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A waltz with plastic (an editorial on the use of credit cards)

Sunday, 28. June 2009 by Renee Ellison

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Credit cards waltz many Americans straight into surrealism. Taking another spin around the room in the arms of plastic, with sweet nothings being whispered in our ears, we whirl deeper and deeper into the night. But the “financial-folly-of-a-dance” ends in the morning. By the rude light of day we see the tables turned upside down; we hold only empty bottles and toys and begin to feel the headache.

In the old days, before plastic was invented and cut into sturdy little 2x3 inch rectangles, we had to FEEL real money, and we counted out DIFFERENT amounts for each purchase: one dollar, two dollars, three dollars. At the checkout stand, people used to observe the size of the pile of cash required for each and every item they bought. And AFTER a purchase, if there was any left, they put a DIMINISHED stash of cash back into their pocket…realizing that what remained was thinner, littler, and lighter. They felt the transfer of stored sweat equity in actual greenbacks and clinking change.

But today, regardless of whether we buy a large expensive car or a small cheap loaf of bread, we put the SAME SIZED piece of plastic back into our wallet after the purchase; nothing is diminished in the palm of our hand. We see no loss; we feel no loss. This new financial modus operundus has led many of us straight into un-reality. We know that reality still exists out there somewhere, but it is veiled and far away. What we now feel is only the waltz, the beat of the music in the air. The faster we spin, the higher we fly, until we don’t feel the tug of even the law of gravity anymore…financial gravity. We have disconnected with natural laws.

Many think that we cross the line into surrealism when our credit card debt-load reaches $5,000, or $10,000 or $15,000, or whenever all hope of EVER paying it back seems past. But the reality is that we crossed it with our first small purchase when we didn’t have the actual cash in the bank to back it up and we KNEW it, but did it anyway. That is where we crossed the line. Thousands cross this line every day. It is a kind of financial mini-stroke, a trial run at financial suicide. A shot of morphine.

By the way, what COULD persons do if they ever DO reach such a point of needing money when they have none? They could do what people have done for centuries. Stop purchasing!!! Stop the financial hemorrhaging. Don’t keep digging the same hole deeper. Leave the grocery store, leave the gas station; instead, walk, bike, catch a ride with a neighbor. Go out immediately and earn something. Earn pocket change for just today, and then do it again tomorrow, until you can get a larger, more permanent job, based on your conscientious regard for the responsibilities of the small temporary job you completed today. You then use this small job to get a quote, a referral, a recommendation for the future. Go mow someone’s lawn, make a loaf of bread and sell it, or fix something for someone, babysit someone’s child, look after an elderly person, fix them dinner, wash their car, clean their house, or yard. Do grunt work. Clean someone’s “something” that they don’t want to have to clean themself. Work at some little job for UNDER the going rate. Do what makes you the most marketable immediately. You can think about a more long range solution WHILE you work at SOMETHING to put food on the table right now.

Be exceptionally clean and well groomed. You never get a second chance to impress a future employer, whether they hire you for a day, or a week, or a year. Demonstrate by your LOOKS that you COULD care about someone ELSE’S details. Poverty and elbow grease aren’t mutually exclusive. Wash dishes in a restaurant. Get a paper route, or fill in on a mail delivery route. Take the lowest job of the low. There is always room at the bottom of any potential work project. And if you do it well, you’ll soon climb the ladder, within hours, even!!!

Just several short decades ago, even if a person’s own mother died, if they didn’t have the money to take the train home for the funeral, they didn’t go. Period. There was no WAY to waltz across that line of reality. It was not possible. No cash, no purchases. For this reason, some of the Pilgrims daily rationed themselves with only 3 kernels of corn during the toughest moments of that first harsh winter. They viscerally FELT the lack of vital resources, and it caused them to use their fleeting vital energy to find a way to reverse that reality so that it wouldn’t hit again tomorrow. Money or the lack thereof defines a large part of our reality. It tells us what we can and cannot do. If one chooses to leave the path of financial solvency, finding it too narrow, one quickly ends up in the jungle, NOT on a larger path as one imagines.

Fiscal reality is not a bad thing. It is a sure parameter around existence from its inception. Earning money is a motivator for all mankind. History has revealed the wisdom of it. Without needing to buy bread by the sweat of one’s brow, one would choose not to sweat. Most all of the great art and literature contributions made during the Renaissance were produced in response to a commission! The artist had to eat, so he wrote the book, or painted the church’s ceiling, to get money for his living expenses. Think of the art the world would have missed, had there not been the necessity of producing it.

Realistically, there are only two avenues to wealth. Only two. Spend less. And earn more. That’s it. That’s the secret formula in its entire splendor. It is no great mystery. The challenge of fiscal reality will always be to mobilize oneself WITHIN this construct, not seek to hunt for a different road.

Spend less. Put pencil to paper… greenbacks in envelopes…record daily purchases/receipts/expenses in a financial log-book before you go to bed EVERY night, until you fully master yourself again in this area. Even Ben Franklin did this. He was carrying his own financial weight by the time he was 24 and then—by multiplying those efforts/successes through hiring others—by age 42 (the very same numbers flipped) he was CONTRIBUTING to the needs of the WORLD.

Become AWARE of EVERY purchase. Rather than purchase in surrealism, totally oblivious to what you are ACTUALLY doing, wake up. Take 48 hours to think before making ANY purchase that isn’t previously WRITTEN down, whether it is for groceries, medicine, projects, seemingly needed travel, clothes, etc. Put it ALL down on paper. Applying pencil to paper is the fastest route to control your income and outgo.

Earn MORE. One way to do this is to layer those income streams. Do more than one job. Pick up smaller jobs around the edges, and stay relentlessly steady at it until you return to total solvency. Mobilize the entire family as a fiscal machine, if need be. The Pilgrims did it. There is no other way. Foreigners who come to our country do it, even now. The entire family sleeps in the back of the storefront on the floor and works its way up from there. Don’t stop when you are finally out of trouble – stop only when there is EXCESS in your wallet. Savings is the goal, not just survival.

One may wistfully stand on the shore and WANT or even TRY another way to cross the Atlantic Ocean, be it by roller skating, hot air ballooning, or swimming, but only two ways will ACTUALLY, surely get you there. It’s only possible to fly or take a boat. We will not make it if we attempt to walk on water. So it is with money. Determine to grab yourself out of the current financial surreal world. Live for the morning, and begin to feel financial gravity again as you return to fiscal sure-footedness. If you’re in trouble in this area, the first step is to cut up the plastic and stop the waltz.

Filed Under: Home management tips