I love when bloggers share personal stories about their own experiences. After all, no one else can tell your story. So, I decided to write a little story about how I got into credit card debt. I call it The Parable of The Card:
There once was a young man from Fargo named Adam, who worked at an amusement park called Valley Fair. Valley Fair was in Minneapolis. It was his first real summer on his own so far away from where he grew up. It was a glorious summer. It was the summer of ’97.
Adam left home determined to work hard that summer. He was determined to save up a stash of cash to use for school when he returned to Fargo in the fall. He did work hard, especially at first.
His first job at Valley Fair was in concessions. He was stationed at Triple Treats toward the back of the park. From dawn to dusk (well after 9 in the upper Midwest in the summer) he toiled away at the mini-donut maker, churning batch after batch for the relentless crowds.
There is an art to mini-donut making. At least there was in 1997. Too much water in the batter and the mini doughnuts turn to giant puff-balls that don’t flip right in the maker. Too little water and they’re just crispy little rings. The mini-donut frier machine could also be sped up or slowed down to adjust how long the donuts cooked. Adam found satisfaction creating the perfect batch of donuts where the holes in the donuts just barely pucker shut just before they’re fully cooked. Other than that, the job really sucked.
“This is not what I expected,” he thought to himself. “I thought this would be the perfect summer job where, yeah, I would work hard, but I would have some fun in the outdoors and meet some cool new friends. Instead, I barely see the sun and no one has fun here. All the workers are exhausted and miserable here at Triple Treats and we smell like deep-fried garbage.”
Adam decided to go to his supervisor and quit rather than waste his whole summer away in misery. Adam’s supervisor recognized his hard work and attention to donut detail. She rewarded him. She found another job for him, a job that couldn’t be further away from Triple Treats (in distance and experience).
That supervisor transferred Adam to the best job. She sent him to Challenge Park, a satellite to the regular park, where guests pay extra to ride go-carts and bumper boats, play mini-golf and fly on a skydiving contraption called the Ripcord. There were no more crushing crowds, cramped quarters and suicidal co-workers. This was a genuinely enjoyable job with a close-knit group of co-workers. There were even free flights on the Ripcord when traffic was light.
Suddenly, a 15-hour open-to-close shift didn’t seem so hard. It was energizing for Adam to be around this group of people all day. The days even ended with an after party, usually at Lloyd’s house.
Adam really came out of his shell that summer. More than once he sandwiched a party between two 15-hour shifts. The goal of saving money slipped further and further from his mind. It was replaced with a desire to soak up everything in this glorious and seemingly endless summer.
The minimum wage wages that Adam worked long hours for disappeared quickly. He spent money on booze, gas, rent for an unnecessary apartment, eating out and booze. He spent all he earned, but he hadn’t yet used the card.
The card was the GE Capital something or other credit card. Adam had signed up for it just after graduating high school two years earlier. He signed up for it because he was offered it and it was something to carry in his wallet to feel important. Adam’s dad did not want Adam to get the card. When it came in the mail, Adam’s dad warned him to not rack up the balance. He told him to pay it off in-full each month if he did ever use it. Adam remembered what his dad told him.
Even after two years, the card was still shiny and the silver paint on the numbers hadn’t worn off yet. Even though he had wasted most of the money he earned that summer, Adam remembered what his dad had said about the card. How credit cards can get you in trouble and they can dig you deeper and deeper into debt. Adam never pulled the card out of his wallet. It stayed shiney and new.
But one day that summer, Adam was invited on an exciting road trip to another amusement park all the way in Ohio. This amusement park, called Cedar Point, was on Lake Erie and had 20 roller coasters. Adam like roller coasters and wanted to go.
Adam looked in his wallet and saw nothing. There was no money for the trip. Then he looked at the two beautiful young women that would be driving with them all the way to Ohio. One of them was blonde. Adam looked at his wallet again and noticed the card.
Adam used the card on that trip. He used it for all it was worth. He used it for games, funnel cakes, and one of those candid snap-shots of people when they’re on the main drop of the roller coaster. He used it to help pay for gas. Adam even discovered credit card cash advances.
Adam maxed out all the fun that can be had on a credit card in three days trying to impress those two young women on that glorious trip during that glorious summer. He maxed out the card at $500. It wasn’t much, but it was much more than Adam could pay back at the time.
Adam broke up with the beautiful blonde and returned home to Fargo with debt instead of savings. Adam’s credit limit on the card was quickly raised. Adam discovered debt spending and the minimum payment. Adam struggled with debt throughout his twenties and lost plenty of opportunities because of it.
The moral of the story? You can really screw yourself financially with just one bad decision involving a credit card, especially if there’s a beautiful blonde involved.
Don’t get me wrong. I would not change that summer for the world. I met life-long best friends and some of my favorite memories from my youth come from that summer. And despite screwing myself financially for the better part of a decade with some bad decisions, my life turned out pretty great.
I was terrible with money all through my twenties starting that summer, but I finally figured it out in my thirties. Now, at 38, I’ve got a great job, a beautiful wife and an awesome son. Despite the slow start, we’re still well on our way to financial freedom.
There’s a bonus lesson here. No matter the size of the hole, you can dig yourself out of debt. And if you really commit to it, it will probably happen much faster than you think.
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