I feel like a drunk who just woke up in a car parked on top of a railroad crossing. My previous reality seemed so sensible. Go to a store, plunk down a credit card. Harbor a fantasy that I could easily pay for all this.
Every month when I opened the credit card statements I was in a bit of shock that all those little charges, many $10, $20, $30, could add up to thousands. And our $10,000 net monthly income never seemed to have quite enough to cover what we had incurred. So I paid as much as I could, but not all.
And that bit got added to the previous bit and folded into the next bit., which eventually added up to tens of thousands.
Clearly I’m not good at comprehending that small integers can add up to thousands.
And then I woke up on the railroad tracks.
And now I am hyper awake to every little expenditure. If feels so strange. But also it feels just right. No, I am not going to spend five bucks on some organic half and half. No, I’m not going to run off and get a manicure when I am perfectly capable of doing it myself.
I might even wake up enough to decide I can clean my own damned house.
Every time I plunk down a credit card to pay for something I am borrowing money.
I have managed to avoid this fact because for many years—from the mid 90s as a young adult to right up to the economic crash of 2008—I had the funds to pay off all the cards immediately. I was what is known as a transactor. I used the card as a convenience, never as a way to avoid settling up at the end of the month.
But it is so so easy to slip from being a transactor into being a revolver, someone who doesn’t pay off the entire amount at the end of the month and lets the debt sit there to be paid off at some point in the future, a point that quickly recedes, accumulating interest, leading straight into the hell of debt.
I got my hair done today. When it was time to pay up I did something that is so radical for me: I pulled out my debit card. The funds came out of what I have right now, at this moment, in the bank. I didn’t borrow money to get a fabulous new do. I paid for it with what I already have.
I know this sounds so obvious, but it is quite a revelation and change of habits for me.
I’m traveling for work. All my expenses are going straight on my corporate card and funds will be taken from my modest research account: hotel room, meals. that’s it.
No stopping at the gift shop for that lovely velvet top in the window. No running into town for the extra pair of pants I wished I’d brought. No web shopping in my down time for that pair of shoes — Fluevog pumps with all kinds of sweet little designs — I just saw someone wearing. No. None of that.
This reminds me of when I suddenly quit smoking three decades ago. I’d find myself sitting down with an ashtray in hand. Where did that come from? Oh, it’s my basal ganglia on auto pilot following ingrained habits.
So, here away on travel, I’ll just relish the fabulous blue velvet shirt dress I brought with me and my own pair of Fluevog pumps (black, for god’s sake, I never wear pink) on my feet right this very second. I already have all I need.