Hope for your financial life and beyond

This Is What Makes Dumping Girlfriends and Credit Cards Hard

Do you remember your first love? I don’t mean that boy or girl you kissed in kindergarten. I mean that first true love…the person with whom you were destined to spend the rest of your life.

breaking up with credit cardsI do and when I was with her she seemed perfect in every way. A match made in heaven.

However, it didn’t last. We broke up after a few years, the reasons for which won’t be mentioned here.

But then we got back together a few months later and it was just like old times. It was like we hadn’t missed a beat. And this time things would be different. We were committed to make our relationship last.

Except it didn’t. Again we split after less than a year.


…you know what’s coming next.

Relationships sometimes die hard and this one wasn’t going down without a fight. After about a year of being apart we connected again. For sure, in this go around of dating we’d commit 100% to making it work and stay together forever. Again, this time things would be different.

Except things weren’t different that time either. We said goodbye for the final time after enduring our shortest stint of time together of the three dating periods.

Breaking up with someone you love is hard to do.

Breaking Up With Our Financial Habits

It took three painful breakups with someone I cared deeply about before I realized it just wasn’t meant to be. Thought that it would work each time. Tried my hardest to correct a flaw here or make an adjustment there to no avail.

I kept going back and back to the relationship. I couldn’t let go.

More accurately, I wouldn’t let go. At that point in my life she was all I’d known as far as true love goes.

I wouldn’t let go.

I’ve found the same principle at work in my ideas about financial habits over the years. Have you?

Wouldn’t let go of the idea that debt was the only avenue to enhance my lifestyle.

Wouldn’t let go of the idea that my family didn’t really need a budget.

Wouldn’t let go of the idea that I could make quick money using risky investment strategies.

Wouldn’t let go of the idea that I would never be able to alter my career path.

Wouldn’t let go…

Have you been there? Done that? Are there poor financial habits or ideas about money that you keep going back to time and time again? Wish you could finally break free and move on with a new way of thinking?

Breaking Up With Credit Cards

Nowhere was this concept more evident than in my use of credit cards.

For years my wife and I used credit cards for any transaction we could. We’d switch from card to card trying to find the best “deal” as far as interest rates or reward programs. We mostly used Visa and Discover, although at one point we also carried Mastercard and Amex. That was thick wallet with four cards.

We began to realize our credit cards were leading to excessive spending. Our monthly budget never worked and we routinely had to dip into our savings account to cover our credit card bill. So we decided to quit using credit cards.

Except we didn’t.

We kept our Visa and Discover and only initially cancelled our Mastercard and Amex. After all, we were building cash back points with Discover and didn’t want to forfeit those payments by canceling the card.

So on we continued to spend, same as before. And wouldn’t you know it, nothing changed.

Finally, after some more frustration and soul searching, we cancelled our Discover card and vowed never to use credit again. We even switched to a debit card and cash for transactions. Now there’s a life changing moment! If you’ve been through that switch you know what I’m talking about.

But we still kept that Visa credit card. Even though we’d committed to a debit card/cash payment lifestyle, we couldn’t let go of the credit card.

Why couldn’t we just let it go?

It had become our safety blanket…something that we were familiar with. In a pinch, we could return to it without worries. When in a desperate situation we knew it would gladly take us back. If all else failed we could depend on it to bail us out.

If I’m going to be honest about it, fear was keeping us a prisoner of the past.

That mindset robbed us of completely moving forward. We weren’t 100% committed to a new lifestyle. We were still living with one foot in the past, hanging onto those tools even though we couldn’t manage them. How bizarre is that?

So the credit card stayed in my wallet, hidden behind my driver’s license and debit card, just in case.

What we needed was something shocking to come our way, a pain-spiking moment that would make us say, “Enough is enough.”

That happened when my Visa card was charged for a subscription service I thought had been cancelled. Because I thought I wasn’t using the card, I didn’t see the bill for five months. I didn’t realize anything had happened until I received a notice in the mail of a past due payment (with mucho late fees attached).*

For someone who had begun to pride himself of staying on top of his finances that negligence infuriated me. I hate making mistakes like that.

That day the card was out of my wallet. Called the subscription service – cancelled. Called Visa – cancelled the card.

Cut it up.

No more going back.

(*You can read the whole story here: Confessing a Really Stupid Money Mistake. That was my most read new post of 2014.)

Moving Forward From Credit Cards

If there is a financial habit in your life that you want to be free from my suggestion is simple: go cold turkey. There has to be an abrupt and complete removal of that habit from your life. No hanging on. No stretching it out. Remove it, now!

Just imagine quickly ripping off a band-aid. Yes, there might be some initial pain but it will be over quick. Once it’s done, it’s done.

Then you have to commit to the idea it’s over and you’re not going back. No “Maybe I’ll do that again in an emergency.” No “If things don’t workout then perhaps…”. No “I’ll just keep the phone number in my speed dial just in case.”

It’s over. Done. Kaput. Finished.

Move on to your new way of thinking and managing your life.

I’m not suggesting this process will be easy. Those new habits will take awhile to establish. You may even find yourself dwelling on the fond memories of the way things used to be.

It’s going to take some willpower. Discipline…a plenty. Courage…a must.

There will be temptation to give in.

Friends and family may mock you.

Fear could show up knocking at your door.

But you can move forward. A new relationship with your money awaits.

Questions: What financial habit do you need to rid yourself of this year? For those who quit using credit cards, was the switch a tough one to face? What money issue are you most proud of breaking up with?

Image courtesy of Michael Fitzhugh at Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. What if you use the credit card for the rewards/discount advantages and then just repay the debts each month instead of going cold turkey? I mean that entails working on restraint obviously.

