The Vow & 7 Questions to Stop You From Using Your Credit Cards
By marciabrixey on June 20, 2011
At times I feel like I’ve taken a vow of sorts. And this vow guides me, irritates me and gives me amazing freedom, often all at the same time. This vow, this guiding principle if you will, allows me to live my life without a lot of financial guilt or confusion. It gives me the peace of mind to know I am slowly but surely building my future while living a balanced life in the present moment.
Can you guess what my "guiding principle" is? It is quite simple ... I do not debt.
I often find myself out of step with those around me because of this "guiding principle" however; I don’t put things on credit cards, even for a month, and I don’t pull from a line of credit. I have not always succeeded, though over the years it has gotten easier -- and it has literally shaped my way of thinking.
But like many simple things, it is not always easy. I’m reminded of a friend who was trying to quit drinking and said, “It’s simple to do, and it is so damn hard!”
I decided to stop using credit cards back when I was in debt. I was still paying on the debt that I had already accumulated. Eventually the day came when I was debt free. Relief!! But then I decided to continue not using debt, and this was an even bigger deal.
Many people will tell you how and why you should use credit cards. These articles are often written by the “financially virtuous” (those that expound putting things on credit cards and then paying your bill in full ... which, by the way, less than 25% of the population manages to do.) And of course so many commercials from Capital One, Chase, and American Express to MasterCard all tell us that we should buy whatever our heart longs for. We deserve it, after all, and they can help us.
I personally found it very difficult to plan my spending when some things I bought wouldn’t be paid for until the following month. Yes, I could figure out how to do this mechanically, from a budgeting perspective, but it didn’t work well for my brain and it certainly didn’t help me emotionally. I was simply more prone to overspending. (See my post here on how credit cards are bad for your brain)
The bottom line was that by deciding not to use credit cards, I had to figure out how to get my needs and wants met by myself. Wow.
Living like this requires me to ask questions I hadn’t considered much before. Questions like:
- Is there a less expensive alternative that would meet my needs?
- Can I find this same thing for less money somewhere else?
- Do I really want this or is this about something else?
- If this is really about something else, then is there another way I could satisfy the underlying need?
- Does this align with my larger goals?
- If I really want this and I can’t afford this, is there some way I can make more money?
- If I really want this and I can’t afford this, is there something else I’m willing to give up?
For example, I did my annual income and spending plan for 2011 -- something I teach my clients how to do. And ... I couldn’t get it to balance. Yes, I wanted to spend more money than I was bringing in. Sigh. Don’t we all?! I had to take out a large trip. Oh no!!!
Putting vacations and travel expenses on credit cards is one of the most common things I see driving people’s debt. Well, I want to travel, too. But I couldn’t afford it. I need to put windows on my house this year. And I want to do some landscaping. And I’m very focused on getting my retirement on track after my divorce. Drat. It would be easier to not have set these goals. Then I could travel. Of course then my house would be cold and I’d lie awake at night worrying about the future. But hey, in the mean time, I could travel -— ‘cause Lord knows I deserve it, right?!
In the end, will I travel this year? Perhaps. I’m wrestling with those questions up above. I wanted to go to Machu Picchu with my dad’s wife. My ideas so far are to enjoy going away with her to a nearer destination, i.e. less money. One of the underlying needs is to simply spend more time with her, as she’s the coolest woman ever. But I really do want to go to Machu Picchu! Okay, is there something I can give up? I’m eying my front landscaping project and debating if I can scale it down. (Sorry, neighbors.) And I am thinking about how to bring in more money. (Years ago when I needed more money, I waitressed a couple evenings a week and more recently, in my past, I’ve picked up extra teaching hours or other things related to my work.)
The point, as I’m sure you can see, is that this “vow” makes me more deliberate, thoughtful and creative. It’s a different way to live my life. I live a life of conscious choice. I have less stress. And yes, there is a trade-off. I see people doing some things that I would like to do more of, such as travel. But in the end, I can sleep at night. I know I will not have to work forever, as I am securing my retirement. And when I do spend money, I enjoy spending it, because I know this is something I really want and I can afford it.
That is a very sweet feeling.
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