Whether it is finances or fitness, we often dig our own hole. We dig it with one shovel full of dirt at a time. We almost never see the whole until we are looking up and it seems we are so deep down that there is no possibility of escape.
The good news is, you can escape. the bad news, it will take time.
We dug our bad debt hole over three years. We started off in our marriage with four credit cards. Each of us brought two cards with respectable balances (about 35%-40% of the max) into the marriage.
But we started digging the day after our marriage. We used the cards on our honeymoon to buy meals and go out when we just didn’t feel like spending cash. We used our cards when we came up short and needed to pay for the moving truck from Indiana to North Carolina. We got a bit caught up during our first year of marriage, but as we failed to save my wife’s ten month salary (and I made almost nothing as a full-time grad student) we ended up using them as a crutch to pay for our expenses over summer.
From then on the pattern remained the same to this day. We would start to catch up on our cards and then come summer we would run them back up to the max. Why didn’t we save enough money to live on over summer? Well that is the credit card trap.
When we first came into the marriage we had four credit cards with a minimum payment of about $120 on all four cards due each month. But then we got a few more cards, and before long we had nine credit cards. Those nine credit cards cost about $550/month to maintain- just at the minimum payments.
So now we are spending about 25-35% of our monthly income just maintaining our cards to avoid late fees and over limit fees. And you can’t get ahead when that much of your budget is going to credit cards companies.
But this isn’t just the credit card trap, it is also the junk food diet trap. If you go to McDonalds tomorrow and eat the fattiest nastiest deep fried junk on their menu you won’t gain 40-60lbs of unwanted weight. But if you go day after day, if you eat the junk food peddled at grocery stores as impulse buys each day, if you get that non-diet soda everyday at lunch from the soda machine, then you dig your fitness hole.
So the secret to avoiding these traps is the same- discipline. I know it isn’t an easy secret, it is one of the hardest things in this world. But the bottom line is unless you are 20 with an awesome metabolism you won’t be able to eat whatever you want and avoid gaining weight. Unless you were born rich you won’t be able to maintain numerous credit cards close to their max and still save for your retirement. Without discipline each and every one of use will dig our own hole until it gets so deep we find ourselves with nowhere left to dig and a hole pile of despair weighing down on us.
Lesson: Living without discipline is like driving a car without a steering wheel. Not only will you never be able to know where you’re going, chances are you won’t go anywhere worth mentioning.