I hate it when some experts blame credit cards for all the spending problems that some Americans have. According to the cash is king philosophy, credit cards make up dumb, fat and poor. In fact, a recent article by The Atlantic, "Yes, Credit Cards Are Making You a Bad Person," suggests the cashless society may be inevitable in a few years. Yet, the plastic revolution has allegedly spoiled consumers by making them irresponsible, forgetful and obese. I had a lot of credit card debt in my 20s. And, I'll admit I was irresponsible and even fatter at that time in my life. But, I didn't completely give up credit cards to change my financial situation and get out of debt. I simply had to learn to avoid spending temptations and live below my means. I could live below my means whether I had a wad of cash or a credit card in my purse or pocket.
Changing my philosophy about credit
One of the reasons credit cards are dangerous is because they make people forgetful, some experts argue. Some people forget they are dealing with money when they swipe their credit cards. They may view their credit card limit as available cash, which creates an illusion of liquidity. I was able to change my viewpoint by building up a liquid savings account that far exceeded my credit card limit. After using my credit card, I made it a rule to go home and make a payment to my credit card company using online banking. It totally changed how I viewed my credit cards.
Using credit at the drive-thru
Another argument against the cashless society is that credit cards are making people fat. Studies have shown that shoppers with credit cards bought more junk foods. Even if credit cards weaken impulse control when a person is ordering at the drive-thru, credit cards can't force me to visit fast-food restaurants. I can just as easily use my credit or debit card at a produce stand or health food store. I was able to become more conscious about what I buy by keeping a spending diary. I did lose weight after getting out of credit card debt, but that's because I felt less stress.
Learning to delay gratification
One of the most difficult financial lessons is the one of delayed gratification. I grew up in a family that only used credit cards for legitimate financial emergencies such as a broken washer or dryer. Since I grew up in a town without a grocery store, I got used to waiting until my mom went to the grocery store once every two weeks for special indulgences or treats. I recently read an article by Daily Finance about the case against credit cards. The author pointed out that people who use credit are pulling expected future earnings into today whereas with savings, they are passing today's earnings into the future. Many people underestimate how much debt they can afford to take on. I always force myself to wait at least a day, but usually a week, before making major purchases. After giving myself time to shop around and contemplate the purchase decision, I very often decide to save instead of spend the money.
Putting a credit card in the hands of an irresponsible spender is going to lead to problems. However, I know from personal experience that anyone can become more responsible with their money once they have the motivation and education. Having a credit card doesn't make me a bad person. Blowing money on entertainment instead of paying the money I owe doesn't exactly make me a good person either. I think we have all been there.
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