And that was the beginning of the end. The end of living life my grandparent’s way. Their ethos was very much if you haven’t got the money, you go without. I don’t think my grandparents ever owned a credit card. Ever. They had a cheque book and if they wanted cash they got it over the counter at the bank. And if there wasn’t enough in the account they didn’t draw it out. And that was it. If the bank ever sent them credit cards when it became de rigueur to have a bit of plastic in your wallet I never saw them use one. Aside from their inevitable mortgage, they were deeply suspicious of virtual money and ATMs. Undoubtedly it was a generation thing.
And, of course, ironic. Banks have for centuries dealt with virtual money and the idea of a “promise to pay”. The countries of the West are built on this ethos. On spending money that they haven’t got. It is the basis of all speculation.
When I got my first credit card no real harm was done. I was single, living at home with parents who hardly fleeced me for housekeeping money and so I had more cash that I sensibly knew what to do with.
I frittered it away on books, movies and music – and later travel. And it was fine ‘cos when that bill landed on my doormat at the end of the month I had enough spare cash floating around to pay it all off immediately.
And that’s the ideal. That’s how using a credit card should be.
But later in life – much later – paying stuff off all in one go became impossible. It became the norm not to do it and those halcyon days of settling my account without a second thought became a novelty. The honeymoon period between my flexible friend and my salad days was well and truly over.
When real life kicks in – when you’re standing on your own two feet – it’s all too easy to fall into the credit trap; the overdraft pit; the snare of buy now pay later and then keep paying and paying for a very long time.
And if you are canny you do the credit card transfer dance for a while. Or “debt consolidation” as it is sometimes called. Lumping all your outstanding debts into one big sum that you bung on an interest free credit card deal in the vain hope you’ll get most of it paid off before the interest finally kicks in.
Of course, all you’re doing is “promising to pay” the vultures who are happy to sit and wait and let your meat tenderize itself as the pressure softens you up. And the longer they wait the juicier you’ll be.
It’s the law of the financial jungle.
This year, however, I made a decision – a resolution in fact – to get myself out of the credit trap. To consciously and conscientiously budget each month. To pay off debts without accruing more. To not dip into my overdraft but to stay in the black.
So far, 5 months in, I’ve managed it. My debts are being whittled down, bit by bit – they’ll be with me for a year or two but they’re shrinking, losing volume and threat. And my overdraft is a 5 month virgin, i.e. undipped into and I mean to keep her that way.
My credit cards are, by and large, becoming orphaned. More, they’re becoming strangers.
We used to be so close but now I can see it was always an abusive relationship. I’m only sorry it took me so long to realize that and do something positive about it.
Now that I’m away from the situation I do hope that one day they’ll learn to forgive me and move on.
I know the fault was mostly mine but I can’t help feeling that, in their very nature, they colluded in my weaknesses and led me on. And despite the protestations of the banking history of the world I can’t help thinking that my grandparents had the right idea.
Virtual money never leads to virtual riches. It only ever opens the door to very real debt.