once upon a time it only took 1000 to scare me

August 30th, 2007

Once upon a time, it only took $1000 to scare me.

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.

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5 Responses to “Once upon a time, it only took $1000 to scare me.”

  1. I totally see where you’re coming from. For me it has to do with income. When I was a broke college student, I knew I’d have a hard time paying off $1000. When your income goes up and you can afford the minimum payments, larger amounts don’t look so scary.

  2. That is so true too.

  3. Very good post. Once back in the day we had a credit card with a 5,000 balance on it and we thought it would be a great idea to borrom money from my in-laws to pay it off fully and then we would repay them the money. Bad idea. Not only do we now owe my in-laws 3,000 but we also maxed that credit card out again. I wish I could go back in time and never had borrowed that money. But what can you do but learn from your mistakes. That’s what I am doing now. I keep the credit card at home and don’t touch it. If only hubby would do the same.

  4. Tell the hubby to leave his credit card at home too!

    Good luck!!!!

  5. Get the scissors out! (for the card)