Monday, July 2, 2012

Living Without Credit Cards

Library of Congress: Farm couple doing their bookkeeping at home, 1930.


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!

Mrs. White

From the Archives -

When Mother is Poor - To Encourage the Downcast Housewife.

Essential Virtue - A Wife Who Does Not Complain

Old Fashioned Living - Retirement Planning for the Poor.

Wisdom from Colonial Days  - To Earn and Not to Spend.

- To find out more about this blog, or Mrs. White, please visit our About page. -

Learn How To Manage Money on a Small Income, with this helpful book:

- It is an honor to be the bookkeeper for the house! - 

Find detailed instruction and inspiration in budgeting on a small income, along with a method for keeping a handwritten ledger, with lots of thrifty ideas, in Mrs.White's book:

 -An Old Fashioned Budget: Humble Financial Management for the Christian Housewife

 Paperback, 77 pages.



Shani said...

Good Morning, Mrs. White,

I, too, hate credit cards. My husband and I have been debt-free twice in our marriage, and it was sheer bliss. Then comes along a huge change such as needing a mortgage or a new vehicle (we're a one-vehicle family) and we seem to slip and slide down an evil path. I have become resolved over the last year or so, however, to cut our budget to live on only 50% of what he currently makes (we're a one-income home educating family), and that is reflected in the house that we are currently in the midst of purchasing. We chose the area we wanted (by our church and friends) and then moved 5 blocks away. We can walk easily, but the house prices dropped dramatically in that short distance, in some cases over $100,000. When the hard times hit us, because they will, we will be prepared. I'm drawing a garden layout, and planning the home to sustain us through thick and thin. All this while our oldest starts college - at the local community college to save money and get a trade degree. We must all be much better stewards of the money the Lord gifts to us. I remember the financial crash of the early '80's and how affected my family was; my parents lost their business. When you have that in the back of your mind, it makes you even more determined to prepare and be ready. It's never a matter of "if" hard times come, but "when." I'm feverishly working to be ready, and honestly feel everyone should.

I could go on (and on) about this, but will leave you now with a thank-you for reminding all that we are in dangerous financial times indeed. Things are swirling below the surface, and we have to be ready for them.

May God bless you this day,
Mrs. S. Skutt

Cindi said...

Great post! Now if you could remind our government please? (LoL)

Sally@threeblondeboyz said...

I totally agree!
I lived a life in the UK with expensive cars and houses, and anything I wanted I would buy and defer payment. If my car got a single scratch I would change it for a new one. I am so ashamed now of how I lived.I was earning the money myself and thought that entitled me to the good life.
When I came here 3 years ago and my second husband and I lost everything to a con man, God taught me the most powerful lesson. I have never been so poor in all of my life. We didn't know where the next meal was coming from and that is no exaggeration. I realized pretty quickly that this was my lesson in life and I embraced it. The best part was Christmas two years ago when we had scraped up the money for presents. When everybody else's credit card bills were coming in, we had that wonderful feeling of no debt~ priceless! I would never go back to being the person I once was~ I wasn't mean, and I would help anybody I could~ but money was easy and everything was disposable and I shudder now to think of the lack of respect I had for it. My life is so much richer now and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Thanks for a lovely thought provoking post, Sally x

momma-lana said...

I so agree about the credit cards! We do have one that is only used and paid off at the end of the month. We never carry a balance. Sometimes there are situations that require having a credit card available. Three weeks ago our son got married out of town. We had to reserve hotel rooms for all of the family and could not have done it with out the credit card. At those times I am happy we have one available to us.

Noelle the dreamer said...

Thank you Mrs. White (again) for an excellent post and a just reminder CC are not the answer! Many of us will agree with you I daresay!
The photo illustrates a hard life indeed! (MIL used to speak of the 'credit' the Mining Co. extended to the miners...most of them could never get out of it but she used a canning jar and NEVER again accepted any form of credit).
Blessings to you and yours and Happy Fourth of July!

