The first time I danced with the Devil I was seventeen years old. He showed up in the mail all shiny and new. Chase bank had heard I’d been accepted to college and knew – just knew – I’d need a shiny, plastic friend to help me adjust to college life. I opened the envelope, the excitement already building. Cha-ching! They’d given me a $500 credit line! I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. After a bit of discussion, my parents and I decided it was probably good to begin building my credit, and for, you know, emergencies and such. And so with the peeling of that sticker and signing of my name began my dalliance with debt. As I slid my new buddy into my pocketbook, I whispered, “Oh, the places we’ll go together.”
The American Dream – Buy Now, Pay Later
I remember one of my first big “emergency” purchases. Out “window shopping” with a friend, I happened upon the most amazing full-length faux fur-lined leather coat (hey, it was the late 90’s). I tried it on and felt pure luxury wash over me. Of course, I didn’t have the cash for it. I was a broke college student, and it was a full-length faux fur-lined leather coat! Yet, it was on sale, and oh the feel of it. I had to have it, so I ran it to the register and handed over my good buddy. The clerk rang up my purchase, and as they began to bag it I said there was no need. They could go ahead and discard the tags.
Leaving that store in my new luxurious leather coat, I experienced that feeling. You know that feeling where you get a rush of adrenaline from owning something you really, truly wanted yet your smile feels tainted by the guilt of buying something you can’t afford? Does anybody else know that feeling? And so I was first initiated to the American dream of buy now, pay later.
Oh, how I loved that coat. I wore it for a good ten years before finally letting it go, but there was always the guilt when I’d make that monthly minimum payment (all I could afford at the time), that I hadn’t paid it off yet. I would shove those thoughts aside with another impulse purchase as the adrenaline would kick in again. Ahhh. Doesn’t this look marvelous on me? What a great color, right? I’d tell myself I really “needed” fill-in-the-blank whatever.
And the day came much too quickly that my good buddy was maxed out. So I paid the minimum payment each month, and before long, they increased the credit line. It was a good thing too, because there were more “emergencies” I needed. Those new shoes, for instance. And then there was that tattoo I absolutely had to have which I ended up getting redone several years later. Essentials to living the broke college life. I’d sit and eat my ramen noodles in my leather coat thinking I needed to make more money at my waitressing job to buy some groceries. Eh, another day. I thought. For now, this coat is so soft. And warm. So warm. Definitely a good buy. No – a great buy. An emergency coat indeed.
“Hey, a few of us are going out. You wanna come?” My roommate asked.
“Hmmm,” I began to reply as my thoughts wandered to my negative checkbook register. “I’d better not. I have a lot of studying to do.” A little white lie escaped my lips as the shame of having once again spent all my money so quickly washed over me.
“Oh, bummer! Are you sure you don’t want to come just for a little bit?” She prodded.
“Nah, better stay disciplined,” I said.
“Okay, if you’re sure. Hey, why are you wearing your coat inside?” She asked.
“I was cold. Duh,” I joked in reply.
“Uh huh. Well, see ya,” she said. “Oh, I grabbed the mail. This came for you.” She tossed an envelope into my lap.
“Yeah. Have fun!” I replied. As I watched her leave out the back door my heart sank. I thought, Maybe I should bring my good buddy along just for a drink or two. I mean, it’s important for lifelong development and friendships to keep my spirits up … with spirits, right?
Time for a New Dream
My eyes fell to the envelope in my lap. In bold letters the words “Chase Bank” jumped up at me. With a different kind of adrenaline I set aside my ramen noodles and opened the envelope to discover I had gone over the new credit limit and now owed the minimum payment plus the overage charges plus an overdraft fee!
What, I didn’t remember buying that? What was that charge? Oh yeah… that necklace I saw and had to have. My thoughts wandered to the overpriced jewelry laying haphazardly on my nightstand.
I gulped as the realization hit me that I’d definitely be staying in that night. I went to my bedroom and retrieved the forgotten necklace. While fastening it I thought, I should probably pick up that extra shift at work. And for sure should cut out “window shopping” first thing. Perhaps I should study after all, or I could see what’s on TV for a bit first. After all, this coat is so warm and so cozy. I can figure it all out tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll come up with a plan.
***I hope you enjoyed this introduction to my new series, “Pocketbook Confessions.” Follow along for more confessions and what I learned along my journey to living ‘Happily Ever After’ on a budget. (Note, this is mostly based in truth, but I did take liberties with the dialogue and details because, let’s be honest, my memory is just not that great.)***
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