As an advocate for debt-free living, you might guess that I would be totally against credit cards. You would be correct — I am. But only if you can’t use one responsibly.
For people who can’t handle a credit card, it can become a major money leak. In fact, in a recent GOBankingRates survey, it was shown that 50 percent of respondents had credit card debt. Credit card debt, in general, is on the rise nationwide by the billions.
Click to read more about the biggest source of debt for Americans in every state.
My anti-credit card sentiment isn’t to scare you, either. I speak from personal experience. Here is how my credit card became a problem, and what I did to dig myself out of the hole it put me in.
Making Mistakes Right Off the Bat
It started the very day I got my first credit card — because I got it for the wrong reasons, in the first place. I was living beyond my means, didn’t follow a detailed budget and didn’t plan further than my next paycheck. In short, I went about it all wrong.
I thought that having a credit card would make it easier to live. Perhaps it did in the short term, but unfortunately, it didn’t take long before poor habits set in. I often didn’t pay the balance off every month, and the outstanding balance grew every year. Credit card payments became a regular line in my budget, and the minimum payments increased steadily over time.
A higher income didn’t make much of a difference either because the more I earned, the more I spent. My poor financial habits just got worse.
Every time I closed a credit card by consolidating its balance onto a personal loan — I knew this was to stop the spending cycle — I would eventually end up getting another credit card and slowly run up the balance on that. It was a vicious cycle. I was drowning in debt.
More on Poor Financial Decisions: 17 Biggest Budgeting Mistakes You’re Making
Putting It on Ice Doesn’t Always Work
I know what you’re thinking: Why didn’t I just put the credit card on ice? For some people, putting the credit card inside a block of ice in the freezer is enough of a deterrent for impulse spending. But these days, it’s too easy to store your credit card details online or in a password app. This kind of barrier doesn’t help everyone.
I eventually realized that the only real option I had personally was to get rid of my credit cards completely. So, I consolidated the credit cards onto a personal loan and closed them. I could no longer use them as a source of credit.
But what was to stop me from doing what I had done in the past –getting another credit card and creating even more debt? I knew had to change my behaviors. That ended up being a two-step process.
Creating a Cash ‘Emergency Fund’
Have you ever told yourself that you have a credit card for “emergencies”? That’s a nice, wholesome reason for having a credit card, huh? But wait a minute, I can’t remember using my credit card for a proper emergency — like, ever. Unless you count glasses of wine, new clothes and air travel as “emergencies.” When you treat your credit card as your emergency fund, and those emergencies aren’t really emergencies, it’s a slippery slope into a lifetime of drowning in debt.
What I did differently this time was to create a cash emergency fund. By doing this, I no longer had any excuses to keep a credit card.
But you can probably guess what happened next.
Did You Know?: Most Americans Lack an Emergency Fund
Actually Learning From My Mistakes
I quickly learned that having a cash emergency fund didn’t mean that I would magically reframe my interpretation of what an “emergency” was. Not used to living within my means, I continued to dip into the cash emergency fund just like I did with the credit card. My behaviors and habits hadn’t changed. I needed to do something more.
Committed to becoming debt-free, each month I would look carefully at what I had used the emergency fund for, then make room in my budget for that expense over the coming months. This meant that I gave myself a chance to consciously decide if it was an expense I wanted to budget for — if not, it wouldn’t make it onto the budget.
While admittedly it took some months for me to stop using my emergency fund for non-emergencies, I learned a lot about my spending habits and triggers through this exercise, and because of that, I became a lot better at stemming unplanned spending.
Is It Time to Take Drastic Action?
If your credit card has turned into a money leak, it is time to consider taking more drastic action, so that you can avoid drowning in debt.
This doesn’t mean saying goodbye to credit cards forever. Once you’re living within your means and have improved your financial habits, you might be able to welcome back the credit card and all the benefits that come with using one responsibly. Rewards, buyer protection and free insurance can be true benefits once you know you can trust yourself with a credit card.
Click through to read more about the average credit card debt by age.
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