Think Hard About Accepting that Visa Offer

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Well, I Never….”

All paths lead to the road I’m on.

Accepting mistakes and learning from them is a part of life. Most of the things we do temper and steel us to be the people we ultimately become. Our challenge is in using those mistakes, those irritating, often embarrassing moments, as growth material. There is no better fertilizer than bullshit, after all.

If I could, and I wish I could, I would discourage everyone I know from building credit card debt.

20150724_100846

As Americans, we are raised to be consumers. We are plied with images of happy families in their big, suburban houses driving shiny new cars. We see commercials for Disneyland and feel like terrible parents if we don’t make the trip at least once. Even the kids need a toy to go with a meal to make them happy. We need new bikes, new shoes, different shoes for road and trail. We need fancy watches for running. We need gadgets and more gadgets, and when they become obsolete in just a year, we trade them in for new ones. And life is short, so why not take that vacation to the Bahamas. Just put it on the Visa and worry about it later. And the next thing you know, we wake up from our dream life and our Visa is maxed out, the minimum payment on the clothing store card is less than the interest, and we have nowhere to turn. We have imprisoned ourselves in a world of debt.

We lived this life, minus the trip to the Bahamas. We got a Visa when we first got married. At first we used it for “emergencies”, although now not a single real emergency comes to mind. We started adding to it, fulfilling our desires for stuff, and little by little, shovelful by shovelful, we dug ourselves into a deep, deep hole. We were lucky. A family member came to our rescue and paid the debt, but we spent the next 10 years paying him back.

I can’t tell you the toll this has taken on our family. What began as hope soon spiraled into money problems, arguments, and worry. We have spent years trying to get our feet back under us. We have missed out on many opportunities because during the time our children were small, we were busy trying to get out of the mess we caused.

The ability to delay gratification creates peace of mind.

There is a well known Stanford experiment involving children and marshmallows. In it, researchers put a marshmallow in front of a preschool child, then tell the child they have to leave, but if the marshmallow is still there when the researcher gets back, the child will get two marshmallows instead of one. The researchers found that kids who are able to delay gratification (not eat the marshmallow) were more successful in life, had better grades and were more likely to attend university. Those who weren’t able to resist suffered poor school performance. It’s likely these kids go on to build credit debt because they don’t develop the self discipline that is required to say no to the immediate pleasure the object will supply.

Marshmallow test redux

I’m afraid we fell into that category, but the good news is that we learned from our mistake. Twenty-five years later we can have a credit card, chosen by us, and with a low credit limit that we know we can pay off monthly. It has come in handy, but we use it with the specter of past mistakes looming over our shoulder. The instant gratification that our Visa allowed us is superficial. It’s a quick pick-me-up that very quickly dissipates into stress and worry, not to mention clutter. Living with a budget requires considering your decisions, and creates a peace of mind that is both deep and meaningful. It doesn’t mean going without, but it does mean figuring out what really matters to you.

So, friend, next time that credit card offer shows up in the mail, do yourself a favor and burn it.

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