Credit cards: Friend or Foe?

I love my credit card

(“Whoop! I just looove my credit card, like, soooo much!!”)

Ok, before we start, I’m just going to say upfront that I do currently hold significant credit card debt. However, it was planned debt. We’re doing a house renovation and we always knew we would have to incur a certain level of debt to finish it. (We haven’t finished it – not even close, but that’s another story! Gah!)

So it wasn’t day to day spending that racked up the credit card debt. And we would have been scuppered without the ability to put a significant level of spending on them (yes, more than one). They’re all long, zero interest cards which we’re committed to clearing by the time any interest kicks in. It’s not ideal but we’re in control of it.

However, in the past I have definitely struggled with using a credit card responsibly. In fact, I’d always hated the idea of them.

I was brought up on the understanding that, if you can’t afford something, you don’t buy it. You wait and save, and then you buy it with cash that is yours – not borrowed. Only exception maybe being a house.

So I never even had a credit card for most of my life. I was offered one as part of my student account (which I think is despicable and wrong, by the way) but refused. I also resisted the interest free overdraft that came with the account. If I didn’t have the money, I just wouldn’t spend it. (The bank employee really struggled with this: “But, but – you’re a student! It’s interest FREE!” “Er, yeah. But it’s still debt, right?!”)

Credit card

(“Gurrrl, no! Credit cards are, like, sent, from heaven!” – This is what the banks want you to think.)

And all was well in my credit card free life. Until one fateful day when I booked a trip to Ireland and decided to hire a car for the first time.

Now I’m sure you’re all laughing at me for my naivety but it never occurred to me for a single second that a credit card might be necessary. Up until then, anything I’d needed, I’d whipped out the old debit card and paid right there and then.

Not so for a hire car company. Nope. Credit cards are queen and nothing else will do. I’m still not sure why. Presumably there’s an added level of protection that they have by taking your credit card details. Regardless – that’s what they want. And I didn’t have one.

Cue me going absolutely crazy, ringing pretty much every hire car company in Ireland trying to find one that would accept my poor little debit card. I did find one eventually but it cost me an absolute fortune. Like, hundreds more than it would have done otherwise. I was fuming but I didn’t have a choice.

So when I came home, I applied for a credit card. ‘Just for emergencies’, I said. I didn’t look for any great deals – I just got one with the bank I was already with. Wasn’t planning on using it, see?

Yeah. Great. Soooo… that didn’t go as planned. A couple of big expenses got put on there. Just one offs. Then petrol, and other bits and pieces when I was short of cash at the end of the month and didn’t want to go into my overdraft (yeah, I also had one of them too). I’d pay it off on payday, I told myself.

Except, payday would come and, well, if I cleared the whole card I’d just be in the same situation at the end of that month! So, it was minimum payments only (plus a little bit) and, voila. I was stuck in endless, ever so slightly increasing, credit card debt that I wasn’t making any real headway with. With a rubbish interest rate on top coz I wasn’t on a great deal.

It was all quite stressful and depressing. I mean, it wasn’t keeping me up at night but it did kinda hang over me constantly as something to worry about and I didn’t seem to quite have it in me to address it head on.

Embarrassingly, eventually my partner bailed me out. I wasn’t really being open with him either about it. I’d casually mention – ‘oh and of course I need to deal with the credit card etc.’ – but I wasn’t saying, ‘By the way babe, I’m a couple of thousand in debt and I’m not really making any headway with sorting it.’

Once I finally cracked and told him, he insisted on paying it off. This fundamentally goes against everything I believe in. I mean, we were living together and had bought a house together, so my money situation did impact him too. But I felt strongly that this was MY debt and not his responsibility. None the less, he paid it. I was incredibly grateful and also, weirdly, kinda resentful. Like HE was the one that was making me feel all guilty and crappy about the situation. Which of course is crap. It was all on me. He was just helping me out.

Anyway, it all sucked and I’ve worked hard to make sure I never got back into that situation. No careless spending on credit cards.

It was eye opening to me to find myself in that situation so easily. Especially as I thought I was fairly careful with money. Lesson learned.

Of course, credit cards do have their uses. As I said, we currently have a large (planned) credit card debt which is enabling us to sort out our house. We would struggle without that option being available. The difference is that I looked up the best rates and planned it all out, and now we’re paying them off, with the promise that no more debt is going on them. Because it is just too easy to lose control of it.

So if you’ve been there or are currently in this situation I feel you! I can only recommend facing up to it and making the commitment to sort it out, otherwise it’s not going to get any better. I know how lucky I was to have my partner help me.

Credit card

(Well she clearly still loves her credit card! 👍 How do you feel about yours?)

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