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Your e-mails: Fighting off credit card debt

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(CNN) -- Americans commonly use credit cards as part of their family finances. Sometimes the reliance on credit cards leads to an unhealthy amount of debt. asked readers how they deal with credit card debt and asked them to share their stories. Here is a selection of responses, some of which have been edited.

Douglas Woodward from West Hartford, Connecticut
I was in credit card debt straight out of college in 1997. After five years in the work force, I had $12,000 in credit card debt and nothing in savings. I worked a second job for five more years to pay that debt off. Today, I own a home and live debt free to credit cards. Looking back, I can't believe how foolish I was in spending and how many opportunities I missed out on due to the debt hanging over my head. I could have traveled, moved to a location that had better career opportunities and had more in savings today.

Ellen Attridge from Essex, Massachusetts
My husband and I have been diligently paying off our credit cards for over a year. We switched from a high interest credit card to one with a low interest rate and 0 percent introductory rate for the first 12 months. From a high of $7,800, we are now down to under $2,000. We hope to have the balance paid by summer. We have made an agreement that nothing goes on the credit card unless it's an emergency (medical or car). I'm proud of the progress we've made and am looking forward to taking our $500 a month credit card payment and saving for a new car. My current car is 11 years old, but I'm not buying another until I can pay cash!

Robert Barnes from Cleveland, Ohio
My plan, like all others, is a simple one. Just buy what I can afford, stay single, and eat very, very, very little. That's the only way any one could make it this day in age.

Ashley Catt from Madison, Mississippi
My husband and I recently paid off our last debt other than our house. The main thing that worked for us is getting a portion of my paycheck directly deposited into our savings. That way we had to make an effort to get it out and spend it. We would let the savings build up, then pay a lump sum down on our debt. Every time we get a raise, we increase the amount that goes into savings. From now on, we will save up and buy things rather than finance them if at all possible. Also, we only buy used cars and we do not carry a balance on our credit cards.

Al Pontani from Mount Laurel, New Jersey
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to be able to save money. Unfortunately, it is something that must be learned, since by time most of us reach adulthood we've been brainwashed into believing that spending money on material goods brings happiness. We've been lied to. The first thing to remember is that credit is to be used to establish better credit, not to buy more when you're broke. You cannot save by spending. It's that simple. Honestly separate your wants from your needs before you buy anything, and when you do buy, research the best prices first.

Joe Cunningham from Salem, Virginia
Like many Americans, our family had built up substantial debt (more than $20,000 on credit cards, a $10,000 vehicle loan and $60,000 on the mortgage). [It was] all balanced on combined incomes which totaled in the mid-five figures. Finally we learned how to say no. No vacation for a few years. No newer vehicles for a few years and most importantly, if we can't pay cash, we wait. Today, with nothing more exotic than learning to say "no," we only have about $50,000 on the mortgage. No other debt at all. This was a really good move on our part as I am now on disability retirement and my wife works part time while pursuing her post-graduate degree. We're not rich, but we're without financial fears.

Steve Petersen from Dammeron Valley, Utah
I treat my credit card like it is a debit card. If I don't have the money on hand to pay for an item, I don't buy it with my credit card.

William Cobb from West Palm Beach, Florida
I am over $15,000 in credit card debt and an additional $10,000 balloon payment I am looking at come October 2007 from Mitsubishi Motor Credit. Ha, what a joke. I wish schools taught a little about debt and how it can affect your future. I am 23 years old with a debt-to-income ratio of 101 percent. Credit cards come too easy and with a growing cost of living and a non-growing income, it's nearly impossible to keep up. I just have to wait for tax returns every year or an above average bonus to give me the chance to have a little fun. I started at the age of 18 with a $500 [credit] card and then got [another] card to pay for new tires. That is when I went downhill: jewelry cards, [store] cards, luxury items available to me at only $25 a month. Soon [the payments grew to] $100 a month, then $150 a month. I am definitely one of those negative savers. I do hope to change this year. I plan on using my tax returns to pay off my jewelry card (used for wedding rings) and then start to double up on payments and get the rest under control and paid off within the next five to seven years. Wow, it wasn't worth it.

Linda Michaels from Milford, Nevada
Stay out of stores, toss catalogues without looking at them, make a list for the grocery store and only shop once in a pay cycle [and] pay more on your mortgage and car payment to save interest.

Andy Reidenbaugh from Riding, Virginia
Ironically, I have found that my zeal to pay off credit card balances has at times worked against me. Since I despise credit card debt, I tend to make very aggressive payments to minimize interest charges. Despite my good intentions, this often fuels a vicious cycle: the large payments I'm making reduce my checking account balance to the point where I need to rely on the credit cards again. I've now come to realize that it's better to make more moderate payments and maintain a higher checking balance to avoid reliance on the credit cards. I've also found that keeping a spreadsheet of monthly bills, checking them off as they're paid and always paying well before they're due is very helpful. The spreadsheet allows me to understand my cash flow situation and know when it's the right (or wrong) time to make discretionary purchases.

Lawrence Hartung from Elysian, Minnesota
The way my wife and I stay out of debt, while using credit cards, is to only use the cards to purchase an item that we can completely pay off within 30 days, no matter what the purchase price, other than vehicles and home.

Dana Montrella from York, Pennsylvania
With a lot of hard work I have paid off $10,000 out of $15,000 worth of debt that I had this time last year. Because everyone's situation is different I know it isn't always possible to do what I'm doing. My situation is that I am a male in my mid 30s with no children and living with my girlfriend. My income isn't that great, so I decided to get a second job. All the money from that job first went to paying off the credit card. Once I that was paid off, I used that money, along with my regularly scheduled payments, to pay off my car loan. Now I'm using all those earnings to knock out my student loans. Once one debt is paid off, use the money that's just been freed up to pay off the other debts, and so on and so forth until it's all paid off. It's not easy, but I figure a brief time of hard work and sacrifice will lead to years of freedom.

Many readers advised consumers to separate their wants from their needs when spending with credit cards.


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