CrankyPuppy said...

What an excellent post. I was very lucky to have been raised by grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and had a serious disdain of credit of any kind. They taught me to work hard and save for whatever it was that I wanted or needed. In the case of want, you often realize that whatever it was isn't worth all the hard work. Credit cards, however, make it all too easy to "forget" how much of our labor and time we're spending.

As another commenter mentioned, I wish someone could convince our gov't to get off its addiction to cheap credit. But they're not listening to the people any more.

Unknown said...

I love the tightwad gazette too. There was a commercial a few years ago where a man is cutting his perfect lawn, with a perfect house, perfect pool, and perfect car and then saying he's "in debt up to his eyeballs." I think so many people enter into debt not because they need to but because they want stuff stuff stuff. I actually wrote a blog-post yesterday about how most Americans are in the 1% compared to the rest of the world. Great post!

Andrea said...

We are working hard to get to that point. 10 years of CC debt to get rid of and then they are going in the trash!

Deanna said...

Mrs. White, Very good post!

When I learned that the so called well being of the economy is based on the debt load carried by was eye opening to me. The U.S. Economy is considered doing well if there is great consumer debt and if there isn't the high debt, the U.S. Economy is considered doing poorly. Seems backwards to me, but then I'm not a politician or in the background telling the world that this is how it is expressed. Seems if products are moving with people charging then we are encouraged to charge. The money machine is hard at work. When told the economy is doing poorly, some panic and want to help out the country, so they go into more debt to buy and gather up merchandise. Those lending money are pleased to see others depending on them to carry them and pay a price for it which means the lenders are making money off of lending their monies to consumers. Booga Booga.

Learning as I go!

Anonymous said...

We are debt free other than our mortgage (it will be paid off soon)
...but it was all through God's help. I don't want to be a slave..and if you borrow that is what you will be a slave...that is what the Bible teaches. It is lifes handbook..if you live like it tells you your life won't be as hard.

I understand with keeping up with the Jones....but why? We are the only family in our church that the wife doesn't work..yes we may have less than some but we don't have the debt that many have. We only own one car it us it is the best way..for others it might not work.

Great post I love hearing how others manage their money...great job with being debt-free Mrs. White!!


JenHarper said...

My husband and I use credit cards, but we pay off the balance immediately, every month. I like my credit card because it would have protected me from an unscrupulous furniture maker who insisted on a down payment in check form and then walked away. We never recovered our money or received the furniture. We even took him to court, but he had not been running his business well and had no money or income with which to pay us back. Also, we like to support individual artists and craftspersons by purchasing gifts or items that we need from etsy instead of cheap big-box stores. Most sellers on etsy only accept paypal which requires a credit card.
So, in my opinion, a credit card can be used wisely, it depends on the user.

Joyful Times said...

My husband and I also own no CC and hate to even think of the trouble they can get one into. We have more blessings then we can be thankful for by not being a slave to debt! I will say that it is a hard road though by not having a CC. We went to go buy a new(used) truck for my husband that we had planned for in the budget with our down payment of half the price in cash. We were told that we were a credit risk becasue we had no credit and our loan rate was going to be 17%!!! I laughed and walked away. We did find the perfect truck for my hubby and paid for it it cash and no loan was needed. But not having credit can hurt you also we have found out. We hopefully will be moving soon and when it comes to buying a new home or even renting I have a feeling we are going to have trouble because we have no credit!

Unknown said...

Thank you for your post. We use CCs but pay them off every month. We have been doing this for 25 years. However, recently, I have been re-thinking this, so your post came at a great time. Thanks for some good food for thought this morning :)

Christine said...

Oh the ruts we get ourselves into because we choose not to be content...this is a very good post that many would benefit from reading. Thank you

happy momma said...

