My reality check bounced


February 19, 2013 by E.

Living in DC for the past two years has given me a new perspective on life.  Well, life might be a little bit of a hyperbole.  It’s certainly given me a new perspective on spending.

Here in DC, there are plenty of ways to live cheaply.  Sure, most daily necessities are expensive – rent, gas, public transportation (seriously, the Metro is highway robbery) – but there are certainly ways to save in other areas.  No where else in America (in the world, really) are there so many excellent museums that are completely gratis.  Free concerts are a regularity.  Discounted or extremely cheap plays and musicals are easy to find.  Historical landmarks are open to the public.  Cab fares, outside of rush-hours and times when any sort of precipitation is falling from the sky, are even reasonable.

So how are so many young women, women my age, women with decent jobs and regular incomes, up to their eyeballs in credit card debt?

I don’t have any research to back this up.  It’s merely an observation.  A quick Google search revealed only statistics for US credit card debt as a whole, nothing broken down by region or age group.  Obviously, I don’t know everyone in DC, but of the women I do know, it seems like an overwhelming majority of them carry a balance on at least one credit card.  And for what?

My former roommate had a great job on Capitol Hill, making a higher salary than I was and working far fewer hours.  She also regularly maxed out her Victoria’s Secret card, carried a $5,000+ balance on her MasterCard, opened a new credit card that she proceeded to max out on a 10-day Italian vacation, and was making interest-only payments on her student loans.

My other roommate had to move back home for a year because she had so much credit card debt she could no longer afford to pay her own rent.

A co-worker spent goodness-knows-how-much on a designer coat that took her a year to pay off.  With credit card interest rates in the double-digits, her coat probably cost double what she initially thought she’d have to pay.

Behavior like that baffles me.  I know (and A. will tell you) that I am not always the most frugal spender.  I like to have nice things.  I enjoy designer leather handbags.  I indulge in premium martinis and quality restaurants.  I don’t drink canned beer.  I fell in love with, and had to have, a couch that cost an entire paycheck.  I get stressed out when shopping at thrift stores and sorting through messy sales racks.

But I’ve also learned the art of prioritizing.  When I buy a new purse, it is a quality, classic piece that will stand up to daily use for at least a year, if not two.  When A. and I go out to dinner, it is for special occasions and we make it a full-on event.  We don’t spend $10 at Panera or Chipotle on a meal we could make at home.  We splurged on an amazing couch and then purchased coffee table, side tables, and dresser from Bob’s Discount Furniture.  I spend more on clothes, but I shop less.

I begrudge no one their luxuries.  We all have our favorite items, our weaknesses.  We live in a material society, and so I suppose labels count for more today than they used to.  In and of themselves, I’m not opposed to designer clothes, or fancy cars, or shoes that cost more than my monthly rent.  There are certainly people out there who have worked hard enough to be able to afford them, and I love to live vicariously through those people.

But, I am against people living outside their means.  I’m against the idea that consumers must be protected from themselves.  I’m against the thought that one deserves anything, or that because someone else has xyz, you obviously must have it too.

It’s about balance and about priorities, and sometimes a little sacrifice now for a higher quality of life later.

This is what I’m trying to remind myself, as I oogle the new Kate Spade spring purses.

Balance, priorities, and a little sacrifice!  Stay strong, my friends.


2 thoughts on “My reality check bounced

  1. mabukach says:

    ‘We don’t spend $10 at Panera or Chipotle on a meal we could make at home’. Exactly! Some of the most cash-strapped people i know spend $4 on coffee, and another $10 just for a salad at WholeFoods.
    I like this, E. It’s Mantra-esque.

    • E. says:

      Thanks so much for the comment!

      I didn’t mean it to come off as overly preachy, because clearly a lot of my spending habits aren’t perfect, but I do believe that the “casual-fast food experience” (or whatever we’re calling it these days), is such a racket. And I’m tired of listening to so many people gripe about how they don’t have enough money to pay important things like student loan debt or doctor’s bills or healthy food, when they essentially throw away money on other junk.

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