Fuck you, Credit Cards, or…That Time I Got Out of Debt

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.

photo of woman in boxing gloves
Photo by Heloisa Freitas on Pexels.com

Poor sucks

Being poor sucks. It just does.

I’m not poor now. I have been, but I’m not anymore.

To be clear, I’ve never been poor while trying to raise a family, and while I’ve been food insecure, I’ve never really been in danger of starving. I’ve skipped a few meals unwillingly, but I’ve never gone a full day without eating (unwillingly). I’ve never been responsible for feeding someone other than myself while poor, and while I’ve hustled for my rent, I’ve never been in danger of being evicted.

But I have rummaged in my couch cushions looking for change to buy toothpaste.

I have looked through my neighbor’s garbage cans for bottles to return for enough nickels to buy a stamp to mail my resume for a job (yes, I’m old enough to have performed a job search via the USPS to mail resumes. Suck it).

I’ve poked a new hole in my belt to hold up my loose pants after losing a pants size worth of weight after being consistently food insecure for a brief and temporary 2 month mini-struggle.

Being poor is a waste of time. I suppose digging through trash to recycle metal cans and glass bottles helps the environment, but while I didn’t resent it at the time (I’d been poor before and I was no stranger to this type of low-value activity), from my current vantage point looking back, I can’t help but think of all of the other job searching activities (or, hell, even volunteering) I could’ve been doing that would have been such a much more worthwhile use of my time than cleaning up other people’s recycling. What value did I bring to the world by being late to work that time I ran around looking for a store to take my pennies in exchange for dollars because the NYC MTA didn’t take pennies for tokens (I’m old, I told you).

There’s a stigma attached to being poor. I burn with shame when I remember teasing a classmate about living in a half burnt-out low-rise when I was a child. I don’t know why I did it. I do know that a year into my first professional job whenever one of my clients glanced at my stained-with-use suit jacket cuffs, I quickly clasped my hands behind my back and took a haughty pontificating posture.

Being poor is a skill. I haven’t been poor in a very long time. My family is longer poor – my mom eventually graduated college, got a good job, my dad eventually became secure in his employment after a shaky start. Everyone my generation and younger are educated and professionals. But I don’t think there is even one of us that doesn’t know that you can brush your teeth with baking soda, clean your counters and floors with vinegar or lemons, I don’t think any one of us doesn’t have some kind of hoarding habit or know exactly where and how to get a payday loan. We are adept at using things for jobs they were not designed for, like sticking a pencil in the carburetor in a 1980s Buick Regal to get it started. We know the value of doing a favor for a neighbor, and ensuring the favor is returned in times of need. 

My dad says I have Judy Garland syndrome. I hoard things I don’t need to hoard, like single dollars. I’m not joking – I have a thousand single dollar bills in my safe besides my actual investments. As far as retirement funds, taxable investments, alternative holdings go, I’m normal. But I have a thousand single dollar bills within reach because if there is one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that the money isn’t yours unless it’s in your hands. Literally. I’ve always, ALWAYS kept a current passport – my step-grandmother that had numbers tattooed on the inside of her arm and spoke with an Eastern European accent listed that as a rule that should never be broken – always keep a current passport and always have jewelry. As a child I didn’t know why, but I formed the habit anyway. Now I know why, and I think these are pretty good rules. 

Anyway, yeah, poor sucks. I don’t have a solution for Poor, but I’m goddam grateful not to know it anymore.