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I got my first credit card at 18 and have been in credit card debt ever since – sometimes severely. That’s over 20 years of a love-hate relationship with the plastic.
Then, a friend loaned me the book, The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey. The book is about getting – and staying – out of debt. Excellent book by the way whether you have bad credit, good credit and/or no credit. Following is my story.
One of the credos the author lives by is that you don’t need credit to get ahead in America. This was a radical notion for me because we are a society that thrives on credit.
It’s people who don’t have debt who are anomalies, not the other way around. So, this got me to thinking, can you advance in America without using credit? And, I think Mr. Ramsey is on to something. You can – if you do the following:
1. Delay purchases: Most of what we charge are things we could (or should) wait for until we have the cash in hand.
I looked around my house and took a mental tally of things I’d paid cash for and things I’d charged. I bought the house in 2004 and furnished a good portion of it on credit. My car, bought on credit. My yard supplies, bought on credit.
NOTE: I long ago gave up making stupid purchases like clothes and eating out on credit.
So, I thought, what if I truly gave Mr. Ramsey’s system a try and delayed buying stuff until I could pay cash for it. I probably would have gone to the thrift store or pawn shop to look for a cheaper mower; I definitely would have outright bought a $2,500 car instead of financing a $14,000 SUV; I would have had an empty living room and downstairs bedroom for a while, or bought everything from the thrift store.
Now, I do okay financially. I paid off all of my furniture before the finance charges kicked in, and my jeep payment is the lowest it could be because I have good credit and got a good interest rate.
Just taking the above into consideration though, I could have avoided approximately $20,000 dollars of debt by going the cash route and/or waiting to buy until I could afford to pay cash. Two and a half years later, I still have about $8,000 to pay off.
2. Say no to friends and family: Once I started paying close, close attention to where my money went, I realized that a lot of it was spent socializing with friends and family, eg, those last-minute margarita nights out, meeting a friend for lunch, throwing an impromptu get-together where I provided the food and some of the drink.
Just one to two of those a month set me back anywhere from $50 to $200. So, I started saying no to invitations. And you know what, it hurt like heck the first few times. I really wanted to go out with my sister and my girlfriend to our favorite Mexican restaurant for some margaritas.
I rationalized, “I’ll only have one and I won’t eat.” But, I clamped down and said, “No, I’m not going to go.”
It took probably four or five times of saying no before it started to get easier. I explained to them that I wanted to get out of debt once and for all this year and that I would be turning down a lot of invitations that involved spending money.
While it bugs them occasionally, now my sister wants to read the book and she’s started to make some changes in her spending habits!
3. Plan: One thing living without credit thing has taught me is to plan. For example, my fiance and I are going on vacation this summer. I’ve already started to put money aside for this. Before, I wouldn’t have even thought about it this far in advance. I would have just whipped out the card and paid it off later.
NOTE: I always try to pay off my credit cards in 4 months, or less when I take a trip. But, sometimes it doesn’t always work out and there’ll be a few hundred to a few thousand bucks outstanding that just lingers. Only when I feel a crunch would I wish the debt wasn’t there.
This will be the first trip in almost twenty years I’ve taken that will be paid for BEFORE I leave. It’s a freeing feeling and it makes it easy to deny myself the little things along the way, because I know that my big reward is my upcoming trip.
Delayed gratification – how sweet it is.
While I don’t agree with Mr. Ramsey that credit is not necessary to function in society, I do agree with his sentiments that we don’t need it to the degree that we use it.
I think we need credit to finance major purchases like a home and in certain cases, a vehicle – although if your house cost $150K and your car $30K, I think that’s excessive. And, as for buying a house, forget no-money-down programs; save a down payment and get a 15-year mortgage – and work your tail off to get it paid off as soon as possible.
I’m spending this year getting rid of all debt except for my house and my car (which will be paid off next year). Debt-free living is freeing – I may only be able to do a quarter of the things I used to do, but getting only a mortgage bill in the mail makes up for the sacrifice.
In light of all of this, my question to you is – can you live without credit? Is it a lifestyle you can subscribe to for the long haul?