Good luck in the war!

  8. Thanks for this post, it was excellent, honest, & thought provoking.

  9. Good article and I really appreciate your honesty.

    Fortunately I do not have a debt problem, however, I do have some future plans that having some extra savings would help with. Your post has inspired me to seriously look at my lead mountain and I have far too many books. I had not found a reasonable way to sell the books until you mentioned So thanks for that too...

  10. Yeah, in truth, getting out of debt is really just step one. Better if we all had some savings as well. Webuybooks, like I mentioned, be patient. Sell the ones they will take, but check back every so often to see if they'll take others.

  11. Well done Joe, well done!

    Like David said, it is good to have savings, so keep up the new found habits and invest the money (it will be good to have compound interest working FOR you!)

    There is a multi billion dollar/pound industry that is designed to separate you from your $$$ (i.e. Marketing), so don't feel bad about getting into debt.

    If you need an ally, look to "MrMoneyMustache" (google it). His blog helped me to become more financially independent. (Sorry about the plug, but I just think that it is so worth it.)

    Best of luck,

  12. Thanks Wynr! Interestingly, I have become a follower of MrMoneyMustache in the past few months. It's a shame that I didn't discover him years ago, as then I would have realized my debt EMERGENCY sooner! In fact, I think it was the discovery of MMM that prompted me to write this blog. The Debt War is really bigger than me, it effects so much of society and, frankly, we need to share INTEL!