Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Learning the Hard Way

by (Brian Sato)

I come from a family where my father keeps a tight handle on the family finances and is the treasurer of his investment club. While growing up, I was always afraid to ask him for any more money than he would give for my allowance. I was afraid not just of him saying "no," but also of being raked over the coals with questions about why I needed the money or why I hadn't saved my allowance and planned ahead to buy or do what I wanted.

About ten years later, my parents thought it would be good idea to let me have my own credit card when I started college -- you know, one of those $250 or $500 limit cards. They thought it would be a good way for my to start my credit history and take on more financial responsibility. What a great feeling I had! I could go buy whatever I wanted -- well, almost whatever I wanted.

That kind of thinking got me into trouble. You can probably guess what happened in my years as a collegian. The credit card balance increased even though I usually made more than just the minimum payment. The bank loved me so much it raised my credit limit up to $1200! Needless to say, at one point it was actually the interest that was pushing past the credit limit. For a while I didn't know what to do, but I knew that I could never ask my father to bail me out. I would really get raked if he saw how financially irresponsible I was.

One day, I unknowingly left one of my credit card statements on my bed in plain sight for my father to see. But he did not say a single word about it. I am sure he wanted to. My mother told me this several years after the fact. I was completely surprised. My father also didn't bail me out, which is probably the best thing he could have done. Had he paid my bills, I might still be irresponsible and unFoolish, racking up high credit balances and paying just a little more than the minimum payment each month.

Now another ten years has passed. The moral of this whole situation is that sometimes people just have to learn things the hard way. I think this is especially hard for parents with their children. I am sure my father wanted to help set me straight in my financial thinking. But since he let me figure out what to do and struggle through this ordeal myself, I have a better understanding of the good and evil of those little plastic things we carry with us called credit cards. This only came about by my father's inaction. I am forever grateful for the lesson he taught me by not saying or doing anything when it would have been easier for him to do so.

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