The Second Third, Week 10: The Big Payback

Blogger’s Note: The whole idea behind these “Second Third” posts can be found here.

When I left home for Yale, my folks left a cushion of money in my checking account. I’m thinking there was $150 of their money, hidden beneath the zero balance, in case I ever was in trouble and needed to come home. I never counted it as mine, so there was always $150 difference between my balance and the bank’s. My folks trusted me not to piddle it away, and I didn’t let them down.

Instead, I collected my suitemates’ empties and turned them in for the deposit, cleaned our bathroom (shared by seven of us) in exchange for pizza at Yorkside, and worked 20 hours a week to pay my bills. When one of my suitemates ran out of spending money and called his mother to yell at her, I was shocked. And when my roommate bought a new stereo, I set my little Sony dual cassette player aside and listened to his music. Even synthpop and show tunes.

I think it was my sophomore year that I “graduated” to a Visa with a strict credit limit — $500, I think, just for emergencies, my folks said. Again, I walked the line: at Thanksgiving, I got a hand-me-down Apple IIsi computer from my sister, and when I needed to crank up the Soundgarden, I could always go next door to our common room. The rest of the time, the little Sony would suffice.

Junior year, however, I roomed with two new guys, both fairly private, with no common room and no common stereo. They were out a lot, and I wasn’t…so the stereo bug bit. I’d been listening to the same little Sony since the Christmas after Ghostbusters II came out — I remember because I got the boombox (I use the term loosely) and Bobby Brown’s Dance!…Ya Know It on cassette, together, as it were. (And as everybody knows, that cassette had remixes of, among other things, the GBII soundtrack single “All On Our Own”…) I had worn out two Soundgarden Badmotorfinger cassettes, and couldn’t get enough volume to startle the squirrels outside my window.

It was an audio emergency. I needed a stereo. I deserved a stereo. And I’d totally pay it off in a matter of a couple of months. J&R Audio catalog and a Visa. Done deal.

I loved that stereo. I still have it, actually — it serves as a makeshift “theater” system in our basement family room. Did I pay it off in a couple months? Probably. Did I demote the Visa back to emergency-only duties? Nope.

The love bug bit next. I met Jodi at Wall Drug one summer, and decided to get engaged the next. Did I have money the ring? Nope. Did I have money for a down payment? A little…

I drove the length of the state to Sioux Falls to buy the ring I knew she liked — and they looked sideways at the fact that I had no permanent address (a student P.O. Box in Connecticut or Wall Drug?) and only seasonal employment. Finally they relented and said they would finance, but I’d need to put more money down.

This was my one shot. I called Citibank. They bumped my credit limit. I left with the ring.

We may still be paying for that ring. We’ve been in debt of some form or another ever since, and although we’re slowly digging out, it’s hard. Our furnace is dying, and it makes sense to replace the A/C at the same time — but that’s a few thousand dollars we don’t have in hand, plus my car’s acting up. What to do, what to do…

When I bought my first car from my dad, I got a loan. It wasn’t a big loan, but it was big enough for me at the time. I remember Dad saying, “They’ll make it easy for you. They want to loan you the money — it’s how they make money. And they want to loan as much as you can possibly pay back, even if it takes awhile.”

Especially if it takes awhile.

We’re trying to be smarter, and we keep chip-chip-chipping away at our debt. I’m looking forward to the big payback here in my Second Third: eliminating bills, saving our money, paying cash whenever possible as we move forward, and letting the kids know in no uncertain terms that there is no such thing as an audio emergency…even if your roommate is rocking to Erasure.

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