I was looking at my credit card today (the one with the nearly $18,000 balance) when it hit me. I finally saw my credit card as something other than just a method of payment. My credit card has been my chief enabler, lifestyle financier and traveling companion for way too long. This 85.60 x 53.98 mm plastic card has been the one thing I have carried around with me without fail, from college, to out of college, to out of country and across state lines.
Sure, I guess other things in my life have been constant for that long, but nothing has had the consistency with which I have spent money using this credit card. I have the same cell phone number but I have switched providers. I’ve had different cars. I’ve held several different jobs. And in all that time, I’ve carried around the same credit card, knowing its steadfast availability would carry me through any new or unexpected situation that might come up.
My credit card kept me in denial. I hid from my problems. I denied that I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I pretended like I was figuring life out and moving along in a positive direction, when the truth is I spent quite a few years simply idling.
I’m saying my goodbyes to my crutch and I’ve been walking a lot taller (and harder) knowing that I only have my own resources to rely on. I don’t have the false sense of security that my credit card provides, I have a true sense of where I stand because I know exactly how much I can spend on my bills and expenses each month without incurring new debt.
Breaking the Credit Card Crutch
I no longer bring my credit card if I am going out to dinner or drinks or shopping. I’ve cut all of those activities down, but when I do go out, I bring cash or know my spending limit on my debit card. If my spending limit for that day is $40, I only spend $40. If I tried to set that limit for myself with my credit card, I would blow right past it. “$46.81 is really good! I only went $6.81 over budget!”
But the problem is if you go $6.81 over budget for every meal, every grocery trip or every new T-shirt, then you really don’t have a budget. It’s not a budget if you silently tell yourself a number and then proceed to completely ignore it as you plunk down your credit card for whatever you feel like you absolutely must have at that moment.
It’s a never-ending cycle.
You really want to spend less, you’re really trying to spend less and yet you find yourself still using your credit card to fund your lifestyle.
So how do you move on?
A New Kind of Lifestyle: Conscious Behavior
It’s not easy to change a lifestyle when it’s the only lifestyle you’ve known. It might seem like cutting out travel, meals, and consumer items will lead you to a life of austerity. But a financed lifestyle is no lifestyle at all: you’re living beyond your means with little to show for it.
I know it’s fun at the time, but paying back debt is a lot less fun. I spent the first eight years of adulthood financing my lifestyle. Call me a slow learner, but I’m finally changing the patterns that took me so long to identify.
I was interested to see that Ramit Sethi (of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”) doesn’t allow people with credit card debt into his Dream Job course or any other paid course. That kind of makes me feel like a leper, but he makes a very good point. Here’s a conversation from Twitter:
As Ramit says, there are behavioral reasons for being in credit card debt. Figure out what behaviors are keeping you in credit card debt and cut all of them out. Getting out of debt is the first priority of anyone who wants to get their finances and future potential in order. There are many, many actions to follow, but let’s get this first one figured out before anything else.