Tales of a credit-card-aholic

When my 20-year-old daughter asked me to watch “Confessions of a Shopaholic” with her, I told her to pick the time and I’d be there. I hadn’t read the book, but the movie sounded like an amusing way for us to spend some time together. 

If you haven’t seen it, the movie’s heroine, Becky Bloomwood, is a shopaholic in serious credit card debt. She’s hounded by threatening phone calls from debt collectors, one smarmy guy in particular. Becky’s afraid to open her mail because of all the credit card bills. Oh, and she’s also a finance journalist, of all things. The idea that she was supposed to know about finances made it even more entertaining. 

How to track credit card rewards

During the movie, I find myself laughing at Becky’s debt dilemma, thinking it’s all wildly funny. But about 20 minutes into the movie, I stop, my brain suddenly flooded with bad memories. It hits me like a lightning bolt: A few decades ago, I was Becky Bloomwood.

I hadn’t thought about it in many years. It’s as if I’d completely blocked out an entire decade of spending, the likes of which Atlanta probably hasn’t seen since.

It all started innocently enough . . . 

After I graduated from college, I landed a good-paying job as an accountant for a petroleum company. I worked my way through college and felt proud to have gotten this job. 

Every night I’d go home and check my mailbox. And there, waiting for me, were letters telling me how special I was and how I’d been “pre-selected” for all these credit cards. And they all promised me high spending limits (and instant happiness, too). 

At the time, I had only a Rich’s Department Store credit card, because that was my favorite store (it later merged with Macy’s) and the card had been easy to get while I was in college. But I started thinking about how convenient it would be to have a card I could use everywhere. So I applied for a Citi card, wooed by the bank’s especially flattering letter — “You deserve this card!” was plastered all over the envelope — and I got approved in no time. 

When it came in the mail, it was such a rush to hold this shiny card with my name embossed on it. So I decided to apply for another. And another. I got approved for every card I applied for. At this point, I had seven cards. When I reached my limits, the issuers kindly raised them. 

Honestly, I never even read the fine print on any of those cards. I confess that I had no idea there even was fine print because I didn’t look for it. The only things I focused on were the offer letters and how much the issuers wanted me as a cardholder. 

One spending binge leads to another  

My job paid pretty well, but not well enough. My credit cards paid for my power suits, which I thought I needed to be taken seriously. But that meant I also needed power handbags, power shoes, power jewelry, power makeup, power lunches, power cocktails. You get the idea. 

It didn’t take long before my minimum payments exceeded my income. In one month, I bounced 12 checks. Yep, I said 12. Adding in the non-sufficient funds fees for each check, I found myself deep in the hole that month. I stopped making credit card payments for a few months, convincing myself that my cash flow would have a chance to catch up with my monthly expenses. 

You know what happens when you stop paying your credit card bills? You start getting mean phone calls from credit card companies. This was before Caller ID, so my only option was to let the calls go to my answering machine. I got very adept at listening to a message just long enough to figure out if it was about my credit card debt before deleting it. Hey, at the time I was young and single, so I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss calls from anyone I deemed important. 

The credit card bills had become overwhelming. I took the only course of action that made sense to me. I stopped going to my mailbox.

Ambushed by the mailman  

I lived in an apartment at the time, and it was easy to avoid that area of the building. But one day I’d gone home during lunch and ran into my mailman in the parking lot. He said he’d thought I’d moved because he could no longer stuff any more mail into my box.

I shamelessly told him that I’d lost my mailbox key. (It’s a little-known fact that being in debt can turn you into an extraordinary liar.) I even started to embellish my story with how I’d also been out of the country for an extended period of time, but he interrupted me to hand me my mail. He then suggested I walk with him to the mailbox so he could unlock it for me and give me all the mail currently stuffed in my box. Unable to make myself invisible, I had to take possession of my mail.

That night, I poured a glass of chardonnay for courage and spread the envelopes out on my dining room table. I paid the utilities and other necessities. When I started looking at the credit card statements, I looked only at the minimum payments and started writing checks for half the amount. Amazingly, I still didn’t stop using my credit cards.

Instead, I decided I had to make more money. So I studied for and passed the CPA exam with the goal of getting a higher-paying job. Only now do I see the “Becky Bloomwood” irony in all this. I had a head for numbers, but I was clueless when it came to my own financial affairs. My solution was to make more money to maintain my spending habits instead of focusing on paying off my debt.

Article source: http://money.msn.com/credit-rating/confessions-of-a-credit-card-aholic-credit.aspx


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