and ramblings on everything in between
Another part of my total money makeover included breaking up with credit cards. I carried a credit card with me “in case of an emergency” (i.e. for when I had $50 left in my checking account but wanted to spend $100 at Target). I convinced myself this was okay because I paid my balance off at the end of the month. Nothing seemed wrong with that, plus I was getting all those reward points which added up to gift cards. My actions were completely justified in my mind.
But good ol’ Dave Ramsey pointed out that you are likely to spend between 12 and 18% MORE when you use cards verses cash. I remember contemplating that for a second then brushing right past it. “I’m not a shopper,” I told myself. “I only put everyday purchases on my card so I can get the reward points. I don’t think this concerns me.” So for the first month of semi-following Dave’s plan, I decided to keep my credit card in my wallet and not follow the cash only method. Like half of you, I thought I was smart enough with my cash to be able to say no when I needed to.
In my second month following the plan, I realized as long as the card was in my purse, I was going to use it. When the Wal-Mart bill added up to $50 when I had allotted $30, I wasn’t putting $20 back. I was just putting it on the card and then paying for the extra the next payday. Hence the spending up to 18% more. So the credit card went into a dresser drawer for real emergencies.
By the third month, I realized I was having trouble keeping track of just how much I spent on gas, and where exactly the extra grocery money went. When it was all in my checking account, it was easy to not track where each dollar went. I finally admitted that using the envelop system would solve that dilemma. It would help me to make better decisions when I had $25 worth of groceries in front of me but only $13 left in the grocery envelop. It wasn’t as easy with this system to say, “I’m pretty sure I was about $12 under budget for gas this week, so this will even out.” The temptation to justify the extra spending was no longer there. When I opened any given envelop, I could clearly see what was left.
As the months rolled on and my student loan balance dwindled down, I contemplated what I would do about the credit card. Dave Ramsey encourages people to cancel and cut up their cards. The Bible says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower (or buy a new car and get a new purse). Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28). God doesn’t want us living on credit to buy things we can’t afford. Credit has become such a norm that it didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t cool with God.
I knew I wanted to give up the card because I looked at it as a lifeline. It brought me comfort knowing that the card was safely tucked away for the day a big catastrophe hit. I didn’t have much money in savings, so I needed the little extra cushion. Or did I? Was I truly trusting God with my finances? Or was I sort of trusting God and keeping the credit card around in case He didn’t come through for me? I felt the pressure to honestly commit to this debt-free living idea, but I kept putting it off and putting it off. I decided that if I could go a full year without using the card, then I would cancel it. But doubt crept in, so I decided that once I paid off my loan, then I would cancel the card. But more doubt crept in, so I decided that once I doubled what was in my savings account, then I would cancel the card. Excuse after excuse.
A few years ago, I was attending a church in my hometown and the pastor was comparing living for God with the analogy of a man standing on the very edge of a cliff with his arms out. The man had faith in God, and trusted that God was right behind him holding onto his shirttail. He felt secure. He felt like he was living. But the pastor went on to say that trusting in God wasn’t just standing at the cliff knowing He’s there. It’s when God lets you go and you start freefalling, that’s when living for God really begins.
I was standing at the edge of the cliff and I wanted to know how it felt to freefall. To all out trust in the bottom of my heart that I would land on my feet. I wanted freedom from credit once and for all.
The day I paid off my loan, I rummaged through my dresser drawer to take out my card, and realized for the first time what the card was. Chase Freedom was printed across the top. Freedom. I laughed at the irony of it. Here I was trying to gain freedom from a card that declared it was freedom. I held it in my hand and looked up to God, “I trust you. I’m scared to do this, but I trust you.” Freefalling.
The customer care representative made no qualms about me canceling the card. Apparently they were just as eager to get rid of me as I was them. I think about my finances constantly, I worry about not having enough money for this or that, but in the past two months, I’ve never wished I hadn’t broken up with my credit card. I’ve never wished that card was still activated just in case.
I know everyone has a different opinion on credit cards and the pros and cons to using them. I knew in my heart this was something I needed to do, another way I could actively trust that God will provide what I need when I need it. You might feel completely different. We all have a separate journey we’re on, and God calls us to do different things at different times. What works for me might not work for you. But thankfully I’m finally making my money work for me.