My dumbest purchase ever

Debt Kid has posted a challenge at his blog wanting to know about <a href=””>your dumbest purchase ever</a>. Since purchases can have a big impact on your credit score, I thought I’d share my dumbest purchase ever.

In 1993, I was newly married to a Private in the Marine Corps whose take home pay was about $600 a month and working as a waitress at a diner chain where I made $2.13/hour plus tips. And the tips were awful. On average, I’d say I brought home about $15 for a breakfast/lunch shift (6am to 3pm) which I worked most of the time and maybe about $40 for a lunch/dinner shift (11am to 8pm) which I worked maybe two or three times a month.

A door-to-door salesman came to our door multiple times, trying to find us both at home. Because we both had irregular schedules, I’d say he tried at least eight or nine different times before he showed up one day and found us both at home. We were young and naive and he seemed friendly, so we let him in and listened to his sales pitch.

He was selling a family photo club package. For the low, low price of $6,000, payable in monthly installments, we could join his family photo club. Benefits of membership included a “free” VCR that he promised to bring the next day if we signed up, a decent quality 35mm camera, a genuine leather photo album for displaying our beautifully developed family photos, and a huge book of coupons entitling us to photo developing, enlargements, prints from negatives, photo repair of ancient photos, and even special effects added to our photos (you’ve surely seen an infamous wedding photo with the couple’s face floating in the middle of a brandy snifter?).

For the rest of our lives, whenever we had any sort of photographic need, all we would need to do is clip a coupon from this giant coupon book, and mail it off to this company to be processed in 6-8 weeks. If the coupon book ran out, we could request another one.

There were a few catches, of course.

The first was that the “lifetime” membership actually expired in five years. So, how could they call it lifetime? Why, all we had to do was send off a letter to the company six months in advance of the expiration requesting that our membership be extended another five years. No cost to us except the stamp.

The second was that sending off film to be developed or photos to be enlarged with the coupons from the book actually wasn’t free. Each coupon had a price printed on it, and we had to include a money order for that price in the envelope as well. If I remember correctly, reprints were $1 each, enlargements varied in price from $2 to $10, depending on the size, and film developing cost us about $5. Um…wasn’t that about what that would cost us anyway? Even a little pricey?

But, being 19 years old, newly married when we had no business being married, and suddenly plunged into this world of trying to manage our $1500 total income each month, we bought it. It turned out years later when we were more comfortable talking to each other that neither of us had actually had the least interest in purchasing the package, but had been afraid to speak up since we had perceived the other as being interested.

For the next five years, this company deducted $100 a month from my husband’s meager little military paycheck, and we struggled. When the military uprooted us to move across the country, we had all of $300 to our name and ate nothing but cheap pot pies and tins of refrigerator biscuits for months at a stretch. There were times where we couldn’t afford to have sex because we couldn’t afford birth control! That $100 a month would have made a big difference.

I think all in all, we developed maybe a dozen rolls of film through this company and I sent off for three enlargements to 5×7, that don’t forget, cost us money. The VCR they gave us served us well for many years, but realistically we could have bought one pretty cheaply for ourselves. The camera they gave us was stolen from our car about four months after we signed up for the package.

So, in the end, I’d have to say that we spent $6000 on a VCR. Pretty dumb purchase.

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