Once upon a time, having a $1000 credit card balance was shocking and upsetting to me. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday (too bad I couldn’t have learned the lesson for good then!). I had one credit card which I had picked out very carefully while in college to establish a credit history, and I never kept a balance on it and rarely used it for purchases. Then the summer between my graduation from college and start of graduate school, I went to another state with a friend and a vague plan of doing a summer internship and earning some money to take to graduate school with me, but that fell through. I stayed there for the summer anyway (I had signed a three month sublet lease that was dirt cheap and I didn’t feel I could get out of), and miserably failed at obtaining even a seasonal position at an ice cream shop. I kept expenses down as much as I could, but I knew I would need some cash when I got to school in the fall to pay for rent and my apartment deposit until I got my first fellowship check, so I kept some money in my savings and used my credit card to pay for food and other miscellaneous things while I kept looking for a job. I should have written off the apartment and gone back to mom and dad I guess, but I didn’t, and by the end of the summer, I had just under $1000 charged to my credit card. Every month I had gotten my statement and paid the minimum and felt sick to my stomach as the balance grew. I hated that feeling more than anything else I could remember. Not enough to not eat I guess, but it weighed on my mind all the time.
I went off to graduate school, and pinched pennies and held my breath for a few weeks until I got my first fellowship check. Fellowships where I went to school were paid by semester, so my check was for an entire semester’s worth of “pay”, about $7500. The very first thing I did was go to the bank and open an account with it. The second thing I did, sitting in the parking lot of the bank in fact, was write a check to my credit card for the full amount outstanding and then I drove to the post office and sent it. I felt so relieved. And that feeling kept me out of trouble for some time, I didn’t venture into credit card debt again for several more years. But eventually I did, and here we are. The lesson did stick for a while, but not forever, or maybe I needed a harsher lesson.
At my current place in life, having a credit card balance of under $6000 is a cause for celebration to me. It took until my total amount owed on credit cards was about $12,000 a few years ago before I got seriously worried about how to deal with it. But as I said to begin with, there was a time where $1000 of credit card debt made me feel sick inside. I don’t know what changed in my head, I don’t know where or how or when I started to feel nonchalant about credit card debt. I think maybe a few “emergency” charges of car repairs built up on each other and it snowballed from there. And as long as I was nowhere near my limit and I thought I had money coming in “soon” to deal with things, it felt manageable, I guess. Never mind that my limit kept going up since I always paid on time and you can’t count on tomorrow’s earnings to pay for today’s problems (another harsh lesson).
How does it happen that $1000 can seem enormous and scary one moment, and the next time it takes $12,000 to elicit the same response?
The good news, or the moral to the story I guess, is that I am back at the point where $1000 scares me. I can’t imagine being $12,000 in credit card debt again, and the idea of adding to my already horrendous total of $5400 in credit card debt makes me feel physically ill. Maybe this time, the lesson will stick.