When I was a sophomore in college, I listened to my mother’s advice and applied for a credit card. With $800 in my bank account and no job (which meant no steady income), I immediately got approved for a Discover student credit card. It came in the mail the following week, and when I opened it, I swear I saw a ray of light exit the envelope. The sleek design of the card, along with the New York City skyline picture, made me feel so grown up and cool. I put it in my wallet and told myself (and my mother) that it would only be for emergencies. If only this stayed the case.
A week later, while shopping in the mall with some friends, my eyes happened to land on a pair of Vince Camuto heels. I walked over and picked up the price tag… $150 for a pair of seemingly simple black heels? I put the shoes down and began to walk away, when suddenly I remembered an upcoming wedding I was going to. I didn’t have shoes yet, and the black heels would match perfectly with my dress. I need these, I thought as I carried them over to the register. I swiped my credit card and walked out with my beautiful, new shoes in hand. That marked the beginning and end of everything.
Fast forward to nine months later, after countless shopping excursions, I found myself picking up the phone and dialing my dad’s number to tell him the bad news—I needed $30 to pay my final water bill or else I couldn’t move out of my apartment. I had $0 in my checking account and I maxed out my credit card, which had a $1,000 limit. I began to cry before he even picked up the phone, and when I told him the news, he debated on whether or not to even give me the money. After paying my water bill, he scolded me, saying “We are having a sit-down meeting the second you get home.” For only the second time in my life, I was actually scared of my dad. With his wrath emanating from the phone, that call caused me to cut up my credit card for good.
I quickly realized that there was nothing good that came from owning a credit card as a college student. It was too easy to swipe my card for anything that came to mind—food, alcohol, clothes, etc. I had to learn to differentiate between a want and a need. Even though I thought I really needed those Vince Camuto shoes, I only wanted them. I am now a firm believer that credit cards are a complete scam, regardless if you’re 21 or 45. No amount of cash back, rewards or perks could entice me to sign up for one again. The credit card companies may act like your pals when you walk into their door. They’ll promise to look out for you whenever you need help. However, their free money isn’t offered as a kind gesture like your grandma during Christmastime. Like any other business, they will pray on the weak (re: college students).
In the olden days, before credit cards even existed, people utilized an envelope system. Each envelope came marked with a label such as “groceries” or “bills”. The amount of cash that was budgeted in that envelope was the only thing you had to spend, and you had to make it work. Now, why can’t we still do the same thing electronically?
Here’s my motto: if you don’t have the money, don’t spend it. Our generation has forgotten the meaning of “saving up” for something because everything comes so instantly. Think about it: Doesn’t it feel better to work and save up for something you desire than to get something just handed to you? Luckily, I ended up paying off my $1,000 credit card bill as soon as I began working again in the summer. I am grateful for learning about the dangers of credit cards early on, and I am lucky to have had such little credit card debt compared to some other people. As you pass by those credit card stands on your campus, don’t let their “free” money sway you. With a simple swipe of that free money, you just could lose it all.