I got my first credit card in college because I wanted the free coffee mug. I didn’t even drink coffee. And I didn’t want a credit card. But I signed up because it was free, and as a poor college student in a world where nothing is free, free felt good. Also, in my mind, all I was doing was signing a piece of paper. I had no intention of using the card.
Of course, I started using it in short order. A textbook here, a pack of cigarettes there (this was the 90s, sue me).
Fast forward 8 years to me in my first job paying $29k and my first job skirt suits and pumps (again, it was the 90s), my first computer, were all bought on credit. Before I knew it, I was thousands in debt.
Think about this for a second. Credit card companies are sitting on campus, offering literal junk in exchange for teenagers to get their first hit of credit. They know that after that first hit, you’re hooked. And they start you young too, so that as you begin your adulthood financed on credit, you probably won’t know how to live without it. You’ll have never experienced being an adult living on the cash you have.
Credit card companies are pigs. They’re pushers and dealers. They don’t care about you – all you are is a carcass to pick at. They don’t like you, they don’t hate you, they just want your money.
I eventually one day sat down and added up the balances of all my credit cards. Forty thousand dollars.
Forty. Thousand. Dollars.
I was 25 years old. I wasn’t even making thirty thousand. The whole reason I did this was because I was beginning to not be able to handle the minimum payments. I remember feeling a sudden and deep seated anger that on the same day I got paid and paid my bills, I had nothing left. I vividly remember wondering why I looked forward to payday, since after paying my bills, it was just like all my other days – poor.
It struck me in a moment of stark clarity that if I didn’t have to pay these minimum payments, I would actually have money for the things I’d been purchasing on the credit cards….instead of having to put them on the credit cards. See? It’s a fucking cycle: you don’t have money because you’re paying the credit cards, and since you don’t have money, you buy things using the credit cards.
Yeah, it’s true that credit card holders need to take personal responsibility – stop buying things on credit cards. I certainly hold myself responsible….now. But what sticks with me is that figuring out HOW the credit card is a trap, and HOW to get off that merry-go-round was literally a series of A-HA moments. This strikes me as strange – we get conditioned to rely on cards to the point that we barely question it, and not doing that is a learning process. It’s fucking backwards.
I calculated that if I continued to just pay the minimum on each of my cards, I would be done with them at age 42. (I calculated because this was the days before Elizabeth Warren and the law that requires credit card companies to tell you when the principal would be paid – you had to do that shit yourself…..if you even thought to do it, and if you figured out how compounding interest worked). I felt sick. I would never not be broke. I would never be free.
I wallowed in self-pity for a few days, and a funny thing happened: any time I pulled out my card, I thought about the fact that using it would push my end date from age 42 to something older than 42. And it made me mad. I was pissed! Man, that was the kick in the ass I needed. After a few days, I sat down and made my first ever budget. Those credit card companies raped me for years, and I was going to kick their ass. Money sure was tight, but I could scrimp here and there and throw extra dollars and extra pennies towards my debt.
Years later, I would discover that I used the debt snowball method without knowing it was a method or that it had a name. Whatever. It worked. Every time I had an extra $20 or more, I sent a check to the card and tracked it in my spreadsheet. Each time the end date moved from age 42 to earlier and earlier in my life, the better I felt. I treated each dollar like it was a rogue warrior soldier stabbing and kicking my debt with no mercy. I pictured my debt as a living blob thing, getting it’s fucking ass kicked, and I loved it. I could do this! Fuck you debt!!!!! Here! Here’s another dollar! Stick it up your ASS!!! (I was very angry, if you can’t tell).
I honestly don’t remember how long it took me to pay it all off, but I did. Along the way, I got raises (some were substantial) and all of it went to my debt. Again, I didn’t know lifestyle inflation had a name, but in my gut I knew I would rather be free from my rapists than get more square footage living space or whatever – I’d been poor for a long time, what’s another few years when you have some serious asses to kick?
And that was it for credit cards for me for a long time. I went cash only. Sometimes freestyle because I was making plenty of money at the time, sometimes on an envelope system when I wanted to save up for something big. But no plastic. If the dollars were not in my wallet, they weren’t getting spent.
Until about 5 years ago. I stumbled across Frequent Miler, a travel miles & points hacker who basically travels for free by raping the rapists. I discovered the world of fucking the credit card companies by buying everything on credit….and then paying it off in it’s entirety every month and walking away with the credit card rewards. Whoa!
I’ll leave my credit-card-fucking strategies for another time, but suffice it to say, that that feeling of satisfaction of choking my tormentors that I felt years ago has never left. Every time I redeem my points for a free flight, I give the finger to these fuckers and whisper, in the dark of my living room, by the light of my computer screen….Fuck you, Credit Card Company. Who’s your daddy now, motherfucker? Fuck. You.