I'm Debbie. Growing up I was spoiled; I would spend about 300 to 400 [dollars] each week just on shopping. I had, like 200, pairs of jeans. My purses
—I had to have my Chanels, I had to have my Fendies and Pradas. When the real estate business crashed, my parents pretty much lost all their money, and if I needed help with my bills, they couldn't help me pay for them. Next thing you know I was over all the limit fees and eventually I just kind of stopped paying. I have at least a hundred debt collectors calling me. I didn't know that having bad credit ruined my life. I need your help. What can I do to get out of this mess?
—Debbie in San Diego, California
: So, you, you knew a lot of this, you just didn't know what the totals were, right? And you, you really don't intend to pay these off, do you? In fact, you said, why even bother, because they're gonna take them all away from you eventually anyway, so you might as well milk them for all they're worth, right? You said, "I'm gonna keep charging on these until they take them away from me," knowing that when you go in and present one of these and take out goods or services, you have no intention of paying for them.
What you did is you just declared yourself a diva. You just declared yourself to have all of this stuff, whether you earned it or whether you didn't. And that's very immature. You've got to learn to tell yourself, "No." You've got to get off your butt and get a job, a real job, a full-time job.
You know as well as I do that you can't pay for any of this stuff, so you're just going to have to basically start over. Here's the bottom line: Your parents' job was to prepare you for the next level of life. Your parents' job was to prepare you to understand that if I do an "A" level of performance, I get an "A" standard of living; a "B" level gets a "B" level; "C" level, "C" level; etc. That isn't what happened.
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You're twenty-four. So what, we're going to drag you for the next 50 years? As an elite, sucking off society? You need to get a job. You need to look people in the eye and when you tell them, "I'm going to buy this from you," you need to pay for it. You're not entitled to have it if you don't pay for it. You know, I've never had a car payment in my entire life. And I've driven some really crummy cars. But the first car I had was $165. It didn't have a reverse; you had to park on a hill. But I tell you what, I paid for it and that was what I could afford at the time. And I did it, and I went to bed at night knowing that I earned that crummy car out there. I took pride in that car because I paid for it. And you don't feel that way about anything, do you?
You have to learn that you've got to pull your own weight in this world. And I'm not ashamed to say that I grew up really poor. And when you grow up really poor, you understand that if you don't work, you don't eat. We didn't have credit cards because we were poor. I can remember having a paper route and it was sleeting outside. My mother said, "You're not going out to collect for your paper." I said, "Oh yes, I am because tonight everybody's home. It's too crummy for anybody else to be out. I'll get my money tonight, which means we'll eat tomorrow."
When you're poor, you think this through, and there's no shame in that. But wouldn't you rather have something that you earned—that was legitimately and rightfully yours—than something that you misappropriated from somebody because you could?
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You can start over—it's not too late. But you've got to require more of yourself. You've got to decide, "You know what? They're right. It's time for me to step up and be honest." Write all these people a letter, tell them the truth about where things are. Work full-time, pay your own way. If you're sleeping on somebody's couch, offer to pay them for it. Stand on your own two feet. And take some pride in yourself.
Next: One family who wants to regain control of their kids