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The Dumbest Thing I Ever Bought on Credit

 

Last night I was looking for a USB cable (story of my life) when I came across one of the many boxes in my basement – you know, the ones that haven’t been important enough to bring upstairs in nearly 3 years of living here. Anyway, I couldn’t remember what was in the box and I got all excited thinking there might be a USB cable in it, so I opened it. And I kind of wish I hadn’t because now I want to kick myself.

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my addiction to my iPhone and various other Apple products. I’ve always been a gadget person and an early adopter (though I’ve gotten better about that part at least). It all started when I was in 8th grade…..

*cue dramatic flashback*

In 1997, I became the first of my friends to own a cell phone – no texting or even a screen, just 60 minutes a of talk time a month with free weekends (no free nights yet) for $40. I’m surprised my parents gave in, though some extenuating circumstances that school year probably contributed.

I packed around my super cool Zach Morris phone – it even had an antenna that you had to extend to make calls – for several months before I racked up a huge phone bill that I couldn’t pay. (This happened in the days before nationwide local calling, when “roaming” was still a concept.) After that, my privileges were revoked and I eventually bought a prepaid phone that I used throughout high school.

The Catalyst

A month or so after I started college, I was driving home from class and realized that one of my tires was low. Like really low. I decided to call my parents in case I got a flat in one of the many dead zones on the way home, so they would know to come look for me. The only problem? I didn’t have enough money left on my prepaid account to make the call.

That situation infuriated me. What if I had gotten stranded or had an accident? What if I had died alone in a ditch somewhere with no way to get in touch with anyone? (I may or may not have been a bit histrionic at that age.)

So the next day I marched myself to the Cingular Store and switched my prepaid phone to a monthly plan. FREEDOM!

The Stupid Purchase

Not even two months after I changed my phone service, Cingular released the most amazing phone in the universe: the Motorola T720:

Not only was it a super cool flip phone, but it had a COLOR SCREEN and POLYPHONIC RINGTONES. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And I just had to have one.

I remember sitting in class ramping up for the phone purchase. The Cingular store was just a mile or two from campus, and I was literally bouncing in my chair at the thought of being the first person with a color screen on my phone. It was all I could think about. I actually left my last class early because I couldn’t stand it anymore.

When I asked about the T720, the Cingular sales guy pulled his out of his pocket and handed it to me. “This phone does everything but tie your shoes,” he told me. (Sidebar: Funniest statement EVER, considering the phones available now.) I felt almost lightheaded as I looked at the cool screen with its 9 different submenus and listened to the sales guy’s Justin Timberlake ringtone.

The downside was, since I had just switched to a monthly plan, I was ineligible for upgrade pricing even though I’d opted to keep my old phone. The T720 would cost me $400 plus tax. But I wasn’t worried about that! I pulled out my trusty credit card – this was worth it! It was the first time I bought something on credit with no clear plan to pay off the balance. It was also the beginning of a 10-year battle with credit cards and overspending.

How DUMB Was I?

Last night I picked up that blasted phone and felt like throwing it across the basement. It was a darn good phone – that is, until the next super amazing phone came out. But what it represents makes me want to puke.

It’s been nearly 11 years since I signed my name and left the Cingular store with the T720. The credit card I used that day never reached a zero balance again until the debt was discharged in bankruptcy. It blows my mind how easily I can call forth the memories – not of me actually using the phone, but of the strength of the want. I was nearly sick with desire for something that was obsolete in a matter of months, something I didn’t even know I still had until I found it rotting in a cardboard box.

When I went back upstairs last night, sans USB cable, I spent a long time just staring at the iPhone on my desk. I didn’t go into debt to buy it, believe it or not – I’m proud to say that every single iDevice in my house was purchased with cash. But the want is just as bad as it ever was.

My phone is awesome. It helps me run my business and stay in touch with family. It’s my camera, calendar, calculator, alarm clock, GPS, etc. etc. I try to imagine how cell phones will evolve in the next few years and I just can’t fathom anything better than what I’ve got. Yet my palms get sweaty just thinking about the next iPhone, which should be available in the fall. It’s embarrassing to admit how enamored I am with technology.

But I’m not 18 years old anymore. I’m not running around swiping a credit card and making impulse purchases left and right. I’m eligible for an upgrade on New Year’s Eve (not that I’ve been obsessively counting down or anything), and I fully intend to have the cash available to buy the next iPhone then. That means I’ll wait about 3 months after it’s released. For me, that’s pretty darn impressive.

In the meantime, I’m thinking about getting a shadowbox for my old T720. It represents a time in my life that I never want to return to, but it also reminds me that you can change your behavior without changing who you are or giving up the things you love. No matter how responsible I become, I will always love gadgets and I will always make room for them in my budget if possible. Because I’ve stopped spending all my money on credit card payments, I can actually afford the things I enjoy without doing something I’ll regret later. And THAT is the part that’s priceless.

 

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web designer and single mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!

