Let me start off by saying that I don’t think credit cards are evil, but I do believe they shade a person’s perspective on money. Back in the early 90s I received my first credit card while attending university. Embarrassing as it is, I was enticed by a free t-shirt and the thought of having “free money” to spend at my leisure. I didn’t have to make a single payment for one year. Who could pass that up, right? I can remember feeling so grown-up and mature at the thought of having a credit card with my name on it, as if it was some distinguished title and honour.
It is crazy the chemical reaction I felt when that first credit card, and many after, arrived in the mail. I was like a giddy schoolgirl waiting to see the cute boy in the hall. As soon as the credit card arrived I was buying shoes, clothes, food; you name it, I bought it.
I soon realised that what I thought was “free” for the first year, was not only going to cost me, but came with strings attached in the form of interest. Back then there was not a lot of precautionary information provided on the dangers of having a credit card or the interest rate attached to them. When the bills started to arrive I realised that I did not have the money to pay the minimum payments.
“Here I was, working three jobs and taking 18 hours of classes a semester, trying to make ends meet all because I got carried away spending money I did not have.”
At the time I was working a part-time job for the university, but not making near enough to pay for these new credit cards alongside my necessity bills. I ended up having to get an additional part-time job in the evening checking ID cards for a local gym, and eventually a third job working as a hostess at a restaurant. Here I was, working three jobs and taking 18 hours of classes a semester, trying to make ends meet all because I got carried away spending money I did not have.
The “addiction” grew even worse after graduation. The spending habit turned towards furniture and knick-knacks for my apartment and bar tabs on the weekends. Eventually I was in possession of three credit cards. Here I was, a college graduate working my first “big girl” job, and I was close to $18,000 in credit card debt.
As I struggled to pay the monthly payments, I reasoned that it wouldn’t hurt to not pay the full minimum payment, or skip a payment when I needed the money. The spending spree and fun ended and my financial nightmare intensified. My phone rang off the wall with calls from the creditors, and as the months continued the calls from debt collectors started as well.
“Collectively, we racked up close to $40,000 in debt! I was devastated, angry, and embarrassed.”
I eventually turned to a credit counseling service for help, which at the time was what I saw as my only way out. I found out years later that this move was actually damaging to my credit. I finally had the creditors off my back, but the debt still remained. The sad thing was, I never learned my lesson.
Less than a year later I was able to secure a new credit card, and the cycle started all over again. More credit cards arrived, and more credit card debt stacked up. I felt at the time that I was more responsible and capable to handle this debt because I had a better paying job, and eventually a husband with a second income. But his spending habits were no better than mine. We had no idea how bad it was until we decided to put it down on paper.
Collectively, we racked up close to $40,000 in debt! I was devastated, angry, and embarrassed. How did I get myself here yet again and in even worse debt than I ever had before?
Things Looking Up:
My husband and I attended a financial peace course at our church, and it opened our eyes and enhanced our desire to want to rid ourselves of the debt and suffocating pressure of owing people money. We created a game plan for how to pay our debt off. Each paycheck we tackled one credit card after another, and my husband started working a lot of overtime. The weight started to ease up more and more as the months went by.
Now we’re down to two credit cards and under $5,000 in debt. We are also wiser and more responsible now in learning and understanding the temptation of credit cards and the lasting effects that debt has on our lives. We even have become more knowledgeable about our credit and are working on improving our credit history and scores. It’s a work in progress, and a changed mindset to do better and be better.
Debt is dangerous and it lurks around the corner so readily available. This has been an ongoing battle for me for over 20 years. What I’ve learned is that nothing is free and I have to work for what I have; not spend other people’s money and live above my means to be something I am not. I am not wealthy and I don’t have a money tree growing in my yard. I laugh when I think about how “mature” I felt getting my first credit card, only to realise my spending habits were childish.
Money maturity takes time, as well as mental and emotional strength.
As the old children’s education slogan said, “knowledge is power”; it’s true with regards to credit cards. We cannot be powerless to credit cards, nor blind to debt. It is very difficult to get things done in our society without a credit card of some sort. Whether you are making a purchase online, reserving a rental car or hotel room, or even traveling out of the country, you will need a credit card. But owning a credit card comes with responsibility, and unless you have the financial means to pay down the balance each month, you shouldn’t use one. I know from experience the pitfalls credit cards can get you in, and hope that my past mistakes will have a positive effect on someone’s future decisions.