Indebted Mom and the Credit Card Dilema

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Fresh out of school, I had a job in Tennessee and would listen to a snippet of the Dave Ramsey radio show as I drove home from work each day. As I started my first of 240 monthly student loan payments, his thoughts on debt elimination resonated with me. And my husband’s loans hadn’t even come due yet – just thinking about them nearly gave me hives!

I’ve since read some of Dave’s books like Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace, and I tried hard to start a debt snowball. Stuff always got in the way and I won’t make excuses for that. We never made it a full priority – end of story.

If you’ve read Dave’s stuff, you know he hates credit cards. Dave Ramsey does not want you to have a credit card. While we do not have credit card debt now or then, we listened to him and have shunned credit cards, even though my credit score could have used a boost. And Dave has stuff to say about FICA scores, too…

Some day I’ll write a more detailed post on why Dave is a genius, but why Brian and I cannot follow his plans word for word. But for today, let me just address credit cards.

My mother-in-law is the most generous person I have ever known and out of her generosity, she has given Brian and I credit cards to use. She’ll have me put clothes, dinners out, gas, gymnastics classes, and just about anything else you can think of on her card. Of course, I usually resist, but there are times where I have been so grateful for that card.

Like the time I realized I’d lost my debit card while I was in the Subway drive-thru and had to get lunch and dash right back to work. Or the time my debit card got cancelled by our bank after the Target hack and I needed gas in my truck to get my newborn to the doctor. I could go on… None of these expenses were so overwhelming that I couldn’t have put them on a card of my own and then paid the card off at the end of the month.

When I worked at NASA, I knew a gal who was always going on trips. Always. I did not have any idea how she afforded it, and because we were close enough, I brought it up with her. She mentioned she had a credit card with a great travel rewards program, so they charged things like groceries and gas, paid off the card every month, and used the travel rewards for the trips.

And here I was, a big dummy with a terrible credit score that had affected my mortgage rates, who couldn’t afford to travel home ever, without a credit card because it’s “the smart thing to do”.

I didn’t then and I haven’t now rushed off to apply for a credit card because here’s the catch. Like so many other college kids, I had a credit card and I got it to the point that I couldn’t pay it off. It was a dire situation that was only resolved because I inherited some money. For once, I did the wise thing and paid of the card and then I cancelled it. That was over 10 years ago and that was my last credit card.

But after reading Steve Digg’s No Debt No Sweat, I’m starting to think that we should try our hand at a credit card. It would simplify checkbook balancing if we charged necessities to one place and then wrote one check a month to pay it off. This, of course, assumes I balance our checkbook (and I haven’t done that in years). As a bonus, we could get bonus points for trips (we live far away from family) that we might not otherwise be able to afford. But like Steve writes, if we ever don’t pay it off at the end of the month, we’d have to cut up the card. Immediately. No second chances.

Debt struggles have been such a source of stress for me that I don’t want to rush off to introduce a potential nightmare to my family, but I’m seriously considering this option, partly because I know it could potentially help me stay motivated to budget and balance our books – things that got overwhelming before because there were just too many receipts to keep up with (and that was before children!) but that’s not all. We have years before we will claw ourselves out of debt, meaning that we are very likely to need a good credit score to secure housing or possibly even a job, and my credit score could use some help.

If you have a credit card, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Get one (which one?) or not?

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4 thoughts on “Indebted Mom and the Credit Card Dilema

  1. Don’t do it! Step away from the applications. 🙂 No, in all seriousness, about 5 years ago we decided to get a rewards credit card. Although we don’ t have any horror stories, I believe it has increased our spending. At the end of the month, I am always struggling to get that balance to zero. I thought it would be easy to manage, but its harder. Now, I don’t think I would be able to live without it. Weird, huh?

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    • 🙂 that’s what makes me nervous – we’ll rack up purchases one month and not be able to pay off the card. Hubby is nervous, too. Maybe we need a few months of actually living on a budget, showing some financial responsibility, before going this route (if ever).

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  2. We have credit cards but use them like debit cards–we do not charge what we do not have in the bank already. I think if you know you have the self control to live this way credit cards can be a great thing. We have already flown to multiple vacation spots and stayed in many hotels completely free from all the points we have accumulated from the cards. Each person must decide what is best for him/herself though. 🙂

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