My friends at Ready For Zero recently asked the question “how many credit cards are too many”? They got some excellent responses from some bloggers I immensely respect, and they all made valid points. I think I agreed with every one of them. But the question, and the responses, got me thinking about my own credit card use (or lack thereof) and why.
Before we paid off our credit card debt, I had no problem using credit cards—store and regular—for any and everything. I would use them to buy groceries, clothes, gas, restaurants…pretty much any expense that wasn’t a bill. And I really didn’t care about paying them off each month. I just figured credit card debt was something that everyone had so my situation wasn’t that much different. Besides, as long as the minimum payments were made each month, I was in good shape.
At least that’s what I thought.
I did know that I needed to get my balances down to zero, if only because I hated how long my list of monthly expenses was (side note: this is something I still do. I hand write a list of all the bills I have due in a given month. I also make a second list noting which payments come out of which check. This lets me know how much money I have left for other, nonessential expenses as well as being able to plan for some bigger ones like dog grooming and my daughter’s birthday. It’s dysfunctional but it works for me). The concept of not owing anyone my entire paycheck didn’t occur to me until years later, when my daughter was born and we were so broke from our debt that we could barely afford to eat. But, at the time, eliminating my credit card debt seemed like a pointless endeavor. Mainly because I relied on them for everything.
I could go on and list all the reasons this was a bad idea. And maybe I’ll do that sometime. I know that I didn’t have the skills or the discipline to live on a budget and then there was the whole need to keep up with my friends. And the only way to do that was on credit. And for me, living on credit meant using the approximately 10 cards that were in my wallet.
That is a shitload of credit cards. No one needs that many. Especially not all in one place and at one time. Because that just takes you down a road that you probably don’t need to go. Having been down that road, I will tell you that it’s a pain in the ass. There’s all kinds of mixed up signs, it’s dark, twisty, and it takes what seems like a lifetime to get to the first exit. So just stay off of it.
Since I’ve recovered from my credit card debt, I’ve learned that I can’t be trusted with a credit card. I’ll spend too much, I won’t pay it off in full, and it’ll get ugly very quickly. However…I need to keep a credit card in my wallet at all times. I don’t like to do it but it’s necessary. And, on more than one occasion, it’s come in handy. Like at FinCon.
For FinCon, I paid for the hotel using my PayPal debit card and I knew I had more than enough money in there for the hotel and any food/drink/transportation incidentals. I booked my shuttle home from the Philly airport using it and had planned on using it for the shuttle from the hotel to the Denver airport. Great plan, right? Well, I thought so, too, until the hotel stole $200 from me. You see, the hotel charged a $50 per night “security deposit” that they don’t tell you about up front (seriously, almost everyone was shocked by this). This put a huge kink in my plans. Particularly the plan to get home.
Fortunately, I had a credit card in my wallet and was able to secure transportation home (oh, I had left my regular debit card in my house on purpose. I will not do that again). Not that I would have minded being stuck in Denver for a few extra days until my $200 was refunded and I didn’t have to use the credit card but a) I didn’t have anywhere to stay and b) my family would have been pissed. So, I used the credit card (for the record, it’s paid off).
Because I don’t use credit cards, I don’t care about rewards and other “perks” of using credit. It just doesn’t interest me. At one point, I entertained the thought of automating my bills with a credit card but I’ve opted to just use the debit card for that instead. I’m not saying that these are bad options; I’m just saying that they’re not for me.
So, to answer the initial question, I have to say that for me, one credit card is enough. It’s for emergencies only and that’s fine. I know myself and my habits and I also know that I can’t handle another 5 years of paying off credit card debt.