Our Credit Card Journey: Swipers To Shredders

One of the most difficult parts of getting out of debt is transitioning from a spender to a saver. I’ll be honest with you. My wife and I loved to spend money. I loved it so much that I racked up over $16,000 in credit card debt over a period of a few years. That $16,000 doesn’t even include all of the other things that I bought on my credit card that I paid off at some point. For my wife and me, going from spenders to savers has been a little more difficult than you would think.

Our Spending Years

My wife and I have been working since an early age. I started working odd jobs in the neighborhood when I was about 12. I would mow peoples lawns, clean out their garages, etc. It earned me a few bucks to play around with. Sure, I saved some money here and there, but as soon as those savings hit a threshold, I spent it. Due to my spending, things began to pile up in my room. I had new video games, a cell phone, CDs, and all the new electronics. Life was good and I had plenty of things to show for it.

As the years went on, I got real jobs that paid me a little more than the neighbor down the street. That money helped me get a car, pay for gas, and take my future wife out on dates. Then came college and the dreaded first credit card. Man did I love that piece of plastic. I mean, they only gave me a $500 credit limit. What could go wrong? Well, as you can guess, I got more cards and higher credit limits. I was buying new computers, clothes and every new cell phone that came out (can you tell I like electronics?). Oh the days of spending…..

My wife started working at 15. I can still remember picking her up at the local fast food joint smelling like deep fried goodness. She spent her money on clothes and loved doing it in the process. It was her weakness and she knew it. Being the first born child, she didn’t get the hand-me-down clothes like her sister (who made out like a bandit if you ask me). My wife wanted to look good and she spent her money on clothes to do it. She never really racked up any major credit card debt (she mostly used cash). The most credit card debt she had was a few thousand dollars worth and it was all school supplies (she was in a major that required additional things). She loved knowing that her money was hers and she could do what she wanted with it. Oh the days of spending…..

Time to Shred the Cards

Even before we said “I do”, we knew financial trouble was on the horizon if we didn’t do something. We sat down, came up with a game plan, and wrote down our goals. The first thing to go was our credit cards. Let me tell you something, shredding something that has been in your life for almost 7 years is tough. Knowing that we couldn’t buy anything on a whim was even tougher. Here are a few things that we did to help ease the pain:

1. We Wrote Down Our Goals and Came Up With a Game Plan

Like I mentioned above, we sat down and had a deep discussion about our financial future. We talked about what we wanted out of life and how we were going to achieve that while not adding to our debt. It was a difficult night, but we came out of it stronger financially and as a couple.

2. We Set Up a Budget

This was one of the harder things in the process. Before we got married we were free spenders. Sure we made sure we didn’t overdraft our accounts, but we spent our money on what we wanted. In the budget, we spent every dollar on paper and stuck to it. Sure there are times when we veer of the path somewhat, but we correct it and move on.

3. We Didn’t Cut Out Everything

When most people think about budgeting, they think about cutting everything down to the bare minimum. Well, we just couldn’t do that. We would go crazy and knew it would end up hurting us in the long run (by causing us to revert back to our old ways). So in our written plan, we budget for things such as eating out once or twice a month. I mean, sometimes you just need to get out of the house and interact with people or spend some romantic time with your spouse. We also budget about $50 a month to spend on clothes. The budget actually helps my wife think long and hard about what she is buying. Before, she just bought what she wanted when she wanted it. Having the budget changes that.

Well, there you have it. That’s how we transitioned from spenders to savers. Let me just say that it was hard and still continues to be today.

How did you handle your transition? Was it easy, hard?

Comments

  1. I still use my credit cards. If I went cash only, I would spend it faster! I am one of those people that if I don’t see it on my bank account statement, it never happened. ;)

  2. I’d say that some of our transitions were hard and some were easy.

    My wife and I never go into malls today. That one was easy. Today, if we need to walk through one for some reason, it is an almost painful experience. We are shocked at what we had at one time come to believe was “normal.” It didn’t take much of an effort to give up the malls.

    Giving up television was a big deal. Once we gave it up, we never went back. But I didn’t make that call without fretting about it for a long time. That one had become a long-term addiction.

    Rob

  3. It’s so good to read stories like this. I am sure it will help many people.

    Staying away from malls is an excellent idea.

