My first credit card wasn’t really a credit card. It seems strange to say it that way but it’s true. This was back in the mid-1970’s and I’m not sure that credit cards had even been created. This card wasn’t even a card really. The situation was this. In those days I was living lean so I have a hard time imaging how it all happened. But for some reason, the main one being that I really hadn’t learned how to balance my check book, I was bouncing checks about twice a pay period. As I recall those days, it’s really difficult to know how that could have been happening except for the fact that I rarely paid attention to where my money went. Hell, I didn’t own a car. My house payment was small and I had money in savings. But there I was, standing at the bank counter explaining how it just couldn’t be. So the bank, being my friend, offered me a service called a check guarantee. My checking account would be backed up by their funds which I could then pay back.
So off I went, my problem solved I thought. That was in the spring. But by then I had reached a point in my life where I didn’t work in the summer. Three months of waiting for the waves and pounding the sand playing beach volleyball, and travelling up the coast to Santa Barbara to visit friends were my summer tasks. I rented a studio in Encinitas and did a lot of journal writing. You could call it therapy or escapism but I just lived for the moment. I didn’t get any mail. Had no phone. I was free and alone.
Then summer ended and I went back to my house and a stack of mail and three months of bank statements that showed that gradually but surely I had accumulated a $1251.00 debit against my check guarantee. I don’t recall if there were interest charges, probably there were. I only know that this was my first real experience with how living on credit can get out of control. During the summer, if I needed to pay for dinners, or trips, or a new board I wrote a check. It was guaranteed.
Of course, I cancelled the service immediately. Pulled the money from my savings and then sat down with my check book and bank statement and taught myself how to reconcile. I’d like to say that I had learned a valuable lesson but that wouldn’t be true. I did get better at tracking my expenditures but I didn’t grasp the real meaning behind what had happened. I learned to keep track but not how to control which we will see as this story continues was my main mistake.