    • I agree that is a strategy D2. I’d say most people don’t pay off their debts each month though. The interest on the balance then negates the rewards. For those who overspend with credit cards (like I was) going cold-turkey helped develop spending discipline.

  2. Great analogy, Brian. It’s true that it can be so hard to break-up with bad money habits, whatever they may be. Often times they are a crutch or safety blanket, like your Visa card was for you. I feel like financially my habits are pretty solid, but where I’m focused on more now is letting go of always saying “yes”. I love a full plate and helping out but I’m stretching myself too thin and not being able to give things the focus they need and I want to give them.

    • “…letting go of always saying “yes”. ” I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who struggles with this. The art of saying “No” is difficult to learn, especially when we have the personality that always wants to please others.

  3. Even Steven says

    I’m half way there for the CC, I stopped using them, I took them out of my wallet, I cut them up, however they are still open. Also the wife uses her CC for transactions for her, but she is down to 1 card, so half way there. Nice write up sir.

  4. Can I just say that I’m so glad I don’t have to break the habit of using a credit card (since I’ve never had one)! It’s kind of nice. The only bad habit I had to break is shopping, and I cut that off before the holidays. It’s great being on budget and reaching my goals!

    • “…using a credit card (since I’ve never had one)…” One of the fortunate few. 🙂 You didn’t miss anything by not having one, imo.

  5. A bad habit I am trying to get rid of is to buy things (on sale or really good deal) I don’t really need.

    • Those sales really entice us, don’t they? It’s so easy to rationalize a purchase by saying “Well, it’s on sale…” or “I know I’ll use it sometime…” Those are sure-fire phrases that will lead us to spend more.

  6. What do I need to break up with this year? That’s a good question, maybe going to the grocery more than once a week. I try hard, but it seems we always run out of something I think we can’t live without. It did take a long time to break up with buying things on payment plans, but I can honestly say that one is over and done.

    • I can see how going to the grocery more than once a week would cause you to spend more. But at least you don’t have to deal with people staring at your overloaded cart because you are trying to cram everything for one week into it. I get some weird looks because I’m shopping for six and my carts so full. 🙁

  7. I am most happy with breaking up with eating out. We probably ate out at least 5-6 meals a week a few years ago, and the habit was not only bad for my finances but it was bad for my physical health as well. Last year we realized we saved almost $10,000 by eating more at home.

    • Oh my gosh Shannon! Those numbers are really staggering. I can only imagine how much better you feel physically but also about saving that much money. It’s really tough for us to eat out anymore with six in the family, two of which are now ordering off the adult menu. Ugh…no more cheap kid meals.

  8. Loved the analogy here, Brian! Very accurate. When I first graduated, I fell into the trap of thinking student loan debt was just a natural part of life that was going to stay with me for 10 years. I’m so glad I decided that was entirely too long to have a cloud of debt following me. I found personal finance blogs, started my own, and made extra payments – I think I’m a lot better off for it.

    • 10 years is a long time to carry student loan debt. But it’s not the longest I (or probably you either) have heard of. Some people are stretching that debt into two decades. I can’t imagine that. Glad you saw the light and did something about it! 🙂

  9. I totally agree with going cold turkey to quit credit cards, especially if you have a bad history with them. Having a credit card “for emergencies” is one of many cultural financial myths that actually makes no sense. It is so much wiser to have an emergency fund for emergencies. And I think people need to start seeing their ongoing consumer debt as a financial emergency to be resolved ASAP.

    • “…one of many cultural financial myths that actually makes no sense.” I agree completely Kalie. Much better to develop that savings fund and rely on that for emergencies.

  10. Love the post Brian! I too had a few of those relationships, one in particular, that just didn’t want to seem to die. Financially speaking I think many of us have all had those particular vices we have tried and did kill. For us it was excusing our spending because we felt we “deserved it.” Whether that be spending on a credit card or simply going out and spending cash we would tell ourselves that we deserved whatever item it was and thus just led to money problems. We’re not perfect, of course, but having moved to the belief that we’re going to make money work for us and not give into the mentality has served us well.

    • “…we deserved it.” This is a huge issue. I was just talking with one of my former high school students about this the other day. Those emotions that push us to spend have to stay in check.

  11. Oooh good question! This year? I don’t know if there is anything I really want to break up with, but I need to earn more! So perhaps I need to break up with procrastination when it comes to creating some passive income. I’m most proud of breaking up with not having a budget. I started and stopped so many times until finally one day it just stuck!

    • Your experience with a budget mirrors the experience of many, including myself. I remember when ours finally stuck. That was a great day because it changed our lives.

  12. I think we have broken up with all of our money vices at this point, but it did take time. We’re still not perfect, but we’re doing rather well.
    As far as relationships go, I had several that died a slow death. Good riddance though- I really dodged a bullet with a few and my husband is far superior to anyone else I ever dated. It’s not even close.

    • The biggest thing for me was just realizing what my money vices were and then creating the discipline to manage them. At this point they have minimal impact on our financial health but only because I work hard to keep them under control.

  13. Great post, and great analogy too! I’ve also been in one of those relationships that took a long time to die. Anyway, for us it took a very long time to realize that letting our debt hang around was doing nothing positive for our finances. For a long time we justified making just the minimum payments because all of our debt was low interest rate student loans and mortgage. But finally one day we woke up and realized that mindset was going to keep us in debt for decades! We didn’t want that. In 2013 we started our turbo debt payoff. In 2015 we need to stay focused on debt repayment. It’s still going to be a few more years until the debt is completely gone.

    • That “wake up day” changed your life Dee. I know you will never regret getting out of debt. The remaining few years may be tough but it’s going to be so worth it to have it gone.

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