To Charge or Not to Charge

As I am talking to 40-something women across the country I often ask them “what is the best thing about being in your twenties?” Then follow-up by asking “what is the worst thing about being 20-something?” The answers often contradict each other, reflecting one of the defining characteristics of your twenties. It’s all good…and bad.

Take credit cards. Such a symbol of adulthood for many. Tales of rushing out and furnishing an entire apartment or buying your first handbag. But then the bills come in.  For many the love / hate relationship starts in college. One group of 40-something women I interviewed in Arizona immediately yelled out with excitement that credit cards were the best thing. You could spend away and play, play, play. They laughed at the memory that 20 years ago merchants couldn’t do an instant credit check to see if you were over your limit. This got them into a little trouble (hello Dad. Yes I did charge drinks for all my friends at the bar;  no H&M is not the campus bookstore), but was sure fun at the time.

Then the group quickly countered that credit cards were also the worst thing. You can never get away from them! In their twenties they assumed that their money situation would automatically get better as they aged. Their bank account would just get bigger and bigger. But the only thing that got bigger was the interest payments. Hopefully, the recent credit crisis will help women in their twenties understand there is no easy credit.  Some by force as we might never have such access to credit again. Others by a growing desire to live more responsibly.

Net, net: don’t get too crazy when you discover credit cards. You may hear this all the time, but you’d be surprised how many 40-somethings are still saddled by credit from their highly charged 20s. One women in LA laments that the closetful of designer shoes and handbags she collected in her twenties doesn’t come in handy as she stays at home with her child and her husband struggles in his creative but competitive low-paying field. Another woman in Ohio recalls her engagement almost undone when she told her fiance that he was also marrying a $20,000 credit card debt. In your twenties you may think freedom and independence is being able to buy things for yourself, or to “put it on my tab” but real freedom is being financially independent and free of debt.  You need to have a little fun and need to build a credit history, but as in all things, choose your indulgences wisely.

Don’t go out and buy Gucci shoes. You could buy that later when you have your own money. I was going out. I want to buy a Gucci bag. I want a Prada. What was I thinking? I should’ve taken all that Prada money and put it in a house. All these Prada shoes but now what? Who cares! They sit in my closet.  But… if you’re bound and determined to buy something, buy a bag. The one advice my mom did tell me was ‘If you’re going to go to Gucci, don’t buy shoes’. Buy handbag because a handbag you could always preserve better versus shoes. Shoes get worn out. It’s really hard to resale but you could really resale a bag thirty years later. It’s easier to keep in mint condition.” — Forty-something, married, stay-at-home mom for now, Pasedena, CA

on Twitter

on Facebook

on Google+