Monday, July 2, 2012
I don't think we realize the extreme poverty that is hiding behind the modern credit industry. American culture is under the illusion of wealth because of our growing consumer debt.
There has always been 'credit' and 'debt', but not the dependence on credit cards to survive. This is what frightens me.
In the early years of my marriage, credit cards were rare. We all waited for the next paycheck, or the next month, before we bought items that weren't essential. We had our budget for food and rent. But things like clothes, home decor, or gifts were not part of the financial plan. We had to save and wait to buy those things. I remember waiting an entire year before we finally got curtains for our apartment. If we didn't have a bed, we slept on cushions on the floor.
If we needed shoes for the children, and didn't have the money, we would go to the local thrift store and see what we could buy, using some scrounged-up change. (I remember taking a nice new looking pair of shoes, and trading them for a smaller pair, in my pre-schooler's size, at the local thrift store.) Sometimes, this got us through a month or two before we could buy the necessary new pair of shoes our little ones needed.
Our family is from a wealthy town in suburban Massachusetts. We are used to all the shops and malls and restaurants. Going to "Brighams" for ice cream after a movie was part of life for the young people. Spending money was the way we lived. We all worked hard and earned what we spent. We teenagers did not borrow money from our parents or even have an allowance. We all had ways to earn a small income - through jobs, babysitting, yard care or whatever we could do. The idea of credit cards or borrowing money never entered our minds. I didn't know this kind of thing even happened until many years into my marriage.
The only consumer debt I was aware of was a layaway plan at the local K-Mart or Ames department stores. We mothers would wait for a good sale, and buy the items we needed for our families, including gifts and clothes. We would pay a little each week, without interest or obligation, until our items were paid for. THEN we would receive the merchandise. Or, if we decided we couldn't afford our things, (perhaps a problem came up) we would cancel the layaway.
There is a common type of debt that occurs in life, which includes emergency car or house repairs. For us, these kinds of things are rare, but every company has worked with us to come up with a payment plan. We did not need credit cards for this kind of debt. These bills were always paid off within a few months. However, it always put a strain on our budget. We would cut back on other things to make the payments. It is impossible to get ahead in life when we overextend ourselves financially.
Patience and going without are crucial for the working class.
There are many times in my marriage that we have lived in utter poverty. These struggles taught us valuable financial lessons. We appreciate everything we have. We know how to live with very little. We have never raised our standard of living, even when Mr. White's income has increased over the years. We have only lived in cheap apartments or bought homes with a tiny mortgage. We live simply so we can survive the rough times.
Have I ever used credit cards? Of course. I hate them. They are dangerous and devastating. Currently we have no debt (other than our mortgage). We don't own a single credit card. We don't want anything to do with them. They enslave us. They train us to depend on them for our existence. By having everything NOW, and not waiting for it, we slowly build up a burden of debt and misery that very few can ever escape from.
I would rather go without. I would rather wait for the treats and the seeming necessities. I would rather have this historical, working class approach to spending, than live with the illusion of having what I want now.
Even though it may seem harder to live without credit cards, it is the most freeing, amazing, peaceful financial experience you could ever imagine!
The Complete Tightwad Gazette is one of the best tools for frugal living.
When Mother is Poor - To Encourage the Downcast Housewife.
A Very Precise way to Conserve Food - Kitchen Inventory - The Pantry.
Essential Virtue - A Wife Who Does Not Complain.
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This post is part of The Christian Home Magazine in the Financial category. To see more articles in different aspects of Home life, please visit the latest issue, hosted at Day by Day in our World.