Running Up Credit Card Debt: It’s not easy to tell this story

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The first credit card I got was a Visa that I signed up for after getting an offer in the mail. I was 19 years old and in college. I didn’t need the card (then again, who really needs a credit card?), but I thought it would be a good way to establish credit. The first thing I bought with the card was a pair of Adidas trail response running shoes. I paid $73 and hit the pavement in those shoes until they were completely worn out.

After buying the shoes, I went home and put $73 aside to make sure when the bill came, I could pay for them in full. When the bill arrived and I wrote the check for $73 to pay it off, it was exhilarating. I felt so responsible and grown up.

Each month for a while, I continued to do the same thing. I’d buy one or two things, wait for the bill, and pay it in full. I bought a table and chairs from Crate and Barrel for $400 and really felt grown up then. I’d bought furniture and paid for it when the bill came. I was really getting the hang of being mature and responsible, I thought.

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During this time, I was in college living in a condo hubby and I had bought together and working two jobs – one as a nanny every weekday afternoon and one at IBM on Saturday and Sunday mornings at the front desk. For a college kid, I made good money in addition to the money hubby was making at his job.

Somewhere along the way, probably after I got a bill for more than a few hundred dollars and I noticed the “minimum payment now due” box, I realized I could just pay a little of the bill and keep the money in my checking account for more shopping. I got out of control fast. My credit limit kept getting raised, my minimum payments were so enticing, and oh how I loved shopping.

A combination of impulsivity, a desire to fit in, and an eating disorder at the time played into the ugly change in course from being responsible to being in complete financial trouble. It went from just the Visa card to a Mastercard too, then a card to all of my favorite stores – Jcrew, Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Express. While I starved my body of the food it needed, I was leaving a hole that needed filling and I filled it with clothes. Clothes in really small sizes that gave me a false sense of esteem. I had huge credit card balances and a closet full of size 0 clothes.

In just a couple short years, I had run myself over $10,000 in credit card debt, transferring balances to new cards, signing up for additional promotions, waiting impatiently for my limits to be raised so I had more to spend. I had $1,500 on a card, would pay $100 to it and call every day until that $100 posted then go out and spend the new available balance. I missed payments, I made late payments, I overdrew my checking account too many times to count.

It’s not easy to tell this story. It’s not easy to look back on a time that I would’ve done anything to fit in and be accepted by people that were impossible to please. I had reduced my self worth to what other very misguided people valued – things that clearly mean nothing but meant the world to me then.

The details of my debt story make it look like this story is only mine. My path into debt and the underlying factors that caused it may not look like anyone else’s. At the heart of debt are a few things: living beyond one’s means, a lack of control, and a false sense of what is really valuable in life.

At 22 years old, with a boat load of bills to my name, an eating disorder to kick to the curb, and a loving husband, I decided it was time to turn things around. I emptied my wallet of plastic and I hung up my running shoes.

Was it as easy as I thought it would be? No, it was not.

To Be Continued

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