Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Life Without Credit Cards???? EEEEK!
For the last eleven days, I have been pledging every morning when I get up not to increase the consumer debt on our credit cards. You see, when Christmas came, I thought I had enough money saved to cover it. But then I kind of went crazy because we had paid off all the cards and then after Christmas, I just kept on spending and all of a sudden we owe all the credit card companies again.
I wasn't the only one using the credit cards, but I definitely did my share of running them up again. And then Ben's tuition was due and he needed books. And you can see how it kind of went downhill from there.
You have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. At what point (before you max them out) do you say okay, enough with the spending? And how often do you have to do this before you stop trying to max them out? I do not know the answers to those questions. I obviously have a problem with spending.
But it's not spending cash that I have a problem with. If it comes to parting with my cash, I will really think it through. There's something about pulling out that credit card that doesn't tell me that I am spending real money. Until the bill comes at the end of the month and I see all of the charges from Amazon and 123 Stitch and think what the hell did I read? And how many cross stitch kits did I actually buy last month?
Last year, I made a commitment to declutter my house and I did pretty well. Our basement could be quickly emptied if we were moving. I still have a pile of stuff down there to go to Goodwill, but I am making runs over there more often. And I finally got Ben to get all of the trash to the dump, something he had been promising me he would do since the beginning of last summer. I continue to look for things I don't use or don't need and find a good way to move them out of the house. If they are worth something, I list them on Craigslist. If they aren't, off to the thrift store they go.
The problem is that I seem to keep wanting to replace the old stuff with new stuff, which is where my credit cards come in. What's one more payment? If I can get it for 18 months at no interest, it's really not spending any money, right? I've already run up the balance; what's one more charge?
These are the questions that get me into trouble constantly. I've always had way too much access to credit and I've always been way too willing to use it. When I realized that even after Christmas, the packages were still arriving and they were things that I had ordered, I knew it was time to yet again call a halt to the spending. But I can't make a huge promise that I won't use my credit cards ever again. I know I won't keep that promise and here's the reason.
Last year, Congress passed some rules and regulations affecting the banks which were supposed to punish them for hurting us little people from the middle class. Instead, the banks passed those penalties on to us consumers by way of fees for checking accounts that had formerly been free and charges if you use your debit card. Our bank informed us that they would begin charging us $5 each month if we dared to swipe our debit card. That was not a fee I was willing to pay. (I don't know why the government thought the banks would just eat that money, but that's a whole other issue.) That was not a fee that Justin was willing to pay.
Because we are lucky enough to have credit, we decided that we would put all of our necessary monthly expenses onto a credit card and pay them off. That would also simplify balancing the checking account each month by having one bill as opposed to a hundred little debits. Except what I've found is true of myself is that if I am using a credit card, I am much less likely to watch what I am spending or to buy more than I normally would at, say, the grocery store. If the kids need something, I am more likely to add jeans to the cart when I buy them shoes because it is going onto the credit card. And with Amazon and 123 Stitch being my absolute favorite websites with absolutely endless opportunities to buy things to read and to stitch, I am much more likely to buy more since it is only going on a credit card.
Which brings me to eleven days ago. I got a package in the mail. I don't even remember what it was and it's possible it wasn't even something I had bought for myself. (In fact, I'm pretty sure it's an item for the fundraising I am doing.) But because I realized that I was still charging more than a month after Christmas and I was charging excessively, I knew it had to stop. But I also know myself well enough to know that I am not going to be able to go on a complete and total spending fast.
So, I decided that every morning when I get up, I will make a pledge to not add to our debt that day. And if there is something I know I will want to purchase, I will figure out how to get the cash from our checking account to the credit card before I buy it. In other words, I will make a payment to the credit card immediately after purchase and I think I will even add a little to it to try to pay down the balances. For eleven days, I have not shopped at Amazon, 123 Stitch, or anywhere else aside from the grocery store and gas station. I even have a return to make for a credit, which is awesome.
I am about to be tested in my resolve by a trip to South Carolina to visit my parents. I decided today that it is unrealistic to think that I won't spend any money while I am there. So, I am going to take a specified amount of cash with me and then I am going to try not to spend it. But if I feel that I want to spend it, I will have it and be allowed to spend it without guilt.
Once I get the charging "habit" under control, I am going to give myself a monthly budget for both my reading and my stitching. But I will shop the Amazon sales and download as many kindle books for free as I possibly can.
In fact, I downloaded a book last night for free. It's called Getting Rid of It; Eliminate the Clutter in Your Life by Betsy and Warren Talbot. It satisfied my urge to download something, it didn't cost me a cent, and it was completely in line with the other goal I have set for myself: less consumerism and less clutter in my life.
Maybe if I can stop bringing so much stuff into my life, I will also be able to eliminate some of the clutter in my mind. And I will certainly be able to accomplish paying off some of this debt. Because really, that is my ultimate goal. A simpler life that doesn't require so much money to maintain.
And Justin would really like to retire someday. I think it would be nice if he was able to.