by Carrie Lowrance
There is something shiny and plastic that is hiding in most people’s wallets. It enables gratification now and great pain later. For some people, it’s even a status symbol or a rite of passage into adulthood. Older teens and college students are bombarded by offers for these in the mail and at college. What is this object that I speak of?
The almighty credit card. Sure, it looks pretty and allows you to buy that new pair of shoes or purse or video game that you have been craving. But make no mistake, it can also ruin your life. When you’re young and are getting paid crap at your first job, it can be hard to buy the things you want. Many parents recommend getting a credit card for “emergencies.”
In my experience, I got a credit card to go visit a friend in North Carolina. Like most parents, my Mom told me it would be a good way to “build” my credit and get my credit score up. So I did. I applied, was granted a certain credit limit, and I was on my way. I hopped online, bought the plane tickets, and I was good to go.
I had a blast visiting my childhood friend and being able to see the sights of Charlotte, North Carolina. Over the years, my small one time purchase of $250 in plane tickets grew and grew. The sad part is, I have nothing to show for it. It’s not like I spent money on expensive vacations, tons of clothes or one thousand pairs of shoes.
I was using it to pay for repairs on my crappy Alero (see the post Why I Wish I Never Had a Car Payment), and on vet bills. I helped my Mom once by paying a $500 vet bill for her cat on my credit card. I also used it to pay for my own cat’s health issues later on. And yes, I did a little bit of Christmas shopping with it once or twice.
Before I knew it, I had about $10,000 charged. However, I never went over my limit. It may not sound like much to some people, but when you’re a young adult working jobs like a grocery store deli and then daycare, it is an overwhelming amount of money. It feels like you will never get out from under it.
Especially when you have other bills to pay for like rent, groceries, electricity, and gas to get to and from work. I’m sure you’re wondering, how did this snowball? If you’re young and aren’t familiar with credit cards, when you don’t pay off your card every month, the interest rate you are charged grows.
The interest is what snowballs until the money you owe is out of control. I also think of this as being a slave to the lender, and it’s an awful way to live.
So, How Do I Avoid This Mess?
Just don’t get one. It’s as easy as that. Instead, there is a better way to live. Do a budget and tell your money where to go. Sure, you may have to wait for the new “shiny” thing that you want, but paying for things in cash is so much more rewarding.
What to Do if You are Already in This Mess
If you are a young adult and are already in this mess, I feel for you. It can be a very frightening, nerve-wracking place to be. However, you don’t have to stay here. Here are some tips to help you start digging out of this hole.
1. Decide that you are done. No more charging.
2. Talk to someone about your decision that will support you. There’s a good chance that a lot of your friends will think you are weird, but that’s okay.
3. Shred your credit card.
4. Start doing a budget and figure out if there is any extra money you can throw at your credit card debt.
5. Do your budget every month to keep track of your expenses.
6. Consider picking up an extra job to bring extra money in to throw at your credit card debt.
7. See if there are any support groups in your area or online that you can join for support.
8. Celebrate the small wins along the way. There is nothing wrong with buying yourself a little treat like a smoothie or coffee or a candy bar once in a while as your debt ratio drops.
Five years ago we attended Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class at our church. People have a lot of different opinions on this program, but for us, it worked. The night I put my credit card through the shredder during class was both nerve-wracking and liberating at the same time.
I still have a baby food jar with the shredded pieces in it. I did an official plasectomy and have never looked back. It was so freeing to know I could never use that card again. It wasn’t even paid off yet when I shredded it. I was just done. The day I made my last payment I felt completely free. It was amazing.
If you are still young and are deciding whether a credit card is right for you or not, I hope this post helps you. If you are already in credit card debt, I hope this encourages you with some tips on how to get out. You don’t have to get into credit card debt, and there is always hope that you can get out of it. Take heart, you’ve got this.
Carrie Lowrance is a writer and author. Her work has been featured on Huffington Post, The Penny Hoarder, Crosswalk, and Same Journey. She is also the author of two children’s books, Don’t Eat Your Boogers (You’ll Turn Green) and Brock’s Bad Temper (And The Time Machine). You can find out more about Carrie and her writing at carrielowrance.com