“Some people tend to ascribe almost magical properties to goods — that buying things will make them happier, cause them to have more fun, improve their relationships — in short, transform their lives.”
My first credit-card offer appeared in the NYU bookstore. I was a freshman, browsing what I’d need for the first semester, and American Express had set up a table with some friendly folks who were just determined to get some customers. There was a new card — Optima, they called it — and on the application, I could check off how much I credit I wanted. $2,000? $5,000? $10,000?
$10,000 sounded good. So I took it.
I was set financially in my 20s, thanks to wads of cash from excellent waitressing and bartending gigs, plus a well-paid internship, combined with criminally low New York rent. I was flush until the early ’90s. It was then I followed my handsome, funny Yalie to New Mexico, where I happily paid $800 for a 1986 Ford F-150 dual-gas tank truck and landed my first real journalism jobs in radio and a newspaper. At about $4.50 an hour.
Quickly my cash disappeared and I started loving on that $10,000 Optima card. And maybe another card or two. I had no concept of credit, how much it was costing me, and how hard it would be to make it back. I just knew I was in love, and dirt poor, and that extra trip to the Giant Truck Stop for cowboy boots would probably help tide over my lonliness and despair that came from a complicated relationship imploding in slow motion.
It took me years to start looking at credit cards as the scam they are – unless you use them the right way: for emergencies or to earn airline miles or cash while paying off the full balance each month. And now a researcher at the University of Missouri researcher has put her finger on the differences between the type of person who abuses credit and the rest of the world.
According to the Science Daily story on the study: “There is nothing wrong with wanting to buy products,” said Marsha Richins, Myron Watkins Distinguished Professor of Marketing in the Trulaske College of Business, “It becomes a problem when people expect unreasonable degrees of change in their lives from their purchases. Some people tend to ascribe almost magical properties to goods — that buying things will make them happier, cause them to have more fun, improve their relationships — in short, transform their lives. These beliefs are fallacious for the most part, but nonetheless can be powerful motivators for people to spend.”
Spending money you don’t have will not make life more fun. It won’t make you prettier or more desirable. It won’t open up a great new world. You will not have better friends and your kids won’t like you more. All it will do is cause a little black hole inside you that grows bigger and bigger and blacker and blacker until you get a handle on whatever the real issue is. You might have to bottom out first. Because it’s never about what it’s about.