Consumer debt in America has skyrocketed. According to the U.S. Treasury, consumer debt has jumped from $355 billion in 1980 to a staggering $2.4 trillion in 2010. With credit cards as one of the biggest culprits of America’s spending spree, it’s easy to see how we’ve fostered a society that thinks it’s OK to spend money they don’t have.
Don’t get me wrong. I use credit cards and I think there is a time and place for most things. For me, having the ability to automate my bills to my credit card and to make one simple payment is convenient. It’s also nice to see a few reward dollars come my way every few months.
The problem with credit cards is that they:
– Can encourage you to spend money you don’t have
If you’re not disciplined, it’s really easy to fool yourself into feeling better about buying stuff on credit. It’s the instant reward mentality and the thought that you can pay for it when the money comes.
– Look like a false emergency fund
Nope, your credit card is not an emergency fund. Sure, some use it for emergency items when they can’t access their emergency fund, but you shouldn’t use it as a substitute.
– Ruin your credit faster than you can say “debit or credit”
So you’ve opened a few store credit cards. So what right? The more you open, the more it dings your credit score. Even more, your chances of missing a payment on one of those cards get higher with every new card you throw into the mix – and you definitely don’t want to mess up your credit with missed payments.
Solutions to Spending Money You Don’t Have
– Use Cash (Envelope System)
I know it’s been said time and time again, but it really works. You can really control overspending and stop spending money you don’t have when you set aside cash to pay for things like groceries, eating out, entertainment, gas, and other expenses.
– Stick To A Budget
If you haven’t read Joe’s series on budgeting, you should take some time to look it over. It really highlights the why and how of establishing a budget. If you don’t track where your money is going, how will you know if you’re overspending? A budget really is the right way to go.
– Manage Your Account/Budget Online
You don’t have to manually track your budget with a pen and paper each week/month. There are great tools that can help you to manage your money online. Sites like mint.com, mvelopes.com, and neobudget.com can make budgeting simple. If you’re married, it’s a great way to put the finances out in the open and it helps keep you accountable with your spending.
The bottom line:
Spending more than you make is a losing game, but you can fix it if you’re committed.
To really drive the message home, here’s a skit that SNL did a while back about spending money you do not have.
What advice do you have to avoid spending money you do not have?
Tim is a personal finance writer at Faith and Finance a Christian financial help blog that provides financial insights for individuals, businesses, and churches. Outside of finance, Tim enjoys spending time with his wife, playing the saxophone, reading economics books, and a good game of RISK or Catan. Find him on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to the Faith and Finance RSS feed.