Editorial Fashion Featured FEATURED STORIES Home Op Ed

My Unhealthy Relationship… with Debt

(The Verge) When discussions of bills, money, cash flow, come up, I was always prone to feel a bit uneasy – I was the girl with an incredible urge to keep up with the Jones’… or Regina Georges of the current world (I blame the media… and my subculture of young women who are taught to compete and that materialism is actually a good trait, side note: I have yet to completely kick that habit.)
Anyway, to give a bit of a backdrop, perhaps I should really blame my parents that raised me between the ages of 13-24 (this set of parents was different due to the changeup of husbands my mother had prior to and after that range). Even before that, my mother had used all that she could, even as a single mom, to put me into private school and she had her own competition with the mom’s of my schoolmates and so it was drilled into my head from a young age that I was always to have the best. Normally, this would have proven to produce a spoiled brat with no concept of money or worth. Well, I beat the odds and became a girl with half of that. After the age of 13, I decided that I would become an adult … or at least pretend to be one and I started working that summer. I would continue to work every summer throughout high school. It wasn’t until I was about 18 that I began to feel guilty about accepting money that I didn’t earn (see, I told you I wasn’t a brat).  This is also the unfortunate age when credit card companies became very aware of my birthday.
My first credit card was from a department store (from my later experience, those are the worst: hello, crazy interest rates!) and was so appealing: an immediate credit range of $500 that you could use right now andget 15% off?!? This meant a lot of stuff that I could buy myself right now and now worry about it until later (this was the same mindset that would later get me into a lot of trouble). My next credit card came after I approached a colorful table at a school majors fair that promised cool gifts if I just signed up for their card (more trouble later on). This was a continuing pattern for me until I had filled up my brand new Juicy Couture wallet (purchased using a credit card, of course) with a collection of cards. I suppose that accruing all of them wouldn’t have been so bad if I was actually making payments… but since I didn’t have the money, I just put all the bills off to the side: out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong.

Credit cards can really ‘do you in,’ but in my case, they really did! And oh, so young. Image taken from: mybudget360.com

By the time I was getting harassed by collection agencies, I had a collection of 9 store cards and 5 major credit cards and had racked up approximately $17,000.00 and what did I have to show for it? A whole bunch of designer crap and nothing else since a lot of that went to food and disposable items like gasoline, flowers, and groceries, rent, etc. I was in a really bad jam and didn’t want to tell my parents for fear of experiencing their wrath. I ended up gently telling them … it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I should have done it sooner… my parents set me up on payment plans with several collection agencies and also helped payoff a large chunk. One day, I will pay them back for everything.
Fast forward a five years later: most of the debt has been paid off, I only have about $2,500 to pay off, I have been working full time to take care of all of my bills, and things are finally under control (give or take a few mess-ups). I picked up a few books on debt and Finance for 20-somethings (A Dummy Book) (something that is a current project of mine). By following the tips and guidelines, I have been able to start really saving up money and restore some of my credit that was previously tarnished for quite a few years. But all of this has provided to be a great lesson to me: that credit cards are not the devil, if used with caution. And when used wisely and paid off in total at the end of every month, they can be a great thing for building credit or repairing bad credit.
I currently have two credit cards: a Master Card that I only use for gas and pay off automatically every month and one Macy’s card (I use it and pay it off immediately at the same register: it gives me a discount. Consequently, this was also the first card I ever had). I consider myself now a more responsible buyer, but that need to buy, buy, buy has never truly disappeared… it only now comes with conscience: “do I really, really need this?” and who can say no to the really fabulous finds? My current boyfriend is already akin to this sort of behavior and has vowed to keep me distracted during such times. He is actually my balance, since he has grown up to be the polar opposite: he’s a big cheap-O, but it works for us and he has been a big reason for my success thus far. Maybe that’s what all people like myself need: a voice of reason, whether it comes from an actual person or from our conscience.
So, in the end or at least as of right now, I am a self-confessed shopaholic (but not in that cute way that girls like to affectionately refer to themselves as). I’m the kind that needs to go to meetings, and they do have meetings for people like me: DA or Debtor’s Anonymous. Apparently, I’m not alone in my suffering and someday, maybe I’ll be able to eliminate those impulsive purchases and stop going shopping when mad or depressed or just to keep up with that girl who sits next to me in my economics class. Oh, the irony.
Designer brands (maxing out credit cards) have been the culprit in the lives of many, but programs like Debtors Anonymous exist to help you out of such circumstances. Image taken from: visitsweden.com