    Rob, in your comment you mentioned giving up your television. I can see how this will stop a lot of interest in buying things. There are so many programs and commercials that make us want things we really don’t need. Or did you mean giving up a television bill (like cable)?

  4. My wife and I read the Total Money Makeover the end of January 2008 (about four months after I traded in my paid for Honda civic, for a 10k loan on a honda ridgeline). We had always been credit card users. We paid them off each month and I tricked myself into thinking that was a great way to handle money. After switching to cash we suddenly found extra money each money, hundreds of dollars of it, and we were even saving ahead for christmas and vacation. Obviously our credit card use wasn’t the best way to handle money.
    It took us 9 months to get out of debt, and another 6 to establish our full emergency fund. After that I relapsed and purchased a 52″ Samsung LCD tv and a beautiful amish made tv cabinet. We could pay it off, but it took all our extra income for two months to cover those bills. That was the last straw for me. I knew if I had access to a credit card, eventually I would repeat that action, buying something cause I wanted it and wasn’t willing to save up for a couple months and then buy it. So my last CC got the chop.

  5. We also curbed our credit card spending early in our marriage, but we didn’t get really serious about budgeting until my husband faced the prospect of unemployment. Luckily, he found a job that ended up being the best thing that ever happened to us. He earned much higher income, but it was variable so we stuck with our strict budget.

  6. Or did you mean giving up a television bill (like cable)?

    We gave up even basic cable. So we are not able to see even the shows on the big networks.

    We put the television in a closet for a long time (it was only a portable 12-inch). But nowadays I like to watch old television shows like the Andy Griffith show and old movies like the Blob with my two boys. So we have the television out again and we order DVDs from Netflix and watch those a few nights a week.

    But they cannot just turn on the switch and see television programs. We have to think through what we are going to watch and order it and wait for it to come. That makes us a bit more selective and thoughtful about it.

    Rob

  7. @Ken – Thanks for the support! We NEEDED to budget for the ‘fun’ things or else we would have went insane. Sometimes you need to give a little to gain a lot.

    @Mrs Money – I am the complete opposite. Cash just seems to disappear when I have it. Convenience stores are my weakness.

    @Rob – My wife would go crazy if she couldn’t set a foot in a mall. I mean, she doesn’t go there often but she still needs to at least window shop every now and then.

    @Mrs White – Thanks, I hope our stories do help people out. That’s why we are telling our story. We don’t want to see anyone go through what we are.

    @Mike – I read The Total Money Makeover as well. Like you, it was a little too late for me.

    @2 Cents – It seems that toughest part about getting out of debt is budgeting. Whenever I ask someone what the toughest part was, it’s almost always budgeting.

