B'leeeeee dat!

I was perusing the online edition of the NYT the other day, as I like to do, when I came across two articles, a new one and an old one, wherein a columnist gives life and quasi-financial advice to graduating seniors (collegiate ones, that is; I think in the NYT world h.s. seniors go to college not out to work, n'est-ce pas?). The permalink is here, but it got me thinking about the sorry state my finances were in, even ten short years ago, and the appalling condition they were in in 1989. Flashbacks, night sweats, remembered terror, yikes.

Although I was lucky enough to have college paid for, parents who were generous, and pretty g.d. remunerative summer jobs ($10 an hour and more, back in the days when the minimum wage was $3.15, not bad at all, thanks IRSA and DoL!), I nevertheless managed to leave school with no less than $5,000 debt, all of my own making: a loan for the second semester of senior year (taken so I could bank the check my dad wrote, I thought it would be better to move to SF with a nest egg rather than empty coffers) and "credit card" debt because I didn't understand that American Express doesn't work. that. way. Let's not go into all the gory details but suffice it to say that I didn't have a home PHONE for about a year and a half b/c I couldn't pay my damned phone bills. In all fairness, I should disclose that at the time, I was bringing home $1165 a month. My rent was $575-625, my car insurance was about $100/mo., my parking tickets were about $300/mo. (yes, it's true, having a car in SF without a garage is the height of stupidity, but it takes some people longer to learn that than others, ok? Don't judge me!), my FastPass, utilities and food were about $150/mo., and my student loan was $65/mo. It doesn't take a math whiz to see that I could not, in fact, support myself living alone in SF as I was determined to do. So I borrowed from Peter to pay Paul, as the saying goes, juggling one utility and another, etc. etc. Long story short: endured years of nasty phonecalls from collections agencies and credit card companies, saw student loan go into collections (paid it off in 1998), got car towed and sold at auction for excess parking tickets, and was sued by former friend for his possessions in car at time of tow (getting that small claims was without a doubt my lowest day ever, knock wood -- sorry, Geoff).

When we were buying our first house in '04, my terror that my credit was going to get us denied and would lead to an ugly divorce kept me up nights for weeks on end.

My point? I wish I'd read articles like Damon Darlin's back in the day; hell, I wish there had been articles like Mr. Darlin's back in the day. The happy ending is that I did learn my lesson, and don't live beyond my means, ever, no matter the temptation. I funded my 401(k) starting back in '94, as soon as I could afford to, and I'll never succumb to fiscal irresponsibility again. Hell, I get paranoid when we carry a credit card balance more than 2 weeks, never mind 2 years or more, like the bad old days.

I just wish every 22-year old (or 18-year-old, for the Daily News readers in the audience -- ha!) could have a blinding flash of clarity that putting off instant gratification really will pay off in the long run. No more debt!!


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