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I have been sitting on an issue that has had my brain a mess and I didn’t think until now to get your take. Maybe because I fear you would side with, or maybe because it is too multifaceted to really discuss. In the end, I decided to write about it because this community means the world to me and I’d hate to let a little hiccup tarnish my view on it, or on people’s views of me.
First off, I would like to say that I am no Mother Teresa. I stole when I was a kid. A lot (sorry, mom). My best friend at the time, C, was a girl who had moved from the city to the burbs and for some reason still unknown to me, she befriended me first. C immediately became the most popular girl in school and, by proximity, I became one too. She was much more “mature” than the rest of us girls so I always felt like I was rushing to catch up. C had boyfriends that were older, parents that were divorced, and a house that was bigger and grander than any of my other friends. Her older sister smoked cigarettes and I remember the day we sat out back of their large house, under the stairwell, while they pressured me to try my first cigarette. It was not my finest moment, and I certainly didn’t look cool. But I am getting off track…
C also taught me how to steal. She was used to being sneaky (escaping her big home to go out with boys at night took some mad skill), I was not. I remember the time when her mom dropped us off at the mall. These were the days of Z Cavaricci’s and IOU sweatshirts and to be anyone who is anyone you had to have them. Both brands were expensive and my babysitting money was precious to me. I never thought much about brand names, but hanging with C meant I needed to up my game. I used to borrow C’s clothes but, while in the mall that day, she decided it was time for me to have my own pair of Cavs. We found our way to Merry Go Round, the hottest store in the mall, and picked a pair that she thought would look good on me. C made sure there were no tags that would set the alarm off, then rolled them up, put them in my arms, and pushed me out the open doors to the mall. I was shocked when nobody came yelling and screaming and so I followed her instructions, walked to the bathroom in the food court, and waited in a stall for her to meet me. Those few minutes seemed like a lifetime while I played out all the things that could possibly be taking her sooooo long (360 seconds?), the worst being that she had been caught. But she wasn’t. A few minutes later she strolled in, knocked on the door, and I opened it to her Cheshire cat smile. We had gotten away with it, but it didn’t feel good.
For days I agonized over these jeans. I didn’t dare wear them. I approached my mom several times to tell her what I had done, but I couldn’t. I told C that I wanted to take them back to the store, I wanted to return them to the owners. She told me that was stupid and that I would get in trouble if I took them back. I thought maybe I could just go to the mall, throw them inside, and run…the reverse action of what had gotten them in my possession in the first place. I didn’t have the mindset to deal with this dilemma. If I took them back, I could get in trouble. If I kept them, I was a thief. I decided to do nothing. I didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t bring them back…I didn’t even wear them. I let them sit in my closet until C noticed and took them for herself.
I wish I can say that was the last time I stole. It wasn’t. That was only the first. My group of friends grew, and with it, the circle of stupidity. We stole shoes (mostly Converse), flannels (dude, it was the 90’s), key chains, beads, candy. Looking back (and even at the time) none of this made sense. I babysat a bunch and had money but I wanted to be popular more than I wanted to be moral. Turns out, you can’t buy popularity, but it does have a price.
Two incidents got me to stop.
First, being witness to my friend, M, when she got caught stealing at Macy’s. We had gone to the mall with another girl and, thankfully for me, the whole stealing thrill had already worn off. When the ladies with faux shopping bags and walkie-talkies came running up to the girls, the girls took off while I just stood there (similar to when the cops would bust our parties in the woods. Playing possum always worked best – but that’s another story). A few minutes later I saw my friends being dragged to a secret door (hidden in the paneling of the wall) and led up a flight of stairs. A few moments later the ladies came back down for me, still standing in the same spot. I was led upstairs to the Macy’s “jail cell” where my friends were now sitting. After a brief interrogation (and aggressive rifling through my bag), I was sent home. Like I said, I hadn’t taken anything but the guilt still coursed through me. I spent the entire 1-hour bus ride home staring out the window at the oncoming traffic hoping to catch a glimpse of my friend’s mom on the way to get her. I guess I wanted to see the disappointment on her face before M did. Hundreds of cars passed by my bus in that hour, but never the one I was searching for.
The second incident happened the very next day. M and I were in the cafeteria check out line when she asked if I wanted a brownie. Sure, I like brownies. Why wouldn’t I want one? I just didn’t want to buy one so I said no. She said not to worry, that she would hook me up. Um, OK. I finished checking out and left the line to wait for her. When I looked back a few minutes later, the door between the cafeteria and the check out line had been closed. I found out later that M was caught stealing a brownie. For me. I guess I didn’t realize what she meant when she said she would hook me up. Ugh.. One fricking day after being locked up in the Macy’s jail cell, my friend get’s caught stealing a brownie. Soooooo not cool. This time I hoped I wouldn’t see her mom when she arrived. The thought was terrifying!
Now 20+ years later, I remember both of those moments like they happened yesterday. The feeling of guilt, the feeling of embarrassment. The hope that my mom would NEVER find out but, of course, she did. It was too close to home. My mom worked at my high school as the secretary to the Dean, there wasn’t much that got past her. After M’s visit to her office, and M’s mom having to come and pick her up, the jig was up. Mom knew everything. She knew about Macy’s and that we had been caught. She knew about the brownie and that it was for me (of course M tried to blame it on me!), and she knew my friends were bordering on delinquent. One of the greatest lessons that my mom now had reason to preach was “Birds of a feather flock together”. As a result, I would hear that saying over and over for many years to come. And she was right. Jim Rohn, anyone?
