By Zhanna Raymond

This is a teen-written article from our friends at Represent Magazine, a platform for and by young people in foster care. Represent is published by Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing. Some names have been changed in this young author's story.

I got a credit card when I was 19 because I thought it would make me feel better about myself. All the adults I knew had credit cards. Most of my coworkers at Berkeley College used theirs as their main form of payment; one got approved for a card with a $10,000 limit. And that made these people seem as if they were freer, with more possibilities. Before getting a credit card, what I could buy was limited to the amount of cash in my pocket.

I was turned down for a credit card by a couple of banks because I had no credit at all—I had never taken out a loan or bought anything on layaway. Banks want evidence that you can pay back money on time. But I was finally approved for a card from Citibank with a credit limit of $1,800 and no interest for the first nine months. This meant that even if I didn’t pay the full amount at the end of each month, I wouldn’t pay interest—for nine months.

The card also had a point system with rewards like gift cards, laptops, and cash. The more I spent with my card, the more points I’d accumulate for a reward. Shopping at certain pricier stores would get me double points. Reading the fine print is important. Some credit cards charge annual fees just for the privilege of getting points.

I went a little crazy. I bought things that I otherwise would have saved up for. I charged a couple of trips to the Caribbean—and the souvenirs too. I purchased clothes and went to expensive restaurants and used the excuse that I’d be able to make partial payments. Having clothes and gadgets that were out of my reach before made me feel richer and more powerful. Whatever I wanted I could have.

A Second Card

About a year after I got my Citibank credit card, I was shopping at JCPenney one day. I didn’t shop there often, but whenever I did, the cashier would always mention that I’d get 20% off my entire purchase if I signed up for a card. I was buying a lot that day and applied only because I wanted that discount. In about four months I used it enough to earn a platinum card, which meant that I’d spent over $1,000. It also meant I earned more coupons—which enticed me to shop there even more.

When I got the JCPenney card, I had just started accruing interest on my Citibank card, and the JCPenney card charged interest right away. The excitement of owning a credit card faded after the interest charges kicked in. They faded even more when I needed to juggle two payments. I had understood before that this was borrowed money, but without the interest there was no penalty for using my credit card.

But now there were penalties. On top of the interest itself are extra fees, and if you skip a payment, the interest rate goes up, so you owe even more. I remembered the idea had been to build credit, not build debt. At this point I owed about $1,000 on my Citibank card, and could pay back about $300 monthly. Even though I paid it back, I was still using my card and being charged $25-$35 in interest each month. I also had to make payments on my JCPenney card, although I didn’t use it as often.

I realized I wanted to be smarter about spending and not go into debt because of material things. Now, my immediate goal is to finish paying down both credit card balances. I’m almost there. Once I clear that debt away, I’d like to save at least $100 each month.

Now I check how much money I actually have in my bank account before I shop. If I’m looking for something specific, I go to the mall with the idea that I’m spending $25 on a blazer, and a blazer only. If I can’t pay for an item with the cash I have on hand, I think twice about whether or not I really need it.

Shopping online also helped me to curb my spending. I have more control online. I can just look at specific things that are in my size and my price range, and not get carried away with something beautiful in a store. Also, the wait for shipping holds a bit of suspense and excitement.

Click here to read the rest of the story on

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Your College Major

    Most college freshmen don't know their major going into college -- and if they do, they frequently end up changing it after a semester or a year. The whole point of college is exploration: Take your time and try out different subjects until you find one that sticks.

  • What You're Looking For In A Relationship

    It can take a lot of relationship experience to figure out what you're really looking for in a partner. And by no means is that something you need to fugure out in high school or even college. Spending times with different types of people, and having both good and bad experiences with them, will make your needs and desires clear in time.

  • Spending WAY Too Much Time On Tumblr

    OK, so scrolling through Tumblr until 3 a.m. when you have an exam the next morning is probably not the best idea, but don't feel bad about spending a seemingly inordinate amount of time on your favorite social network. Twitter and Tumblr can be a great way to connect with others and figure out your own interests and aesthetics.

  • Defining Your Personal Style

    Your style will likely change drastically as you get older and experiment with different looks -- don't worry about figuring out whether to label your style as "glam" or "boho." Just look at Taylor Swift, who has changed her signature style with each album. Have fun exploring and gradually figuring out what looks you feel the most, well, <em>you</em>.

  • Having A Perfect Resume

    In high school and college, there's a lot of pressure to succeed in your academics, extra-curriculars and internships. But if you participate in activities and go after awards solely for the sake of your resume -- not out of real interest -- colleges and employers will probably be able to tell. Do things because they're what you love!