Comments

  1. Good story! Maybe the next iphone WILL tie your shoes?

    • That would be so scary and unsettling! Hahahaha

      "Siri, my left shoe is untied." "I can tie that for you, Andrea."

  2. cestarr says:

    I totally recommend the shadow box. I have an entire shelf in my library dedicated to displaying the fruit of dumb decisions- with the hope that history won't repeat itself! You've come a long way girl. And you're not alone on the journey!

    • I think it would be a really good conversation piece. "Why do you have this old school phone on your shelf?" Because I'm an idiot sometimes!

  3. queenlbee says:

    First thing I ever bought on credit? A dress for sorority rush-$300 dollars. Another cringeworthy moment.

    • Holy crap! I think my junior prom dress was around that price range. I can't imagine paying that much for any other type of dress (okay, maybe a wedding dress, not that I'm ever getting married again). My sister was in a sorority in college and from what I could tell, it was nothing but a money pit.

  4. LifeTuner says:

    Great story, Andrea! There's a powerful lesson in there for the current gadget-obsessed.

    Also, my dumbest credit-card moment was using one for a cash-advance (GAH!) to pay back a friend. Thinking about the interest rate still makes me cringe.

    • OMG I could write a book about all the cash advances I've taken out…. I wish I knew how much I got over the years versus how much I paid back. I'd probably die if I knew.

  5. Ok so yesterday in my office, my office mate's daughter was badgering her mother because she wanted to get the new iPhone 4S that's on sale right now due to the expectation of the new ones coming out in the Fall. She badgered and badgered her mother about this 400$ phone off an on for, I shit you not, two hours. Poor coworker was so frustrated with it. She looked at me and said, "When I was a kid, there weren't cell phones like there are today. Am I being unreasonable?"

    Well this morning, I printed out the blog entry so she could read it. She wants to say thank you. She's trying to teach her own kid about waiting, saving, and being patient for things you want in life and knowing that this issue isn't as new as she thinks it is has helped her I think. Keep up the good work Andrea!

    • Awww, I'm so glad it was helpful for her! Thanks so much for letting me know.

      The iPhone 4S is totally worth it, but only if you can get the subsidized upgrade. Otherwise it's just so ridiculously expensive… But still. If the kid wants it, she should save up the money. Jayden got lucky because he got my old iPhone when I upgraded last time, but he still has to do extra chores to cover the cost of his data plan.

  6. I am rarely ever an early adopter but I do often wish I had the latest gadget. Luckily my cheapness holds me back and I wait for price drops. I refuse to buy brand new video games and wait until they drop to 20 or 30 bucks before I buy them… they still play the same a year later.

    • When Jayden still had game consoles, I used to try to wait. The problem is that he played Mario games exclusively, and they never ever come down in price. EVER. The good news is that when we sold them all, he got a ton of money for them because they were still worth nearly what we paid.

  7. LOL.

    worst thing I ever bought on credit: a $475 purse. WHY did I need that??

  8. Wow, thats crazy you can pinpoint the very moment you started your credit card downfall. At least your spending habits have drastically improved. I know what it is like to want the newest and shiniest cell phone. Lately, I have been wanting the iphone but just can't justify the cost when android is so much cheaper for me. So I look longingly at the apple store's windows when I walk by them in the mall. I heard though that the iphone is going to start going to other carriers that charge a lot less and require no contracts. the only down side is the iphone is going to cost like $700 or something to own with that plan. Sheesh! I still want one though…

    • Okay, I need to know – how is Android that much cheaper? I realize you can get an Android phone for less than $200, but there really isn't any difference in the monthly plan costs, right? Or am I missing something?

      The iPhone is available on several prepaid carriers now, but you're right – the price isn't subsidized, so they're SUPER expensive. Still, they end up being significantly cheaper over 2 years that way because the monthly costs are so much lower. I love mine!

      • I have metro PCS (sad, I know) so I pay less than $50 a month for everything (including text, web, and calls). I don't know the exact pricing for the complete data plan for an iphone per month but friends of mine pay at least $100 a month with everything. It could be different with different iphone plans. I know there are really bare bone phones on the market that charge like $15-25/month but I am not that frugal.

        I paid like $120 for my android phone when I got it a year a go but it badly needs an upgrade.

        • My bill is around $150 a month for two iPhones, but that includes a TON of minutes, unlimited data on mine ($30 a month), and unlimited family texting. On AT&T, the cheapest iPhone plan is $59.99 plus tax, but that's with the lowest data plan and no texting plan. The texting plan adds another $20.

          I guess I'm an addict, but $30 more a month doesn't seem THAT bad. :)

  9. Once I bought a Kirby vaccuum from a door to door salesman…and I financed it! Stupid decision! I do love my Kirby though = )

    • OMG that's another story I need to write about. About 2 months after my ex-husband and I got married, a Kirby salesman showed up at our house. I had to leave but I told my ex that we were NOT buying a $1500 vacuum. Came home and there sat the Kirby in our living room. I had to threaten to sue to get them to issue a refund for the down payment (3 business days to change our minds, tyvm!) but I'm SO glad I avoided that mistake!

