Five hundred bucks.
That was back in 1994. I was attending college; had been since 1989. One day in February, I hit the student union for lunch, and on the way to Taco Bell was waylaid by a young woman with a clipboard and offers for free “somethings” which I cannot quite remember. That is usually how it works: Apply for a credit card; get a free t-shirt. And a quick one-way trip to uh-oh.
My very first purchase on the card? I seem to recall that it was a Sega game – maybe Madden NFL Football ’94. Funny that I can remember such a thing, isn’t it?
Well, maybe not funny. That $60 video game was the first step on the way to a debt of $10,000. That is what my total credit-card balance was in early 2002.
The last three years have seen a lot of stress and hard work on my behalf. I have budgeted, planned, schemed, and balanced-transferred my way out of a really deep pit. (By the way, thanks to all my credit-card companies for those zero-percent offers over the last couple of years. I know this isn’t how you wanted them to end, but you’ll get over it. I’m sure there are lots more suckers coming in the door behind me.)
The trophy for all my hard work came Monday, December 13, 2004. The previous Friday I paid off the last of that credit-card balance. Monday morning was when I logged into my account and saw a really neat $0.00 staring back at me.
It is easy to gaze back and think, I wish I had never done all those stupid things. It is simple to chastise oneself: God, I wasted all that money. I never should have wasted all that money. But the granite truth is that I needed to do all those stupid things. I needed to waste all that money. Had I not done so, I would not have developed the conviction and desire I own now. That $10,000 bought me a lot of things I cannot even remember now. But it also bought me something I can see as plain as day. It bought me armor. Financial armor.
The way I see it, without burying myself in that much debt and discovering just how horrible it felt, I would not have developed the resolve I now possess. Never will I allow credit cards to impair my financial situation again. I didn’t really have any financial armor back in 1994. I had no battle experience, no real-world smarts, nothing to deflect the daily blows. But I have that armor now.
“No one rescues us,” writes Suze Orman, “except ourselves.”
Yes. Even if we have to build our own armor to do it.