Broke In The City: My Frugal Slide Into Credit Card Debt

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"Why Am I Broke?"

Today, one woman shares her struggle with credit cards and journey to getting out of debt.

I’ve watched those movies—the ones where the cute girl goes on huge shopping sprees to feed her borderline-insane shoe addiction. I’ve read the articles on women who can’t stop buying Louis Vuitton bags on credit. None of those stories have anything to do with me … except for the part where the girl, somehow oblivious to the consequences of her charges, goes into astronomical credit card debt.

Why Wouldn’t Frugality Work For Me?

I’ve never bought a dress that cost more than $200, and all my shoes have been re-soled at least twice. My vacation time is spent hanging out on the beach—eating picnic lunches with my mom in Florida. I often make coffee at home. I even use coupons. And yet, like so many other Manhattan-dwelling women under 30, I am broke. And for a long time I didn’t understand why.

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The Culprit Was My Credit Card

“If the money wasn’t spent on Jimmy Choos, then where did it go?” I often pondered, as I ignored the climbing numbers up on my American Express bill. Now that I have finally locked that evil piece of plastic in a drawer (haven’t charged a thing in months!) I realized what all those charges were really paying for—my ever-present guilt and naïve idealism.

The Little Things Weren’t The Issue

It wasn’t buying my lunch instead of bringing it from home that brought me into debt. It was the feeling I got by saying “it’s on me.”  (Put it on the credit card!) Or I deserve a pedicure. I worked hard this week! (Nobody under 35 really “deserves” a spa service.) I was playing grown-up with pretend money. I scoffed at my girlfriends who wanted to take the subway home at night. Hello, we are so beyond that! “I’ll pay for the cab.” (Put it on the credit card!) Plus, I truly believed that a big raise, a better job, a book deal—or maybe a magic bag of money?—was going to fall into my lap.

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Debt Is A Huge Set-Back

Well, none of the above has happened—yet.  And though I’m frustrated that my thriftier friends can now afford taxis and rounds of drinks—while I’m back to taking the subway—at least I learned from my debt. I’ve learned there’s a psychological relationship to money—and not only to the material things money can buy.  It’s the feeling of wanting to say, “it’s on me,” that allows us to follow up with, “more money will come … don’t worry about it.” Money can’t necessarily buy happiness—but it can buy the feeling of being able to splurge on something, foot the bill, or buy another round. The trouble begins when you’re splurging with money you don’t have.

Follow Corynne On Twitter! @corynnes

  • Caroline Waxler

    Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Derek

    My wife and I recently cut up our credit cards. Once we started using cash for many of our purchases, it became very easy to spend less. It hurts much more to let that cash release out of your hand than to swipe that credit card! Learn how to save money and increase your income at my site: http://www.lifeandmyfinances.com

  • LAF

    I remember those days! 25, finally a grown up with a real job and my own apartment on the upper east side!! I am still recovering from the debt I racked up in exactly the same manner!!!

  • LAF

    I remember those days! 25, finally a grown up with a real job and my own apartment on the upper east side!! I am still recovering from the debt I racked up in exactly the same manner!!!