      That said, they ARE nice vacuums.

  10. I don't remember the first thing I bought on credit! Knowing me, though, it was food. In a restaurant.

    • I don't remember the very first, because I used it several times and then paid it off right away. But that was the first thing I bought that I couldn't pay off. I spent a LOT on dining out over the years… And clothes…. And purses….. It hurts to think about it.

  11. bogofdebt says:

    I have a phone that I purchased through my phone plan. Because my phone was dying and I just had to have something. So I figured buying a $400 phone that I didn't have to pay for right than and there would be awesome and it wouldn't renew my contract that I had just started a month before? Of course, the phone that I picked out when I renewed my contract was awesome but not as awesome as my brand new one! That was not my smartest choice ever.

    • When I look back at some of the phones I've owned, it just makes me LOL. Some of them were so crappy but I wouldn't admit it because I didn't want to admit that I wasted money. I will say that I'm pretty sure AT&T loves me – I've been in a contract continuously for almost 11 years now.

  12. I can't remember the first thing I bought on credit, maybe a t-shirt or something like that. I haven't had one for very long though. I'm not too crazy on upgrading my phone either. My first one lasted for 5 years, (flip phone with pull out antenna) and my second one for 2 years. The one I have now is a Droid X and I can't see myself upgrading it anytime soon, it does everything and more than I need it to. Good idea to shadowbox it to remind you how far you have come.

    • The Droid X looks like a good one. I don't know anyone who has one, so I haven't been able to play with it yet, but I've read positive reviews online. Since the phone I wrote about here, I've always managed to keep a phone until my contract is up…. I had the same prepaid phone for almost 5 years, but other than that I almost always take the upgrade when it's available. It's a sickness I think.

  13. I recently found my first major credit card purchase two weeks ago stuck in one of my closet boxes.

    I got the 2nd generation iPod Mini and I remember I so needed it when my college roommate came home with one. It's green, has my name engraved on it and it doesn't even have a color screen.

    I looked at it and laughed and then plugged it in. Crazy thing is it still works and has about 500 songs in it from my high school and college days so it get me all nostalgic. I've been using it everyday since I found it, so it's getting some use again.

    But damn that was the start the evils of credit cards and a young naive girl (I'll be debt free September 2012, after paying off $27k in 18 months).

    Love your blog by the way!

  14. Stupidest thing I ever bought on credit was a piano! I'll spare you the details… I waited until the 4S came out and bought that for $150 with Verizon. I had an upgrade which brought the cost down. Love it!

  15. moneycrush says:

    I know that I have the iPhone 3GS, and I am just itching for the iPhone 5 to come out. My stupid phone doesn't really work though. This is my second. My first was replaced because it forced closed every single app I owned, for weeks at a time, and the vibration trigger broke and caused my phone to never stop vibrating. Apparently the white iPhone's paint is really bad and cracks easily. My new one has the exact same issue. I want the black iPhone 5 right now. Black ones don't break as easily.

  16. I so remember having a cell phone before they had colour. I'm not much of a gadget person but my BF is. What he does though is whenever a new apple product comes out, he sells his old phone or something else he doesn't need on Craiglist then uses that money to pay the difference for the new gadget. I swear, he's just like you, he loves new gadgets, LOVES!

  17. I'm just the opposite. I hate buying technology gadgets because I know they will cost half as much in a few months and there will always be a better one coming out. I tend to keep computers for ten years or more, not upgrading until I absolutely have to for some reason.

  18. Marissa says:

    Oh my god! I owned the T720 it lasted me all of 11 months before the next pretty phone came out.

  19. Haha this brings back memories of when I used to work at T-Mobile. Everyone was always so fascinated by the "newest" phone. I had some pretty catchy lines too… but the commission was pretty sweet at the time!

    Dumbest thing I've bought on credit was a Chanel purse. Never again.

  20. Canadianbudgetbinder says:

    I'm not a gadget boy, never had been. I still don't own a cell phone I borrow Mrs.CBB's in the winter while I'm driving to work but then again, she makes me take it. I don't tend to buy gadgets when they first come out I like to wait until the next generation and the price drop if at all. It took us a few years to finally find and pay cash for the 3d HD Smart TV we bought. Before that we were more than happy with our free tv from freecycle. I'm sure that tv will get even cheaper but it is what it is, I guess. Cheers, thanks for another great post. Mr.CBB

  21. seedebtrun says:

    I'm not sure about the first thing I ever bought on credit, but I remember the dumbest! We put our kitchen remodel on 12-month financing and I still slap my forehead every time I think about it. It was….not cheap, but I was stupidly optimistic and just thought we'd have more money later. You know, like 12 months later! DUMB!! Our kitchen is gorg, though…
    -M

  22. Great post! I'm really impressed with your active commenters! I'm chronicling my own war against debt as well! Thanks and I'll look forward to visiting again!

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