Someone once asked me, “When did you realize that credit card debt was not a good thing? When was your AHA moment?”
I didn’t even have to think about the answer. I remembered. But let me give you a little history first.
I grew up in a flat in a home in the city that my grandparents owned. It had two flats – one upstairs and one downstairs. I lived upstairs with my mother, sister, grandmother and grandfather.
My sister and I shared a bedroom. My mom had her dresser in this bedroom. Bedrooms were small back then and you just put things where they fit.
I knew my mom kept her clothing in that dresser. However, I would see my mom put paper in one of the drawers every once in a while. I never thought much of it until I was in junior high school. More and more I would notice her put papers in that drawer. At this point I was getting very curious.
So one day when I was home sick from school and my Grandma had fallen asleep in her chair which she did a lot, I opened that drawer and took some of the papers out. They were bills for loans in my mom’s name. At that time, I did not know they were credit card bills because I did not know what a credit card was. I saw that they were for certain items because the items were spelled out on the bill. After looking at a few months of them, I realized that my mom had paid for these items by taking out a loan. I also noticed that she did not pay the amount owed off when she got them. She would make a payment every month but never paid the bill off in full. Each month she would owe more and more money because there would be an interest charge on the bill that the bank would add into the balance.
The things that she would buy were just normal basic things like clothing and shoes. I remember wondering why she didn’t have enough money to pay for those things. She worked for the telephone company and had a good job. But I never questioned her for one reason. I didn’t think that she would be happy that I had snooped in her dresser. I did not want to get punished.
That was my AHA moment. I learned very quickly that when you borrow money and you don’t pay it off when you get the bill, you pay the bank more and more. Looking at a lot of bills that went back months showed me just how much the bank had charged her. It was a lot of money. I remember thinking to myself that I never wanted to borrow money from a bank and end up owing much more than I had borrowed.
I always had an interest in money and how it worked after that. I read any book about money that I could find in the library. I went to college for a business degree with a major in accounting. Those college courses is what made me finally realize that what my mom had borrowed on was a credit card. Those courses confirmed my belief that I was better off making money from the banks not owing them money.
My mom never found out that I had snooped because I never told her. However, she was well aware after I got married to Hubby and we had our children that we did well with money and she told me how proud she was of that fact. She told me she was happy that we never had to worry about money because we handled it well. She knew that Hubby and I both thought the same on money and how we handled it.
So I wish my mom was here today and that I could tell her the story that I have just told you. I would tell her that she is the reason that we never really owed credit card debt. Sure we had credit cards. We got them back when we were saving for a home and needed to build our credit so that we could buy a new home about a year and a half after we married. I think we actually did not pay the bill in full no more than 3 times in our lifetime. It was usually when Hubby’s college tuition would come due back when we first married and we would need to divide it into two payments or for books. But it was always for something for Hubby’s career that would eventually make us more money. And we never owed the bill for any length of time. As quickly as we could pay it off we did.
Sure we borrowed money for mortgages on our first two homes but we paid them both off early. We paid cash for our last two homes. We had car loans but we always paid them off early using 0% interest loans. The last three or four cars we have owned we purchased with cash.
But finding Mom’s bills and marrying a Hubby who was financially savvy and thought the way I did is the reason we are debt free. Am I happy that I snooped? You bet! Otherwise we would never have started on the debt free journey. You see no one in the families back when I grew up discussed money. That was a big mistake. Kids should be taught about money so they know how bad debt is. They should be taught how saving a little or a lot every year lets you eventually live a wonderful retirement.
I think the biggest lesson you can teach your children is to spend less than they make.
I miss my mom and the chats we would have almost daily. So pick up that phone today and talk with your mom before she isn’t around to talk to.
I am curious! When was your AHA moment?
12 replies on “My AHA Moment”
Great question! I have no idea as my folks always used CC's, my dad had to have the newest of everything. I started with my first job with I think a Sears or JC Penneys card and it just grew from there. Divorce left me with all the debt when Ex filed BK, so I did as well. Didn't learn my lesson and did it again then came the recession and filed BK again. Even now, we have no CC's but I can see us falling back into the same pattern. My DH is an "I want it now" and I can revenge spend. Its a daily battle….
Thanks for sharing. It is a battle worth fighting.
I never would have dared to open my mother's drawers. I wonder what I would have found.My parents never had a cc except for one they had from a store that I cannot remember because it does not exist now. But, they had the card for 30 years, so they must have handled it well. Dsddy bought a thing, paid it off before he bought anything else. I just always knew that the regular ccs were not good, I suppose from his ranting.
Your Dad was a smart man. Thanks for sharing.
Okay, remembered. The store was Western Auto.
I remember that name.
I don't know that I had a major aha moment. My parents were financially responsible on very small salaries. They planned well, and spent on their priorities. They did teach me the power of hard work, and taught a lot about not using credit card, or debt if I could avoid it.
I struggled a bit post college, with student loans & a smallish salary in a HCOL area. I did build up a small credit card debt, & it pained me greatly to have it. On the flip side, once I saw the power of compound interest in my 401k, it made made me a believer.
Your parents taught you well. Amazing how compound interest serves us well.
Hi AD, this is Chris. This was a good article. My folks didn't teach me a lot about money, but one thing I remember was they said to always pay off your credit card each month, and if you couldn't, that means you stop spending on it until it is paid off, b/c you really couldn't afford the item. They always had car loans when they bought a new car, and IDK if they paid them off early, but I know in later years they would make a bigger down payment, but didn't use all their savings to buy for cash. They paid their house off right when Dad retired. IDK how much they kept in savings, but I know they had some. They were also generous with helping people. My mom never kept a budget that I know of. All of these things were good/bad for when I got out on my own. Hubby and I made mistakes through the years, but I think we have come out of things ok. I am grateful that God has always taken care of us, even when we were young and dumb in a HCOL area.
You have done great Chris!
Ah but what if your mom had you open charge accounts in high school so she could use them as she was so strung out with debt she had no credit? This is when I started down my road and 40 years latter I am just learning to quell the tide.
Yikes. She really did that? You are doing great Kim.