Credit Card Meltdown

 In Practical Guides, SHIFT

Where I came from, plastic is a dirty word. My parents didn’t much like carrying a mortgage or car payment, much less a credit card.

My dad talked at the drop of a hat about how buying on credit destroyed his 25-year marriage with my mom. A chain of disastrous events followed in an almost domino action after my mother allowed my oldest sister to charge a dress for a special occasion. It was in the late 50’s when my Dad claims my sister “ran up” a $200 bill, buying much more than just the dress. It was this debt that threw the fragile family finances into a tizzy. My housewife mother was told she would have to get a job to pay off the bill. That was the beginning of the end.

Once my mother got that first job, she charged a few more items, mostly work clothes, and later household furnishings and clothes for her six children, all of which kept her working for many years. Dad felt this job caused her to stop focusing on her family and her relationship with him, leading to a parting of the ways.

I don’t know if we can trace a clean line from buying on credit to divorce, but sociologists know how much pressure shaky finances put on families, so why do we do it?

When we added up the amount of money we have lost on interest charges on our various purchases, we were appalled. The interest rates on those revolving accounts are off the charts. Funny, we fuss and fume over getting a low rate for a mortgage, but in effect throw away what we gain by paying through the nose in interest on the goods to fill that house. We figured out that we could keep pouring money into the bottomless pit of the plastic god and never see much progress on paying off the principles of those accounts.

In fact, folks could almost buy a house outright with the savings of not buying other things on credit. We discovered when we went to refinance our house that for only about $100 more a month, we could pay off the house in half the time, saving all that extra interest.

No one has to convince us of the perils of plastic. Most of us have multiple wounds from getting caught in the revolving door of credit. I guess it just seems somehow that we can enjoy now and pay later. We are too much into instant gratification for our own good. Why wait when everything is so inviting now?

I see high school kids trying to get an education while holding down jobs. The majority of them confess the jobs are to get designer clothes to complement their “moves” or to cover car payments and insurance to avoid the embarrassment of having parents transport them, or heaven forbid, having to take the bus. A big drain on the teenage buck is the investment in the current sounds to set the tempo for their scene. They also confess that they are already enjoying the pleasure of these purchases, having opted to pay off their debts on the “time” plan.

Before we get too carried away with chiding the impatience of the younger generation, sit back and consider the plight of their parents. Chances are that today every aspect of our day hinges on an item yet to be paid for. We fill our homes with those appliances that are necessary. There’s the microwave oven that’s a real must. Who has time these days to cook from scratch! We rush home from a hard, long day of work, kick off our shoes, pop something in the box and “nuke” it. We are too exhausted to do much, so we sit down in front of the “tube” to distract ourselves with other people’s activities. Who has the energy to get out and run, ride a bike, play a sport or even walk? We have to keep our strength for the next day’s work, because we have all those bills to pay.

Who can take time off? On that note, both parents of households usually work. We have to ask ourselves why it takes two incomes to support our life styles. How much of what we work to pay for is an item only necessary because we work? If we only had to make house payments and perhaps a car payment, would everyone in the house have to work as much? Could we not still make some of the same purchases, but save up the money to do so, avoiding the stress of payments due and loss in interest paid.  It seems we have forgotten the virtue of developing patience and self-control.

Most of us don’t learn how to wait, when much of life will not be rushed. The truth is that most of the truly important things cannot be compelled to move at a faster pace. Not having the ability to defer pleasures and even dreams can be a real hindrance.

We know we don’t get something for nothing. We hopefully get what we pay for, but always pay for what we get. The reality is that everyone has to pay the piper, but the goal should be to do so without interest.

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