Love it! My husband and I have been through alot we got caught in the trap of credit cards. We bought a home with his family and tried to "flip it" putting alot of the supplies for fixing the home on credit cards. It went bad and just about cost us his family relationships and left us all holding a ton of debt. It was a bad situation.The weight of it all wa nearly unbearable. We got loose of it all and swore that we would never do it again. We attended Dave Ramsey's Financial peace university. It was a wonderful expreience. We cut up our credit cards. We no longer had them to fall back on. When life comes at us fast and we get into situations that in the past we would have gone to the credit cards, we have to get creative to figure it out. Sometimes we have to wait for what we want. We have to do like our parents and grandparents did, decide what is really important and what can wait. Life is so much beter now. It is not easy. We just walked through a job loss. In our former life a job loss was devistating. But today with only our basic living expenses we are able to pull through it.

Anna @ Feminine Adventures said...

Love this post! There's something so exciting about not knowing how God is going to provide and just waiting..rather than running out to purchase our heart's desires and worry about the bill later.

We are featuring your post tomorrow at Thrifty Thursday. Thanks so much for linking up with us!

Anonymous said...

We've spent years running up credit debt and paying it off. When my H was laid off in 2009, we didn't have any debt other than our mortgage (but we bought at the peak of the housing bubble and our house value has dropped 50%)..even though H took another job right away it was nearly half of what he was making previously. We, stupidly have not been savers even when we had plenty to save. So we had to use our credit to pay for property taxes and our propane twice that year. Very expensive. Homeschool materials from online program. Trade school tuition for son. Tires for car (we live in snow area and have to have good tires)...and on and on and on. We're in deep debt now and struggling along. H did eventually get another better job that paid what his previous job did. But we can't catch up. Prices have gone up, our mtg is huge, we can't sell...Currently, I'm trying to figure out how to pay the tuition for our daughter's community college classes. I'll have the money next month, but that will be too late. I just had to pay propane and property taxes again with money I'd saved up and I have nothing right now but $8 in cash in my wallet! My H is not helpful with finances at all. He leaves me to pay the bills and then doesn't want to talk about anything. He feels bad that he's not providing more ... but he also does not believe in not using credit (thinks it's impossible) and has no concept of saving money. H is not receptive to the idea that we have to trust in God for things and that we shouldn't be using cc's.

Cheryl said...

After many years of not understanding a lot of the principles contained in this post, God is teaching us to rely upon HIM to be our all-in-all. He is our Father, and if we need something He wants us to come to HIM to supply and sustain. I never knew this until not so long ago. Oh, I had heard it, and it was a "theory" somewhere back in my mind, but through circumstances of life that have been far beyond our control, He has taught us to let go of "safety nets" and rely upon Him. My dear mother always used to tell me that God is pleased the most when we lean on Him the hardest. :)

Mrs. Laura Lane said...

I'm so glad I've learned to live without. It makes it easier to survive hard times.

Harvest Lane Cottage
...doing what I can with what I've got where I am
on a short shoestring budget!

Mrs.O said...

Going through your series again, Mrs. White. This is so helpful and inspirational. I am making my market list and what a good reminder of not adding "home decor" to our weekly food and bills list!
I agree there is a time for that here and there when possible, but it should not be expected on a weekly or even monthly basis!
Thank you again
God bless
Mrs. O

happyathome said...

When we got the results that my husband had a terminal illness ( Huntingtons ) we knew that we had a very short time that he could earn as income on a farm so the first thing we did was we upgraded appliances and some of our furniture so hopefully these will last the rest of our days and then i went about paying off debt. I have been very diligent in this and only have 1 small debt to go. We have had our car 11 years and while we would like a smaller car i keep thinking "this car is debt free" We have always kept up the maintenance on it and the body could now do with a paint job but that won't be happening as it costs a few thousand dollars ( as the car is white i just might spray paint it myself) and one of the doors has a few dents mostly from a bad tempered person kicking it and also other drivers opening their doors and banging it when parked at the mall. I try and think like the Amish do and make do, use up and mend. There is such freedom in one's spirit when you are debt free.