money sagas: part I

26 May

I’m not one for talking about money with the general public (the general public being all six of you) because it can be such a touchy topic, and there is simply so much emotion about money. Money is never black and white, it is almost always a hazy, filmy gray area, and I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t have at least a slight opinion about the subject. Plus, to be honest, my financial status is not really any of your business, nor is it any of my business about yours. But I have to share this with you:


This may not seem like a big deal to you. And some of you may even be thinking, “What’s the big deal about having a balance on your credit card?” But to me, to my mental sanity, it was a huge deal. Close to a decade of confining, paralyzing wisps of reminders that I had debt intruding on my thoughts daily. I’d been raised to think of credit card debt as pure evil. Credit cards themselves were fine—but carrying a balance? No way, no how. Education debt? That’s okay. Having car payments? That’s okay, too. Mortgage? Who doesn’t have that? But credit cards? That’s just pure stupid. A waste of money. Live within your means.

I got my first credit card as a junior in college, through a phone call and hurriedly asked questions, and I remember after they told me my new card would arrive in a few weeks, hanging up and telling my mom about it.

“It’s your responsibility,” she said, without even looking up from the newspaper. If I got into trouble with it, I’d be getting myself out of it, was what she didn’t have to say. The First National Bank of Mom and Dad, while open for tuition payments, denied all bills from MBNA America.

And for the first couple of years I was very responsible with my credit card, rarely used it, and paid it in full. And then I graduated from college. And then I lived in Chicago. And then after a couple years of that, I got a clue. My credit card debt had swelled out of my control, and anyone who knows me knows I can be a bit of a control freak. So that was fun.

I needed to pay the sucker off, if for no other reason than I have enough mental issues, and I don’t need one more to add fuel to the fire, and the time spent worrying about my credit card debt could be better spent worrying about something else. Like socks. Or pencils.

So I did.

And it’s paid off now.

<whistles gaily>

And it was a total snap!

And that previous sentence is a total lie!

Because Oh My Christ, has this day been a long time coming. In many several acts.

Act I went something like this: I’d always had a part-time job even when I worked full time, as a sorta effort to pay off the card, but also so that I could have a social life and, you know, buy groceries, seeing as how I was earning a paycheck that was the equivalent of 14 dried beans and a package of Lincoln Logs. Those two gigs combined just weren’t cutting it though. Drastic measures needed to be taken.

So in 2004, I move back in with my parents, start working on the weekends (in addition to my full-time job) waitressing at the country club where I worked part-time during high school and college and pay off one card, and pay off a lot of the second card. Living at home and working so many hours, while somewhat taxing on my social life, sloughed the debt off quickly. That alone was worth giving up a few nights out. Knowing that I could write a check to slash a huge chunk off that godforsaken bill and stick it to MBNA and get myself a little farther out of their “You’re Our Bitch Now, Woman!” grasp made working two jobs worth it. All of this, however, is under the auspices that the following year I was going to go to grad school, and paying down debt and saving more money were imperative in my mind.

And then I didn’t get into grad school.

Any of them.

Through two cycles of applications—one for a master’s in journalism, one for an MFA in creative writing, 12 schools in all—over the course of about a year and a half, only one school (University of Florida) accepted me on a probationary basis and on the stipulation that I retake the GRE to get my math score up.

I’d like to point something out here. You should probably know that I’m not a math-type person. (Maybe if I was I’d never have gotten myself into the credit card mess in the first place. HI-YOOOO!) I never took trigonometry or calculus, maxing out at Algebra-II in high school. In college, my math textbook had no numbers and we wrote book reports on mathematicians. Hence, most of the math section of the GRE read like Arabic to me. Hence, I scored in the bottom 5th percentile. To the opposite end, I got a perfect score on the writing section of the GRE. Hence, I was in the top 5th percentile for that.

And I was applying for journalism and MFA programs at the time.

You know. Where you write things.

I’m still trying to figure out how getting my math score up would help in that process.

So whatever, that’s cool, obviously a higher power was trying to tell me that grad school = not the thing for me, and I’ve always told that higher power, “Hey, listen, you know I’m not so good at reading signs so you’re going to have to beat me over the head with them.” And in case you’re wondering, rejection from 12 schools is a head-beating from a higher power. Just FYI.

While it was all going well (major factor: Not having to pay rent. There. I said it.), Act I of the paying off debt process went to intermission when I decided to fuck all with grad school…I’ll move to DC!

So I did!

With no job!

And very little savings!

And then guess what happened? I bet you’ll never guess.

I won the lottery!

No, I didn’t.

But I did put back on a hefty portion of the debt I’d lost.

And while I wasn’t right back where I started before I moved home, I was damn near close. Still stupid, but at least a little bit smarter than the first time around.

Tomorrow: Act II and the finale of Money Sagas. Good times.


5 Responses to “money sagas: part I”

  1. Megan (Best of Fates) May 26, 2010 at 3:30 PM #

    Ah, I completely sympathize with freaking out about debt – my dad raised me to view it as the devil himself. And that’s always annoyed me about grad schools – clearly only half of the GRE is going to apply, why in the world make someone suffer through both sections? This is also the reason I never took it, as I lived in fear of having to once more open a math book. I’d already suffered through AP Stats in high school to avoid such a fate in college, they’re not gonna suck me in now!

    • McPolish May 27, 2010 at 12:13 PM #

      This is why I sometimes think that when I grow up I don’t want to have kids, because eventually I will have to help them with math homework. Clearly, my only option is to marry a math genius.

  2. Stephanie May 27, 2010 at 8:26 AM #

    Another positive thing is that you never were a Florida Gator, which means we can be friends. Because, otherwise…

    I hated the GRE. I studied for that thing like a mad woman. I actually scored like 5 points higher on Math than on the Verbal—go figure.

    And doesn’t it suck that the writing portion doesn’t even “count”??? I remember applying and thinking, it’s a journalism program, wouldn’t you at least want to know how I did on the writing portion?

    Looking forward to Act 2!

    • McPolish May 27, 2010 at 12:12 PM #

      You would think the writing portion would be important. You would think.

      Blows my mind, really.


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    […] written about my biggest struggle to date with my finances—credit card debt—here and here, and while I’ve learned some things, forgotten others, and made a list of topics to […]

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