No cash, no credit.

When I was a child, growing up in mid-sized city across the Hudson River from Manhattan, as the oldest among my siblings, I had a lot of errands to run for my parents, grandmother and even my elderly, less mobile, neighbors. Back then, it was perfectly safe to send an 8-year old to the supermarket for groceries or to the drugstore for Preparation-H or the butcher for a couple of nice pork chops. I’d be given a written list, and a crisp $5 bill wrapped up inside the list to pay for the purchases (not to mention extremely stern instructions and the “if” warning… “If you lose it, don’t come home.”) If I was lucky, there’d be some coins among the change, and that would usually be my “tip.” Of course, if it was my own parents or nana, I could just forget about the tip, and be lucky I didn’t get a swat up the side of the head instead for presuming incorrectly.

But I also remember that it wasn’t long before the cash disappeared (along with my tip, alas), and I was instructed to tell the butcher or the druggist to “write it in the book.” Ah, the beginning of the dastardly credit cycle. It was so easy – I’d make the purchase and initial the book in my best handwriting, and then once a week or so, my mom strolled down to the store to pay off the bill.

Pretty much every Mom and Pop store offered credit (“Sure, just sign the book!”), for a while, at least. But then, hard times hit, and people weren’t coming in to settle their bills. And these signs started cropping up on the wall behind the register, “No cash, no credit” or this (my favorite), “No credit unless you are 80 years old, and only then, if accompanied by a parent.” I always got a chuckle out of that one.

But with the disappearance of those signs came the emergence of new ones, the “We Accept MasterCard” and “Visa Accepted Here” signs. All was not lost. Or was it? My parents quickly looked into this “credit card” thing, liked what they saw, and never looked back. A lot of people did this, and look where they are now: In a heap of credit card debt.

Is it not possible for us to take a step backwards? At least as regards our step forward into this cashless society. It’s time to consider that the old ways weren’t bad at all. If we can’t afford it, do we really need it? If we really need it, do we really need it now? Can we buy piecemeal -- a little here, a little there, until the sum of its parts becomes the whole?

I live in a society that is almost entirely cash-driven. Credit cards have not yet caught on here in Ghana. Thank goodness. Everything we buy, we pay for in cash; food, utilities, rent, drugs, road tolls. The house we are still in the process of building – paid for with cash. Oh, I hate it sometimes, don’t get me wrong. If we could have gotten a home construction loan, we’d be finished already. On the other hand, I would not like having a mortgage payment. Been there, hated that. But, I know that at some point in the (hopefully near) future, we’ll be living in that house. No notes, no liens, no encumbrances, no little marks in a book with our signature next to it.

Living without your credit cards will not be easy. My advice here, baby steps – one card at a time. Cancel it, cut it up, or freeze it into a block of ice; whatever you need to do, its time to do it. Your parents did it, maybe you, too, at one time. You can do it again. Baby steps.

--Debt Diva

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