Way back when I was a kid, like 20 years ago, I wanted everything. I would scan through the Sears and JCPenney catalogs, circling about half the items on the pages, even the lingerie (I thought they were swimsuits for mom). For good and bad, my parents didn’t have enough money to buy me everything, and encouraged me to find friends who had the cool toys and play with theirs. It worked well enough, until I got a new habit…
Wanting Too Much
In my teens, I wanted stuff so much, I resorted to stealing. I got caught once (in a department store), and had to pay $100 restitution. I think I stole 2 music tapes (yes, tapes, not CDs). Considering I only made about that much each paycheck, that was a major hit to my piggybank and I didn’t even get to keep the merchandise! Luckily, I wasn’t 18 yet and so I didn’t get jail time. But it was a scary time, and pretty much ended my thievery.
Entering into my college years (about 12 years ago), I was still rather greedy, but I resorted to legal methods of getting what I wanted…
Yep, back in college, I filled out one of those credit card applications to get a free t-shirt. It was an MBNA shirt, and I don’t think I ever even wore it. But I began using the card for beer, Chinese buffets and eventually a car downpayment when I couldn’t even afford the car. And I bought thousands in musical instruments, without ever learning to play.
I ended up leaving college with over $12,000 in credit card debt.
And about the only thing I think I have left after that $12,000 is one acoustic guitar and an old stereo. I honestly can’t see one other thing around the house from that 2-year spending spree. And I left with no savings either. Wow, what a loser! But how is this “stealing legally”?
Because using credit cards without paying them off was stealing from myself!
Not only did I pay interest on my monthly balances during college, I lost any interest I could have made on just saving that money (I made a plan to avoid paying interest after college). I also lost any investment appreciation during the dot-com boom, considering I didn’t make any investments. And rather than spending my time learning about how to get rich, I spent my time eating, drinking and being merry.
Ahhh, the good ole’ days, when I didn’t have a worry in the world. How stupid I was.
The Lesson for You
This is one of those “learn from others’ mistakes” deals. You can also say “Do as I say, not as I do” because not only did I break the law, but I broke my parents’ hearts and trust when I stole. You don’t want to go through what I did just to learn the same exact thing I’m telling you. And what I’m telling you is this:
- Don’t want what you can’t afford
- Know what you can afford and whether you SHOULD have it (just because we can afford a Mercedes now, doesn’t mean we should have one)
- Don’t steal when you don’t want to pay for something. Honestly, I think part of my problem was crying out for attention, but my greediness also played a major role.
- Credit cards aren’t evil, but you have to pay off your credit card balance each month! If you can’t do that, then you’re probably buying something you can do without (unless you’re paying for emergency surgery or something, but there are better financing options).
Basically, don’t be greedy. I made it out of my teens and college years without jail time, but had it been just a few weeks later, I might be a different person today. I can only imagine if I couldn’t get a government contract, or maybe even my first corporate job because I had a criminal record.