A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
PLASTIC FEAR FACTOR
Oh, yeah. I know all about “frightening.” I’m a father remember?
I’ve seen 2-year-olds with drippy colds, 10-year-olds with power tools and 16-year-olds with learner’s permits. I’ve endured Cub Scout day camp, parent-teacher conferences and breakfast “experiments.” I’ve heard “Daddy, come wipe me,” “Dad, can I take the car?” and “Sir, I’d like to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”
Believe me, “frightening” is my middle name.
But nothing I’ve experienced in nearly 26 years of parenting prepared me for the abject terror I experienced yesterday when I looked through the stack of mail on the counter. There, in the midst of the usual assortment of bills, advertisements and AOL installation disks, was a business letter addressed to my adult daughter, Andrea. A feeling of dread swept over me as I saw the return address. I shook and squeezed the envelope, willing it to not be what I was sure that it was.
No such luck. I could feel the cold, cruel plastic through the envelope. I shuddered and whispered a silent prayer for my daughter.
Andrea now has a credit card from a national chain of department stores.
May God have mercy on her budget.
Yeah, I know, there’s nothing inherently evil about credit cards. In the right hands they can be useful financial tools. But in the wrong hands – like mine – they can be tools of destruction, heartache and bad credit reports. Compounded semi-annually.
According to my crack investigative staff (in other words, I’m making this up) the credit card was originally devised by a committee that included a banker, a lawyer and a direct descendant of the Marquis de Sade. Calling upon every bit of financial dexterity and legal manipulation they could muster (and throwing in a few whips and chains for good measure), they came up with a way to draw buyers into stores with sales promising 10 percent off, and then hit them with a 16 percent finance charge.
Hey, they’ve got to pay for those Super Bowls commercials somehow.
Of course, when you don’t have the cash to pay for whatever it is you’re buying on credit, 16 percent seems a small price to pay. That’s because we’ve forgotten how to save for the things we want. In this age of microwaved nutrition and sitcom sensibility, wants become needs, and needs must be met NOW! I know this because I’m the king of impulse buying, and I have the Slim Whitman albums to prove it.
Thankfully Anita has taken over our checkbook. She cut up my credit cards and put me on a cash-only budget. And finally, after years of compounding indebtedness, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel – and for once it isn’t an oncoming train.
That’s why I’m frightened when I see that credit card coming to Andrea. I know that “pay later” seems like a good idea to her right now. I mean, her whole life is “later.” Meanwhile, there’s all these cool clothes and stuff that she can have right now. But “later” comes sooner than you expect, and it is relentless in its demands – whether you get that pay raise or that new job or that fabulous inheritance (yeah, right!) or not.
Eventually, “later” always becomes “right now.” And that can be frightening.
Take it from one who knows all about “frightening.”
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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.