Tuesday, 13 October 2009

How I broke my dependance on credit cards

By Eilleen
(x-posted from my blog: Consumption Rebellion)

Hello everyone,

Earlier this month, a reader from my personal blog asked me how I managed to stop using credit cards. I answered him at the time, but I thought I'd also share my answer here...

Firstly, a bit about me: I tend to be more "future-focussed" - I love planning and thinking up goals for myself. Sometimes in the journey to achieve particular goals, I pick up skills or knowledge along the way but I am so focussed on the goal that I am not even conscious that I've picked up those skills or knowledge.

For me not having credit cards was one of those things. Giving up my credit cards was a side-effect in my journey to become a more ethical consumer. It was not, at the time, my end goal. Of course, now that I'm in "maintenance" mode for my consumption habits (rather than "change" mode), I can see now the importance of not having credit cards.

I guess the first step for me was when I decided to not buy anything brand-new for a year. That was the year when I made a conscious acknowledgement that I was an over-consumer - that I bought too many things that I didn't really need or even really want. I acknowledged that I had too much stuff and the stuff didn't make me happy.

I found that trying to cut back my consumption (by deliberately leaving credit cards and bank cards at home, or setting a budget) didn't work. Oh it would work for a few days - maybe even a few weeks, but then old habits would creep back in and I would end up buying stuff again.

Looking back, I can see that it mirrored classic addiction symptoms and cycles - with the exception that I never bought stuff to the point where it was obvious that I had a problem. In fact, my consumption habits were very similar to everybody else! (hmmm a case of normalised addiction perhaps?)

Everyone I knew could empathise with the maxed out credit every now and then. Like everyone else, I got into debt, but not so much debt that my wage could not service that debt. Everyone I knew went to end-of-year/christmas/boxing day etc sales. Everyone I knew would go crazy over a "bargain". Everyone I knew would every now and then, complain about lack of storage and/or too much stuff.

In the end, I had enough and I decided to just stop. Oh not stop completely but I stopped a major source of my buying - I stopped buying brand new. I set myself a goal for a year.

At first, I sought to maintain my consumption habits by buying lots and lots of second-hand items. This worked for a little while, but I found myself not reaching the same "highs". It was a lot harder work to buy second-hand. I had to look around. I had to learn how to see the potential in items when they're not being displayed at their best. There was less "hype" around second-hand items so I couldn't get carried away by the enthusiasm of the crowd.

Most relevant in this subject not all second-hand sources would take credit cards. I HAD to learn how to carry cash and to bargain (when appropriate). I had NO CHOICE but to learn to walk away when I didn't have enough cash to buy that second-hand item.

My foray into second-hand buying gave me good skills (indeed, I am thankful for it because it enabled me to furnish my entire house for under $1,000) but in the end, it came down to the fact that the second-hand market simply could not meet my over-consumption habits.

And that's when I learned how to create. If the second-hand market could not give what I wanted, then I learned to how to make what I wanted. Now I learned how to do this during my no buying brand-new year, and for that I'm truly thankful because I think this could have become another source of over-consumption for me. But no, the option of buying brand new supplies would mean breaking my challenge, so I learned how to source second-hand supplies for my creations.

When I created things, I realised how much work was involved in making the stuff. I realised how I was not truly paying for the labour costs for most of the things I bought. It really brought home to me the depth of human exploitation I participated in by buying my goods for "a bargain".

And that when I learned how to just make-do. If I was not willing to put in the work to make something exactly the way I want it, then I learned to accept the next best thing, or learned to do without it all together.

In the meantime, I am now wandering around the place with these credit cards in my pocket.... and I had not used them in months. In fact, the only time I used them was when I was reminded to use them.

In my quest to consume in accordance with my values, I had learned how to buy things, only when I had cash for them. I learned how to walk away from items I really wanted but didn't have enough cash for (and walking away got easier as time went on). I learned how to make things so I didn't have to buy so much. I learned how to live without certain items or accept the next best thing.

And by learning how to do all that, I no longer needed my credit cards.

Late last year (and over two years from when I stopped buying brand-new), I finally closed my credit card account. I wasn't using it and was only paying account keeping fees for it. I've started to build my nest egg.

My nest egg, is not, by all means perfect. My posts on how I've lost it - once I lost most of it for real, and another when it got lost by mistake - show that I'm still learning how to build a nest egg and how to keep it secure. But the fact of the matter is, without the constant debt of credit cards, I am actually in a position to build a nest egg in the first place... and I feel that's the most important step in the first place.

I hope you are all having a wonderful day..

What I do to "sales mail" that sneak past my "No Junk Mail" sign..
Origami Crane. Photo by me.