My point in telling these stories is not to make myself look bad, but to explain that I learned my lesson the hard way. I KNOW the difference between right and wrong and I now choose accordingly. I am also aware of when my moral code is being bent or swayed. I know the sick feeling when I am doing something wrong and I go out of my way to avoid it. It is with this, that I try to explain how that feeling was recently struck upon me. How something I was doing hadn’t occurred to me to be “stealing” or “immoral” but to others it was. I will tell you now in hopes that you will weigh in. I am still deciding…
My credit union offers a checking account with a 4% interest rate up to 25k. Basically, if you fill it up, you can be making $100/month in interest. It get’s better. They allow us to open TWO accounts – if you max both you can make $200/month in interest!! Of course, there’s a catch. You have to have at least one direct deposit (no problemo) and 15 credit card swipes per month (for each card). Being I use this checking account for my savings, the question has always been, how do I get those swipes without spending a bunch of extra money to make the swipes happen. I have heard stories of people going to the self-checkout just to make multiple transactions for their groceries. Buying packs of 25 cent gum. Paying for parking with only that card. Perhaps Redbox a couple of nights per month? I tried those things and was always scraping for swipes in the last days of each cycle. There had to be a better way!! A few years back, I found one. A fellow flight attendant taught me this “hack”:
- Get a Square card reader (free)
- Designate all income from Square to go back to your checking account
- Swipe your card 15 times (Square charges 3% for all swipes and minimum swipe is $1 so 15 swipes cost 45 cents).
- Put card away until next month.
Easy, right? Wellllllllll…
I recently posted this “hack” on a FIRE FB page. People were talking about hacks of all sorts – travel, housing, groceries, and I thought I would toss mine into the mix in case anyone else was coming up with this same problem of minimum swipes. I am of the “take what you want, leave what you don’t” mindset. To say I wasn’t ready for the backlash is an understatement.
Within minutes I found myself in a heated discussion trying to defend my actions. A few nice people thought I was clever (though it wasn’t my idea so I can’t take credit) and then came the Negative Nancy’s. One asked where the dislike button was. Someone argued that I was stepping over dollars to pick up pennies (I don’t consider $2400/year in interest just pennies but whatevs). And another insinuated that what I was doing was morally inept.
I pointed out that I was paying the fee on Square’s terms and none of the “purchases” had been flagged on the credit unions side despite my having been doing this for many months. I argued that I keep a hefty balance in my account that the CU is free to do what they please until I instigate a withdraw (the percentage rate on loans given with MY money is how they make money, after all). I even argued that a few years back said banks had made loans to many unqualified people (again, with our money) which then played a part in the housing market collapse taking many people (including me) down with them. And I was lacking morals??
But I digress, I am not always right and I get that. Perhaps the worst part of this hack (and the one I hadn’t thought of until it was pointed out at the end by a moderator) was the legalities of swiping from the same account that get’s the money back. Of course, that would be an easy fix by switching which bank receives the money. I could even put the Square card in my boyfriend’s name and have the money go to his account. There are many ways around any legalities of charging yourself and benefiting from it and those I would have been open to discussing. Unfortunately, constructive criticism or logistical warnings isn’t what came from this post. A shit ton of negativity did.
As I typed furiously back and forth I wondered two things:
- Why do I fucking care what these people think?
- How is this ANY different from hacking for miles? What about letting someone else use your credit score to boost their own (something I didn’t even know was a thing until recently)??
When I posed that question I was told that it isn’t any different. Both are the reason why banks and points systems have changed over the years. These types of hacks are to be blamed for ruining it for everyone else. Ouch. And with that response, I became curious as to why it was my post that set off all the alarm bells. This FB group that is saturated with high fives and back pats for finding ways to “game” the system was suddenly searching for a dislike button for finding a way to swipe a card 15 times without making stupid consumer purchases. How is it that I was unaware of the double standard or the invisible line of morality?? And back to #1 – why the fuck do I care??
I care because it DOES matter what people think about me…specifically when they are calling out who I am at my core. My character. I consider myself someone who is honest (to a fault) and I go out of my way to make sure I never cross my (or society’s) moral line again. But you can’t move the fucking line. You can’t decide that opening a bunch of cards for points, transferring the points, and canceling the cards before the annual fee is OK, but swiping your credit card to yourself to make a 4% interest rate isn’t. What about bypassing taxes through a Roth conversion or taking advantage of government subsidies? Are those OK?? You can’t decide that gaming the system is fair, then call a foul on someone who does the same. Can you? What loopholes are OK to jump through and which aren’t? Are all loopholes immoral?
I feel like I will always be apologizing for the shitty things I did as a kid. Getting away with something physically doesn’t mean you get away with it mentally. The guilt is always there. This conversation on FB made me question if what I was doing was really wrong. It gave me that burning hot feeling in my stomach…you know the one. The one that rises up and forms a lump in your throat wishing deeply you could undo what was done. The only thing I could undo at the moment was my post. I deleted it. I deleted it specifically after the moderator pointed out the possible legal implications (that I was unaware of). And that was fine. But that wasn’t even the part that had upset me. It was the attack mode of naysaying and finger-wagging without being constructive. And for the past month or so I have thought long and hard about that.
I am a pretty tough cookie, I don’t crumble often, but one thing I can’t have questioned is my integrity…especially from people who I have never met or interacted with in any way! I learned a few lessons from this little episode. One, I no longer post on FB groups. 😉 Two, I am good with who I am. And three, my moral code doesn’t have to be the same as everyone else’s. I am the one who has to be able to sleep at night and I won’t lose sleep over what strangers think about me. The people who know me or have spent any time interacting with me (like many of you!!) are the only ones who count.
** So what do you think? Where does the line get crossed? Is hacking or loopholes immoral? I would love to continue this discussion in a civilized way. We all have our own opinions but we can exchange them with grace and, in that manner, I am always open to hearing the other side. **
Until next time…