June 5, 2013

Suicide by Credit

Credit just may bury me yet.  I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.  I don’t think it would be unfair to say that if it hasn't derailed my life, it is pretty darn close.  Now before you think I’m one bill collector’s call away from grabbing my torch and pitchfork and storming Visa’s headquarters, let me clarify.  By credit, I don’t only mean money.  I mean anything of the “pay for it later” variety.

For those of you who are unaware, my ex-husband and I filed for chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2010.  That enrolled us in a 5 year repayment plan.   I choose to have the money garnished rather than rely on myself to remember to get to the post office with a money order every 2 weeks..  Believe me, it’s not easy to see $600 a month fly out of your hands before you even have a grip on it.  However, in order to afford both the divorce and to create a new life for ourselves we had no other choice.  

And that’s how I learned that the saying “You have to spend some to earn some” is true.  I had no room to breath, but to get that much longed for first gasp of freedom,  I had to spend actual money.  Lots of it.  But my earnest deposit on buying my freedom started with a $500 check to the lawyer.  In return, that bought me an entirely new life that I happen to adore in 120 installments.  Am I happy that it came to taking drastic measures to get there?  Well, no.  Who would be?  But for me, I’ve found that if I don’t have a hard lesson now and again, I stop learning.  Thing is, I still have more and harder lessons to learn, and creditors to pay that aren’t looking for benjamins.  

At least I know I’m not alone there.  This idea came to me the other night when I saw a friend of mine on my favorite social network talk about how they were “paying for it today”.  Paying in time spent in pain, medicated, and unable to enjoy life.  I had an ex boyfriend go through 5 root canals in his mid 20s from all of the Mountain Dew he drank in high school.  Heck, I know plenty of people who still stay up *way* too late at night either at a bar or playing their favorite video game and have to slog through the workday the next day as a result.  They took a short term loan out and the interest was painful.  

I bought lots of emotional eating with sweat I never paid.  As such, I’m in debt to my knees, my wardrobe, my body, and my self esteem.  (Hey, I like me.  But I can’t say that it doesn't get frustrating when your choices of clothes that fit seem to be lacking anything other than cat lady fashions.)

If you start thinking about credit as being something other than money, it begins to crop up everywhere.  Our bad habits are what we’re buying with resources some of us never had to pay back in the first place.  I’m learning that cash is king with regards to my finances.  But I’m sure that idea can be useful regarding the other lines of credit I’ve been approved for, and later abused.

One thing that is very clear though is that living beyond your means is not just a description of your finances.  Being overextended in such a way can easily be about an aspect of a person’s life where they’re not in balance.  I don’t have any grand advice, just a general concept that buy now pay later seems to be dangerous, and purchase therapy is more like self abuse in a substantial number of cases.  Shit, I don’t even have a witty comment about what to do when you find yourself overdrawn or over your limit.  I know it’s something I’m just really wading through on my own.  As of right now, I don’t think that credit is inherently bad, but some personalities might not have what it takes to use it in a way that doesn’t end up hurting them in the end.  I also think I have one of those personalities.  (I’m overdrawn at several credit unions like the First Bank of Keeping In Touch and Housework Bank and Trust, and my waistline of credit is WAY too large.)  

What I’ve got going now though, is that little 25 watt lightbulb over my head letting me know that there’s a different way to think about situations.  That lightbulb is what I wanted to share.  I’m not the brightest bulb.  Heck, it’s only 25 watts.  But it’s possible that putting old ideas into new words, someone else will see what I’m seeing too.  Maybe there’s someone who’s struggling with quitting smoking, or is in the wrong job that just needed to shine a new light on the situation.  If I can help with that, then it’s all worth it.

I'm almost always interested in any thoughts you may have on the subject.  This feels more like a half-formed thought than a complete, teachable concept.  If you have anything to add, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

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