  • Being A Super-Fan

    So what if you worship your favorite star? Now is the time in your life to declare your unfailing, til-death-to-us-part devotion to that special singer or actor you love. Don't let the haters make you feel embarrassed about that "one thing" you can't get enough of -- whether it's the Biebs or the 1D boys. You have the whole rest of your life to play it cool.

  • Finding The Right Group Of Friends

    Finding good friends in high school is important, but don't stress about it too much if you have never found the perfect group of friends. As you move into college and the real world, where you're interacting with a larger and more diverse demographic, you'll find those people you <em>really </em>want to spend your time with.

  • Being Able To Cook A Gourmet Meal

    Even if cooking isn't your thing, it's still worth learning how to make a meal that doesn't come out of a can or box. But don't stress about being able to prepare meals worthy of a five-star restaurant -- simple, basic recipes can still be healthy, delicious, and impressive to dinner party guests.

  • Finding 'The One'

    Think your high school sweetheart is the real deal? Finding love when you're young is an incredible experience, but don't worry too much about finding your "forever." You have years ahead of you to find yourself before you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.

  • Still Going To Your Parents For Help

    If you're 12, 18, or even 30 years old, it's okay to lean on your parents for help or support whenever you need it. Growing up means learning to do things on your own, yes, but it doesn't mean that you have to do it all alone. Learn to lean on the people who will always be there for you.

  • Understanding Your Sexuality

    Sexuality and attraction can take many different forms, and it's something you can spend your entire life exploring. Questioning your sexual orientation can be a challenging process, but try to remember that it's okay if you're still figuring it all out.

  • Defining Your Political Beliefs

    Not sure if you lean liberal or conservative, or what exactly all the differences are between the Democrats and the GOP? Don't sweat it. While it's important to stay informed about current events and issues in our country, figuring out what side you're on isn't so important. It's the issues, not the parties, that really matter.

  • Getting A Credit Card

    Unless you HAVE to, just don't. Credit cards are dangerous because they can feel like free money -- a track that many debt-laden college students have fallen into. Stick to cash and a debit card until you determine that you're ready to build good credit and have the resources to pay off your bill every month.

  • Acting Like A Little Kid Sometimes

    In your rush to leave childhood in the dust, don't worry about acting like a kid sometimes -- you know, taking time to just <em>play</em>. Make a 10-minute stop at the swingset on your walk home, let yourself doodle during class, and enjoy an ice cream cone (with rainbow sprinkles) when you're having a bad day and need a pick-me-up.

  • Being Single

    When your friends are all in relationships and every teen magazine is giving you tips on how to "Get a boyfriend now!" it's hard not to feel inadequate about being single. Whether you're a serial dater or you've never been in a real relationship, learning how to embrace being on your own is a skill that will make you stronger -- and happier -- for the rest of your life.

  • Following A 'Life Timeline'

    For the more type-A among us, it's almost instinctive to try to chart out your life: Make the varsity team by sophomore year, get a boyfriend or girlfriend by senior year, travel abroad by 18, get a job right out of college. It's important to have goals, but let's be honest -- life doesn't really work that way. Save yourself a lot of frustration by being flexible about when you accomplish things and not getting too upset when life don't go exactly according to plan.

  • Being Perfect

    This goes for individuals of all ages, but the pressure to be perfect can be especially challenging as a teenager. Time spent worrying about being a straight-A student, having a flawless figure or living the perfect life is time wasted. Embrace your flaws.

  • Knowing If/When You Want To Get Married Or Have Kids

    Whether you think you may want to start a family right after you graduate or the mere idea of marriage sends you into a tailspin, knowing if and when you want to settle down isn't something to waste your energy worrying about. Chances are, you'll change your mind a handful of times during your teens, 20s and 30s before you figure it out -- and that's totally OK.

  • Knowing What You Want To Do For The Rest Of Your Life

    When you're feeling pressured to figure out where you're going to college, what your major will be, and in turn, what you want in your career, it's easy to stress out over your entire life plan. But the truth of the matter is that interests evolve and that most people change their careers many times of their course of their lives. If you haven't found your passion, experiment with things that sound fun to you until something clicks -- and trust that, eventually, it will.

  • Knowing Who You Are

    We've heard time and again that change is life's only constant -- and it's true. Especially when you're a teenager, you're still changing and figuring out who you are, a process that will continue for most if not all of your life. Instead of feeling pressured to define yourself based on your musical taste or relationships, enjoy the lifelong process of discovering -- and creating -- yourself.