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Dumbest thing I ever bought with credit

The credit card I used for that purchase didn't reach a zero balance again until the debt was discharged in bankruptcy.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 31, 2012 10:38AM

This guest post comes from Andrea Whitmer at So Over This.


Image: Credit card (© Corbis)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 three 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 eighth grade.


*cue dramatic flashback*


In 1997, I became the first of my friends to own a cellphone -- no texting or even a screen, just 60 minutes 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 supercool 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. (Post continues below.)

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 supercool 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. (Funniest statement EVER, considering the phones available now.) I felt almost lightheaded as I looked at the cool screen with its nine 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 superamazing phone came out. But what it represents makes me want to throw up.


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 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 cellphones 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 three months after it's released. For me, that's pretty darned impressive.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about getting a shadow box 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.


More on So Over this and MSN Money:

Jul 31, 2012 12:22PM
I'm glad I am cheap. I'm a computer engineer so I love new technology. It is awesome. I've wanted an all in one desktop/monitor since they first came out but still don't have one. I can hear everyone now "Someone still wants a desktop???" Yes. I have a laptop and a smart phone but there are just a lot of advantages to my desktop that I won't let go of. No matter how bad the want though, I have almost always been able to count of my cheapness to win the battle. I refuse to wait in line for anything, especially Apple products. I know in a year when it is priced more reasonably, it will be out of date BUT it will still be an improvement over what I have today so who cares? I don't mind being a year behind everyone else if it means my bank account is bigger than yours. Size matters!
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