First Person: I Went From 12 Credit Cards to Zero

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I buried about a dozen credit cards in a decorative wooden box that was supposed to serve as their final resting place as I struggled to get out of debt. It wasn't until a decade later that I resurrected one credit card from the box at the bottom of a desk drawer. Although experts say it's too inconvenient to live the cash-only lifestyle, I was able to do just fine without any credit cards for 10 years. I recently read an article by U.S. News & World Report about the disadvantages of living without a credit card. Many impulsive spenders who are like me find they can control their spending better by using cash instead of plastic. I decided to be reunited with just one of my 12 credit cards a few years after getting married. My husband provides the accountability I need to make sure I don't rack up credit card debt again.

Hitting my max

I gave up plastic after maxing out all 12 of my credit cards by age 25. From 25 to 35, I lived without any credit cards. I did have a debit card through my bank. By relying on cash and my debit card, I wasn't tempted to live beyond my means. Although I tried to get out of debt in my early 20s, I couldn't make any real progress until I stopped charging anything. To motivate myself, I framed each credit card statement after I received a statement with a zero balance. After about 5 years, I had more credit card statements framed than family photographs.

Taking control of my finances

According to the article, a growing number of consumers are making the commitment to live without credit cards. A 2010 poll by CreditCards.com showed 29 percent of 1,004 adults said they did not own a credit card, which was a 10 percent jump compared to the prior year. Many personal finance experts say consumers tend to spend more when they use credit instead of cash. Since marketers are there to convince me of all the benefits of a certain purchase, I balance it out by just thinking about the affordability factor. I remind myself that only I know whether a purchase fits into my budget.

Preserving my credit score

Although many people fear they will hurt their credit scores by closing credit card accounts, I found it only affected me for about one year. I closed all but one account. I now have a nearly perfect credit score even though I don't have as many credit cards anymore. I check my credit report for errors about once a year. After burying my credit cards, I was still able to qualify for a super low interest rate on a car and house.

Making the transition from a credit to debit-card lifestyle wasn't difficult at all. The real challenge for me was to learn how to tell myself "no" when I wanted to have something right away. Even though I often have the money in my checking account, I don't always need to make a purchase. Although I have one credit card, I make a habit of paying off the balance after getting home from a store. I total up my receipts and go to my online banking site where I click off a payment to my credit card company. It's just about as easy as swiping plastic to make a purchase. Now I know I won't die in debt to credit card companies.

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More from this contributor:

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