• ‘Charge It’ Became My Mantra

    by Christy Sillman

    At some point you get tired of begging your parents for money. You’re all grown up, you need your independence. For some people it’s a choice and for others it’s made for them, but either way it’s a transition in life that makes young adults very vulnerable.

    Anyone who attended college in the late ‘90s through 2009 experienced the sluttery of consumerism at its best. On every campus, and sometimes every corner of the campus, you could find the devil enticing young innocent adults into the lucrative business of credit and loans.

    It’ll be fine. You’ll be graduating in a few semesters and the average graduate in your field makes $30,000 per year!

    Thirty thousand dollars? That’s $2,500 a month! Wow, I only pay $350 in rent, will pay about $200 in utilities, will buy a car with $300 a month payments, and student loans will only be $300 a month, so I hear. That leaves me $1,350 a month to play with! Well of course I can afford a small credit card payment. And I get a free T-shirt and a slice of pizza for applying? Where do I sign?!

    What a dream world. Did I really think I was going to live in that crappy college apartment for the rest of my life? Did I forget about my other dreams of marriage (the wedding in particular), children and traveling the world? Did I even fathom that I wouldn’t be able get a job with a $30,000 yearly salary two weeks after I graduated? Of course not.

    I got straight A’s and graduated magna cum laude. Two weeks turned into two years. So, I went back to school, took out more loans, and worked less, which required more credit card use for food, gas and other essentials.

    Unfortunately I didn’t forget those other dreams, I relished in them, and justified further credit card spending because hey, you only have one wedding and honeymoon right? It’s for the baby so we have to charge it. What are we going to do? Let the baby pee on the floor if we can’t buy diapers?

    We have to charge it.

    We have to charge it.

    We have to charge it.

    What kind of mantra have I created for myself?

    Now I make the money I use to dream about, and I worked hard for it too, but where is it all going? It’s going into that way too large house we bought that’s now worth $150,000 less than what we paid. It’s going into the student loans that I smartly used towards a secure career in nursing. It’s going to the baby, who truly deserves everything and more. Mostly though, it’s going to credit cards. Lots and lots of credit cards.

    We have worked the system by “card hopping” for almost ten years by balance transferring to a new 0% APR card for 12 months, which I feel is genius, but — it only lasts for so long.

    The housing market has tanked, people are foreclosing and short-selling their homes left and right around here. Why? Because they too fell into the trap of thinking it was okay to live outside of their means. Some evil banker convinced them that a second or third mortgage to pay for the home improvements, such as that HGTV style backyard kitchen, will eventual create a profit by increasing the value of their home. Turns out when the housing market crashes, not even a home loaded with amenities will save you from losing major value.

    The saddest part is that I know some people who actually could pay their mortgage, but their credit card payments were demanding so much from their pocket that they couldn’t even afford food, so they lapsed in house payments, and ended up foreclosing. They didn’t have one of those shoddy interest-only mortgages, but they had to do what they did to dig themselves out of a credit hole.

    For now, we’re riding out the housing market. Not putting money into home improvements like we had planned. We’ve got a good credit card payment plan, and we have a five-year goal of being credit card free. All should be okay, as long as a major disaster (such as illness to the point where I can’t work) doesn’t occur. I try not to stress about the retirement we aren’t saving for — we need to get out of this hole first.

    We save each card we pay off in a little envelope… I have big artistic plans to make a mosaic of the card pieces as an example to my son Noah. It’s important that we educate the next generation on the perils of living outside of our means, and finding a balance between establishing credit and getting in too deep.

      • David Lacy

      • March 27, 2011 at 6:22 am
      • Reply

      Can’t yet identify with the kids and the house, but the first seven paragraphs were my experience to a T.

      Love this column Christy!

    • As a child of the 60’s I never had that credit card dream. I guess my parents worked too hard and showed me the benefits of saving and not spending. I am probably a dying breed of those who have always lived within their means and today at 62, I own my own home and can afford to travel and spend my kids inheritance. Hopefully, they have benefited from my example. One can only hope. I was too anxious a person to let credit weigh me down. It would have been bad for my anxious mind.
      I do like that you realized before it was too late to change your ways which are more the norm than mine.

      • Judy

      • March 27, 2011 at 4:20 pm
      • Reply

      I’m sending this to my daughter! Good life lesson!

    • Christy Sillman, you are one smart cookie. My wife, much like you runs our household like a business. She knows exactly what she is doing in every respect but one, me. When handling me and my crazy mind, she must wing it. I am her only worry and I absolutely hate that. I’ve often said, and I believe it to be true, that I would be living in a dumpster were it not for her.When I read your lines of wit, it gives me an idea of what my wife may be thinking. Thank you.
      Now I’m going to try to go back to sleep.

      • Kelvin

      • March 31, 2011 at 1:41 pm
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      I was reading this thinking, “How does she know so much about my life?” Great column and it’s definitely something we have to pass down to future generations. Ugh.

      • Jesse

      • October 5, 2011 at 8:07 pm
      • Reply

      Thanks for a great column. Yeah! I owe about 200 dollars in credit card debt. If I have a zero balance, I get tempted to shop. If it is over 200, I feel guilty. I think it is due to my Catholic upbringing… J

      • Stephie

      • October 6, 2011 at 9:04 am
      • Reply

      I have the same idea to make a mozaic out of my credit cards, as a reminder too.

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