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Spanish Secrets: My Flexible Friend

"This small and very light piece of plastic had become a lead weight in my pocket...'' Craig Briggs, a former credit card "slave'', sympathises with the attitude of his Galician neighbours: if you can't afford it, you can't have it.

As a young man of nineteen the phrase, “your flexible friend” was part of an advertising slogan used by a well-known credit card company.

The well-designed television advert featured an animated credit card, complete with a chirpy little face, booted matchstick legs and similarly white gloved arms. He would flex across the screen extolling the flexible virtues of purchasing all you desired.

Cash was now a thing of the past – fabulous!

For a confident young man living and working in the nation’s capital, London, owning one of these flexible tools simply enhanced my perception of adulthood.

My previous nineteen years of family financial education, based on the premise that if you can’t afford it you can’t have it, seemed outdated and old-fashioned.

Within a week of completing the application form my first credit card tumbled through the letterbox. The credit limit was a mind-blowing £300, more than I would earn in a month.

My first month’s purchases totalled just over £19, which I paid in full on the due date. The following month the bill was slightly more than I’d expected.

“Not to worry,'' I thought.

The card’s flexibility wasn’t limited solely to purchases, but also to payments. The minimum payment was only £5. I could simply pay the rest next month.

As my account balance rose and the card’s credit limit neared, this ever so flexible friend automatically increased the limit. Inevitably this plunged me further and further into debt.

The rest, as they say, is history.

This small and very light piece of plastic had become a lead weight in my pocket. I was convinced that inside the animated television character’s boots and gloves were fiendishly sharp claws.

These claws were sunk deep into me and I couldn’t break free. This was no longer a friend but the meanest of foes. A fact brought home to me in the cruellest of ways.

After the sale of her house, my grandma gifted each family member £1,000. This was an unexpected windfall which afforded my mum and dad, and my big sister Julie, the opportunity to treat themselves.

My sister chose a Sony Trinitron TV and VHS video recorder. For my mum and dad; it was a new washer and fridge freezer.

And for me?

My windfall went on repaying a friend, a very inflexible friend.

It was a hard, but important lesson for a young man to learn, and, in part, shaped my financial future.

After the repayment I vowed never to use the card unless I could repay the balance in full by the due date. A vow I have never broken.

Living here in a remote part of Spain makes those memories seem rather bizarre.

“If you can’t afford it you can’t have it” is a contemporary statement in these parts.

Here cash and cash alone is exchanged for goods and services. The thought of borrowing money over 20 years or more to buy a home, is as strange to the locals as using one’s own cash would be in England.

Fortunately I have the benefit of having lived in both financial worlds and feel adequately equipped to utilise the best of both.

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