“Hello, My name is Gina, and I am addicted to Charging.” … Maybe it’s shopping. Or perhaps it’s shopping with charge cards. More precisely I am addicted to fulfilling my needs with tangible items.
Let me back this up here. I haven’t always been this way. In fact, prior to about four years ago, I had a scant two charge cards that were relatively new and rarely used. I was raised with the philosophy that if you can’t pay for it with cash, you don’t need it. I suspect that credo was changed a little bit later in life, because I recall my mother at about this age with a nice little pile of credit cards herself.
But I digress.
I did obtain a few of cards in my early twenties (because of course we always know more in our early twenties than those who are wisely trying to guide us). Later I took on the debt that my ex and I racked up on those cards as they were all in my name. It ended with my credit rating showing a few nasty scars. Having subpar credit for a little bit was actually a good thing, because I never had credit card bills at the end of the month. I never had to use tax returns to pay off growing debt. I also never knew the luxury of shopping binges, or the temporary freedom of holiday shopping, so one could say it was sort of a mixed bag. By the time I had cleared the credit up, I was used to not having them and the mantra of cash only made more sense.
When I seriously started to look for a house, I assumed my lack of debt would be a good thing. Look at how much disposable income she has!, I assumed loan guru’s would call out. That wasn’t necessarily the case. I had also cancelled one of my cash credit cards, not knowing this was about as effective as lobbing a grenade at my credit score. It’s this weird little thin line one needs to walk to have good credit. Have the cards, but never cancel them. Don’t use them much and if you ever use them make sure you immediately pay them off, which of course makes no sense to me, because if I can immediately pay them off, why am I not just using cash to begin with?
Fortunately, my score was decent enough to get the house, but having a little more credit would have eased the process a bit more. I felt betrayed by my good standing.
Credit has always weirded me out. It seems to be a no-win situation between you and the supplier. You run the card up like a hungry belligerent child who has snuck their way into the cookie jar, and the credit card companies punish/reward you by showering you with more cookies. “Here you go, you irresponsible person. Spend, spend, spend!”
The house obviously did go thru, and with it an overabundance of credit applications from every monocle wearing Mr. Monopoly Man in town. Refurnish your house with US! Re do your kitchen with US! Repair and redecorate your house with US! Yes, yes, yes – thank you! I would improve that credit score if it killed me. And in the meantime, I would shower myself in new sheets, and pots and pans, and maybe a pair of shoes here and there. A gal has got to have her feet looking decent, I reasoned.
Of course the time came when I sat back and looked at the amount of debt I was accumulating, and saw that my once burgeoning credit score was actually slipping downhill. My debt-to-limit ratio which should be held under 35% or so, was increasing. While the credit card companies might reward you with a higher spending limit for proving what an insane shopper you are, the credit reporting agencies follow different rules. As well, every time I would take another one of those credit offers, “DING!” my score would take a knife to the face. I took a small loan, paid a good portion of it all off, and thought life would go back to normal.
Unfortunately, just as it plays out in the movies, sometimes our heroine needs a mule kick more than once to really get it. My initial wisdom of paying off the cards came when I was in a pretty happy and decent point in my life. Then life does what it’s so good at, and I dipped into a new chapter which included some sadness. Some newfound loneliness. With that, I found this incredible new thing that credit cards can do that a lot of people are unaware of. They can temporarily and falsely fill an empty void. One you might not even be aware of if you’re isolated, or depressed. First there is online shopping. Take all the time you need to peruse our items, we can even hold them for you while you go to another store, or ponder what you really want. When the fix needs a more immediate rush, head to the mall. The fix was beautiful. My mind could wander for hours on different websites, and of course each held their own credit cards, of which none I had been denied.
See no one was denying me. No one was making me feel bad. Get the correlation? I had just come out of something that did make me feel bad, and this was the thing saying, “There, there ….” while patting me on the back. I could imagine how nice I would look in this or that, or how cute that vase would look here. Remind myself how I needed that gadget to get this done, and the rush was great. I didn’t need anyone, I had my PLASTIC. I was RICH. Pretty soon I was receiving daily packages. No joke. My neighbors laughed at how each evening they came home and there was a new box sitting on my porch. It got to the point where I didn’t even open them immediately. After a bit it became pretty obvious that it was simply the act of shopping that was giving me what I needed. The receipt of goods was simply the empty syringe by my feet. I got lazy about returns, so I found myself with shoes too big, or small. Dresses that might be great in color, but bad in fit. I didn’t care. I loved a good bargain, and I chased those down like my own private hunting grounds.
Like a lot of addicts, the rush started to wane. Maybe the addiction wasn’t as needed. I don’t know what it was precisely, but I found myself actually bored with shopping. The void itself wasn’t as large as it used to be. I woke up one day surrounded by a hundred pair of shoes, and a closet straining at the increase of clothing. I saw sheets that had never even been used, and gadgets that had been used once and it sort of dawned on me. A belated WTF?! I had always kept a detailed spreadsheet of my finances and saw that I was drowning in debt. And in an ironic catch-22, I found myself using more credit to keep afloat month after month. I wasn’t just the bloated whale on the beach, I was about to blow.
Fast forward, and I established a new loan. At higher than average interest rates. My bank wouldn’t touch me because of my debt, which I found funny. How does one apply for a debt consolidation loan, without debt? I probably could have done some trickery with refinancing the house, but as strange as that sounds, I didn’t want to dip into my pristine equity to clean up the foul stench I created. I think in some sort of a weird way I wanted to punish myself. Make it hurt a little more so that I would get it. I also didn’t want to push this out for five years, so I took a higher paying loan with a lower interest rate, one that I knew I could afford and made it three years. That’s a goal I can see.
People ask if I have cut up the cards and I laugh. These are people who aren’t aware of technology. In this day and age, one rarely needs to even pull the plastic out. Especially with the ton of online shopping. So no, I haven’t. I have them all in a bag somewhere. I carry one cash card on me for emergency use only. I have one card I use for travel and already booked vacations, and I don’t even need to carry that. I don’t open any email from the barrage of online shops, no matter how tempting the 50% off today only! subject line might be. Delete, delete, delete.
I cannot explain how powerful and titillating paying nearly every balance off felt to me. Some of the cards I actually felt hostile towards — irrationally blaming them for the high balance, as if they were people. Wiping them out was equivalent to a hard and heavy slap across their proverbial faces and it felt goooood! “Yeah, good ahead and increase my spending limit” I growl in my best Clint Eastwood voice, “I fucking dare you….”. Of course the them from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly plays in this fantasy.
I’ve felt a twinge here and there of “Let’s go shopping!” or “Let’s go out to dinner, my treat!” since this all ended. I actually laugh at how I need to remind myself that a). I am budgeting things a bit now and that b). I don’t need a tangible item to fix the moment. I also understand why I did what I did, and that it might take a little time to recreate the habit of not reaching for online tools when I am feeling less than. Plus that feeling of “I can afford this” completely dissipates the second I look at the monthly loan payment.