Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding in which you put your money in your pants pocket and give your coat to your creditors. Joey Adams
Upon his deathbed, Oscar Wilde was rumored to have said: "I shall die the way I have lived, beyond my means." Poor Oscar had his troubles, that's for sure, and he couldn't pack up all his cares and woes because he lived and died long before the song "Bye, Bye Blackbird" was ever written. Still, for most of us, myself included, it is living beyond our means that is the problem. Once I'm dead, my bills are the undertaker's problems and hopefully, even the final check to him won't bounce. Credit cards are a fantasy contained within a nightmare. They make all things possible for all people who are old enough to secure credit. But therein lies the rub, as Mr. Shakespeare once said, even though he wasn't referring to credit cards. Possible should not always mean 'I must buy it' and for many people these days, it does.
They say we all have our good fairy or guardian angel that lives somewhere near our shoulders and somehow watches over us and insures that we don't get hit by Mack trucks or step into open manholes. But where is that little bugger when we need help with our self-control? He, she or it is nowhere to be seen, off with other fairies at conventions, shopping at Disney studios, etc etc. I am not by any standard an irresponsible person who squanders money and yet I too have fallen deeply into the credit card trap. A dream is a wish your heart makes and that is just fine as long as you can afford the cost of the eighty-five items you saw in the store window that you simply couldn't live without. (Jiminy Cricket had his share of creditors too, you know.)
I once heard it said that there are some forces more powerful in our lives than money. I'm not sure exactly what that person was referring to, but one of those things had to be bills! They can overwhelm our lives like an avalanche and in my case, overuse of credit cards has been an albatross around my neck, a monkey on my back and whatever other animal you'd care to name wherever else you can imagine it might be residing.
I was lucky to inherit quite a bit of money about ten years ago, which allowed me to purchase my very first home. I had lived in a studio apartment on New York's Upper West Side for most of my adult life and furnishing a large house was not an expense I had previously considered. My bed was so old and broken down that I paid the superintendent of my apartment building $10 dollars extra to discard it at 5:30 in the morning so that no one living on my floor would see which apartment it came from. I bought a new bed for the new house, but that was the least and most reasonable of the purchases and fate that befell me.
Between MasterCard, Visa Card, Discover and Non-Discover, Platinum Copper, Gold, Aluminum and Fool's-Gold cards, I found myself more than twenty-five thousand dollars in debt. I had a beautiful house with beautiful furniture and monthly payments from eight different credit card companies that were stiff enough to choke a horse. I reminded myself of a cartoon I once saw of a panhandler begging for money who bore a sign across his tattered chest that read: JUST BOUGHT A HOUSE.
I have always been responsible about my bills and at first I just made double payments every month (which I still do, even though things are a lot better now). I was fine until one day I took a good long look at the finance charges added to my bill every month. I was shocked when I realized how much these companies were making on (or should I say off) me. I knew that the interest rate of re-payment was high when I embarked on my spending, but that's not the same as seeing a three digit number next to a line affixed with the words 'amount due.' Like any other figure or statistic, it doesn't mean much unless it hits home in some way.
I became overwhelmed in a sea of credit card bills and I have never been a very good swimmer. I was able to come up with a few ideas that helped me make my debt to the credit card cosmos something I could slowly learn to live with. I shall pass these tips on to you in the hopes you can learn from my mistakes. (You probably won't, but it's worth a try.)
1. Take out all your credit cards and the bills and throw them on the largest table in your house (even if it's not paid for.) The cards that maintain the highest balances you must cut up immediately and store the pieces in a drawer. If you wish to keep them intact, you must be strong and promise yourself never to use them again. This means you and this means never; not even if that fluorescent toilet seat you've been seeking for years becomes suddenly available in your favorite catalogue. You can also cancel the cards and sign up for them later, after your balance is down to zero. Remember, on many cards you have to pay an annual fee and why should that be added to an already staggering amount of money owed if you don't use the card? On the cards which you owe the most, you must make the highest monthly payment you can afford.
2. Limit yourself to one or two cards and don't end up like me with eight of them. You probably won't be able to do that for quite a while, but you should use one card as a "debit card" and expect to pay the full amount owed when the bill comes in the mail. Psychologically, it sort of works because it puts a check on your fantasies when you know a partial payment will just not do! Also pay the credit card bill as soon as you get it. That way, interest accrued is curtailed.
3. Wear a blindfold when walking past store windows, especially those that contain your favorite things. This gives shopping a new dimension. You must have a buddy with you who has good vision, excellent self-control and different tastes than yourself. This person will not only prevent you from making unnecessary purchases, but hopefully from also getting killed when you cross the street as well. You may remove the blind fold at Christmas time when everyone must reach into their pockets and spend, but you must put it back on right after New Years and before the white sales of January begin in most of the department stores.
4. If none of these work, declare bankruptcy and develop a new identity. This will not solve the problem, but it will forestall you having to change the way you deal with life and make mistakes. It will also grant you a month or two of unadulterated fun in building up your lack of credit and inability to pay.
I've run out of ideas, but some of these have helped me. I'd stay around and give you a few more pointers, but I see from the newspaper here on my desk that my local appliance store is having a sale on televisions. I already have four. I should get another, just to be on the safe side, don't you think?
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