  8. My transition was pretty easy, but that follows my personality. When I hear a great idea, analyze it, sleep on it a few nights, and everything is still good several days later I go for it with gusto. From the first time I heard Dave Ramsey it took me about a month to convince my wife. At that point we took all of the plastic out of our pockets (reserving only our debit cards), divided up the accounts that were in our names jointly and started calling the card issuing companies to close the accounts. The nice part was none of them had balances. We never racked up a ton of debt. The only reason we had several cards was that we floated our balance at zero interest for about 3 – 4 years while we paid it down. We actually quit using the cards a couple of years prior to this.
    We were fortunate that neither one of us liked paying interest or dealing with bills from several different card companies. After the first year of marriage we decided ‘debt spending’ was bad: we were about $4500 in debt at the time on cards. Afterwards, about all we ever used the cards for was buying presents for Christmas or birthdays so that the other person wouldn’t know what they were getting (we both balance our checkbook, so debit transactions made this difficult). But now we just use cash, so it’s pretty simple. For online purchases, we each have a debit card and a small account that we transfer money into each month: presto! Surprise gift giving done without credit cards AND on a budget.
    The thing is, I don’t think easy credit is all that easy anymore. It’s easier to work with cash, and long term my goal is to have a credit score of zero (i.e. no report). A key element to success is having a budget where every dollar is planned and spent on paper before the month begins. In the first few years of marriage, we’d routinely drive our checkbook ledger balance negative up to a hundred bucks at times, praying the paycheck would hit before the latest debit transaction hit and/or relying on a line of credit as overdraft protection. Now I tend to forget when paydays are since I know that I CANNOT overdraft my account as long as I stay with my budget. Even on those rare occasions when my computation of our checking balance is in error, I won’t bounce a thing because I haven’t spent money I don’t have.
    My mother-in-law who is such a nice person lives in another mindset. She thinks she cannot live without a credit card and borrowing has been a way of life for her and my father-in-law. They borrowed money for a $30,000 SUV (now paid off, fortunately), for time-shares in Hawaii, for Christmas presents, etc. They would have eventually been able to dig their way out except, sadly now, my FIL has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s (age 54) and lost his job. He’s on Social Security disability, but their financial situation is delicate. One more major blow or a few minor ones and they’re going to have to sell bunch of stuff quickly to keep above water. I know this because the other day she found out that they were going to have to pay $150 for him to take a driving test to see if he is still able to drive. In an email to the family, she said, “Thank goodness I have a credit card or we couldn’t do this.” ‘Scuse me? You’re in your mid-50s and can’t come up with $150 cash after 30 years in the working world? I love them to death, but they’ve fallen for the “can’t live without borrowing” mindset that has them in hock up to their eyeballs. I pray they change their mindset and lives soon because as his disease progresses little ‘emergencies’ like this one are going to get more and more frequent. Now they will not only have to deal with the stress of being a single-income family/at home caretaker situation, they’ll have debts to pay. The lesson I learned is you can never predict the future, and that’s what credit cards (and other borrowing) tries to do. “I’ll pay for it later…” but what if later you’re in a crisis like theirs? We help out as best we can, but I am very concerned for them.
    Peace of mind is much nicer than pieces of plastic. I leave the ‘rewards’ programs to people who like stress.

  9. Hurray for a budget that includes dining out and clothes shopping! I hate the bare bones budgets, because unless you are unemployed and in serious financial straights they are emotionally difficult to maintain in the long term. I’m an extremely frugal shopper, thrifter and coupon cutter, however I do budget for the occasional splurge as well. Yesterday my husband and I took the day off of work to Christmas shop and go to lunch. It was a JOY to be shopping at Macy’s for a couple of frivolous, budgeted for gifts for our family, and then out to an equally frivolous tasty lunch. Merry Christmas!

  10. Although you finances may have looked like a shipwreck, you did not “wrack” up debt. The word you need here is “rack”.

  11. A-a-a-ck. If I weren’s so frugal, I’d have replaced this salvaged, sticky-key keyboard long ago! That last post should read:

    Although YOUR finances may have looked like a shipwreck, you did not “wrack” up debt. The word you need here is “rack”.

  12. @Diane: Rather than “wracking” my brain over the correct spelling here, I’m taking your word for it and updating Chris’ post. Sorry, I couldn’t resist! Thanks for your comments.

  13. Closing and cutting up the cards was something that actually came quite easy for us.

    My wife and I were never really huge spenders, but before our financial awakening, we did not know how to save. The reason we were in some debt was due to lack of saving for emergencies.

    Now we are reversing that and getting rid of the cards is just the right thing to do. I love not having any – I take it as a challenge. One of the main reasons I ditched the cards was because I wanted to cut ties with the bad relationships. I saw CC’s like a bad ex-girlfriend… why would I want to keep them around if they didn’t treat me right?

    Simple… I wouldn’t! And why should CC’s be any different?

  14. Love your site and all the info about becoming debt free. Becoming debt free is easy when you have discipline and a job, but how about people who are in credit card debt and lost their jobs etc..how do they get out of debt.

  15. Amen to not cutting out everything! Cold turkey doesn’t always work, especially long-term. However, it can be a good short-term strategy when necessary and not often used. It’s what we just did to miraculously pull off $3k in *voluntary* car expenses. (Crazy? YES! Well, at least I am, so…)

    Hubby and I do go to the malls, but primarily to go walk around. We do it a lot when the weather is cold and we’d freeze taking a walk around the neighborhood. I’m not much for shopping, but oh boy do I love to look. I’m more tempted to splurge and buy a cookie than some clothing item, to be honest. Usually thinking of the bigger goals anyhow. :)

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