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Financial Discoveries in a Consumerist Culture

by Mike

Today I’m proud to publish a guest post written by Aloysa from The Kitchen Sink. She’s pretty new to blogging but she’s off to a great start so make sure you show her some support and check out her blog.

I grew up in a society where the word “consumerism” was used very seldom and only by a select few. This word was not understood. It was viewed as a word from a forbidden capitalistic world. I never even heard this word before I moved to the United States where my very close and intimate relationship with consumerist culture developed.

This relationship was based on my past experience. The Soviet Union stores were not glamorous or inviting. I remember dim lights, brown and grey interior colors and the gloomy faces of sales people. The customer service was non-existent. The major rule of “don’t ask, don’t tell” applied to the customer service. Clothes and shoes all looked the same: dark colors, shapeless form. Now, imagine a girl who came to the United States and saw all the goods offered to consumers with shiny smiles on the sales people’s faces. Imagine a little kid in Disneyland with free admission and endless possibilities. I made my first discovery: shopping wonderland.

Dazzling and alluring malls were calling my name, inviting me to come in and spend, spend, spend. I watched advertisements that told me I was not good enough if I don’t get a specific perfume,  jeans or shoes. Glossy magazines showed me what to wear, how to wear it, and where to get it. I discovered that shopping can be a huge pleasure; a pleasure that very rapidly and dangerously turned into a very expensive addiction that needed to be financed which led me to my second discovery: credit cards.

In the late 1990s in Lithuania owning a credit card was a novel and trendy idea with a very limited number of people who could become cardholders. It was mostly businessmen who could get a credit card. I believe the first credit cards that became available were collateralized by saving accounts. So, obviously not everyone could have one. In the U.S. I learned that credit cards are widely accessible and viewed as an essential purchasing tool. Unfortunately for me, instead of looking at credit cards as a financial tool that should be used carefully, I looked at them as my ticket into the shopping paradise.

My third discovery: almost anyone can get a credit card. I was an international student living with my parents and working a part-time job with a $6/hour pay rate. In spite of my miserable earning potential, I managed to get a credit card and my life was changed forever. I was able to feed my shopping addiction. I could never have enough clothes, shoes, handbags and so on.

Eventually I ended up having multiple credit cards. The problem with that was that I could not pay for them. My fourth and the most painful discovery: your debt will catch up with you.

What I learned from my financial discoveries ( the really hard way):

- Money buys security but not happiness. Credit is only a means of getting what we want right away. It gives us an instant gratification but then what? Then we have to pay a high price.  It can take years to dig yourself out of the hole using a debt reduction plan.

- The effect that debt has on your life is not just long-term. It has an immediate effect on the “here and now.” I still have plenty of stress, sleepless nights and worries about my credit card balances.

- Be careful where you look for financial help. Banks have very strong incentives to rip us off and overextend our funds. I got my first credit card with a credit limit of $500. I was not working, living with my parents and had almost no income.

- Educate yourself about debt. I came to the United states debt free and knowing nothing about debt management. I thought credit cards were there for me to help me get what I want now and pay later. When later came, I did not have enough money to pay off the balance so I took my time paying it off without realizing that a $100 pair of shoes in the end will cost me at least an additional $60 if not more.

- Become a smart consumer. Compare pricing, know your rights, know how much you can afford and make a simple budget.

EDIT 10/11 – This post was included in the Carnival of Money Stories hosted by FreeMoneyFinance.com!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Everyday Tips

What a great post! I can’t imagine what a different perspective you must have regarding ‘consumerism’ coming from the Soviet Union to here. I can see where things would be very tempting to you.

You learned about credit cards the hard way (like most people do), but you also learned your lesson much faster than most.

I really like your blog by the way!
Everyday Tips´s last [type] ..Got A Problem You Need Solved Got a Solution To Sell

Reply

Aloysa

There are a lot of things STILL that are very tempting to me. :-) But I am so much more careful now. Plus I just know that whatever I want (not need :-) )still will be there, available for me, when I can afford it. Thank you for your support! It means a lot to me!
Aloysa´s last [type] ..Reading Picks of the Week

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[email protected]

You hooked me right away. To hear the observations of someone from Russia who has moved to America is fresh and exciting. You have learned more about the culture of American banking than many have learned in 20 years. You are a very astute young woman.

One question. Recently there were new reports about the forest fires in Russia and they showed Moscow shrouded in smoke. What caught my attention immediately was that all the Russian women were wearing dresses. Was I correct in that observation?
[email protected]´s last [type] ..Whats holding you back from reaching your financial goals

Reply

Aloysa

Your observation is correct! We like to wear dresses and skirts so much more than pants/jeans. In my office I am the only woman who is wearing dresses and skirts 90% of the time. :-)
Aloysa´s last [type] ..Reading Picks of the Week

Reply

Khaleef @ KNS Financial

Great prospective! I think looking at how other societies view money and credit can shed a lot on our own behaviors!
Khaleef @ KNS Financial´s last [type] ..Firefighters Let House Burn and Pets Die Over 75 – Is the pay-to-spray fee a good idea

Reply

Aloysa

Thank you! I think a lot of my financial mistakes were made due my background. I am still learning…
Aloysa´s last [type] ..Reading Picks of the Week

Reply

Roshawn @ Watson Inc

Very captivating post. Fortunately, your discoveries will now be useful to you in the future as you navigate the next 40 years well. Also, you are sharing the wealth of knowledge to spare others the pain of learning these things the hard way. Very enjoyable read.

Reply

Aloysa

I am glad you enjoyed it. I wanted to share my experience from a perspective of someone with a totally different life experience.
Aloysa´s last [type] ..Reading Picks of the Week

Reply

Car Negotiation Coach

Aloysa, I love hearing a foreign perspective on our consumer-centric culture.

So much in the States revolves around buy, buy, buy. I’m always shocked when my wife and mother list in their hobbies: “shopping”. In my mind, shopping for the sake of shopping is VERY bad. We definitely need to make a shift to more “needs-based consumerism” instead of “wants-based consumerism”
Car Negotiation Coach´s last [type] ..How to negotiate lawn care services

Reply

Aloysa

I totally understand your wife and mother! LOL Shopping can be very entertaining and uplifting activity. For women at least. People just need to be more careful with how they spend and what they buy. It can turn into something very ugly very fast…
Aloysa´s last [type] ..What Rookies Should Know About Blogging

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Jason @ Redeeming Riches

Yes, credit cards are a slippery slope that will leave you wondering what happened! I remember thinking many of the same things you did when I got my first card! Great job in realizing these lessons!
Jason @ Redeeming Riches´s last [type] ..7 Most Important Habits of Rich People

Reply

Aloysa

Thank you Jason. I wish I would not have to learn the hard way… Oh, well… at the end it was all worth it. :-)
Aloysa´s last [type] ..Family Lessons in Frugality

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