But, ultimately, Suze Orman doesn’t have to deal with those minimums. I do. And, while I’m sure I’d have fewer financial freak-outs if I were more careful with my credit cards, would I trade them for the time I learned to surf in Costa Rica, the weekend I spent exploring Paris with a sexy stranger I met in a bar in Montmartre, or the awesome memories from my 30th-birthday party? I don’t think so.
At first, I was cautious, paying off the balance every month, never using the card for something I couldn’t afford. I’m not sure when my mentality shifted — it may have been when I was responsible for my best friend's bachelorette party or the time I was invited to go in on a beach house with a group of people the summer when I was 23. Whatever it was, I quickly realized the life I wanted cost more than what I had, and even though I didn’t have the money then, I certainly hoped and expected to have it in the future. I knew that was optimistic — magical thinking made real with a swipe and a signature. And, yet, I figured — interest and anxiety notwithstanding — why not let my credit card bridge the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be?
That’s not to say I’m entirely regret-free. When I analyze the last five years of credit-card purchases, I can clearly see that the decisions can be divided into 20% stupidity, 30% naïveté, and 50% "best decisions, ever." Stupidity is self-explanatory: It’s the I’ll charge this round of drinks moment that ends up costing three figures, the discount designer dress that was always a size too small and still hangs in the back of my closet (just in case). And, when I packed my apartment to travel this year, I first gave things away: The Frye perforated cowboy boots that never fit properly ($400) went to Brittany, the Crate & Barrel bookcase and chairs ($800) to Emily, and the TV and Blu-ray (I don’t even know — I charged it without looking) to Sophie. Even after I managed to give away the things that had value to my friends, I still ended up filling an entire storage unit with purchases that not only felt like ones I could live without, but that I also wanted to live without.
It may sound like I’m justifying everything through the at-least-I-learned-a-lesson excuse. And, if that’s true, they’re lessons I’m paying a premium for (thank you, 14.9% interest). But, amid the Why did I buy this? or Why did I think that? second-guesses, there are also a handful of charges that were worth it. The traveling, the adventures, the pushing myself out of my comfort level and close to my credit limit all formed me into the person I am today. I could have waited to backpack through Spain until I could have properly afforded it. But, I didn’t. And, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
Now, at age 30, I no longer rely on credit cards the way I did when I was in my 20s — and I feel a sense of I told you so satisfaction when I think about my savings-obsessed friends, knowing that I've been able to pay down the debt without my credit score or overall financial health suffering. I know I would have more money now if I had saved more in the past. I know I could have socked that money away in investments. I know there may be a hard lesson coming up in the future. But, for now, I don't regret paying the price for putting the lesson on plastic.