Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Back to Zero

Amazingly, in this season of conspicuous consumption and over-indulgence, I may actually find myself clear of debt. In 33 years of self-employment I didn't borrow, having such an erratic and unreliable income, so I never joined 'credit culture'.

I have had a small steady job now for 7 years, so when I decided to join the computer literates I found myself in a position to borrow enough, rather than save up (and people said buying a computer with a credit card gave you some security, too - as well as probably needing a card for online shopping). So I got the damned card, and have owed on it since. Several times I squeezed it down, but things happened to push it back up (computers died, among other things).

Now, finally, I may have got it Back to Zero.

I can live with the Scrooge story, of living frugally, because if we intend to do a Potlatch festival (redistribution of wealth) then I don't think we should offer gifts bought on credit. In the magic of fairy tales, such gifts would come with a heavy obligation. I dislike the idea of someone giving me something and having to work next year to pay back the debt...and actually, of course, getting out of debt really is a gift to others, if having a debt costs others (which it does*).

So hopefully now I can get into the correct usage of a card, paid off each pay day.

And even if you don't think others pay for your debt, giving yourself a present seems another tradition these days. "One for them and one for me..." So perhaps I just gave myself the present I really wanted.

Big thanks to Steve and Ken for making it possible this month.

* Paying for the Other Guy's Christmas Presents
Still on the subject of credit cards and holiday spending, over 1.3 million households in the United States filed for bankruptcy in 1997, partially a result of the huge number of credit cards readily available to virtually anybody who can sign a name (1.5 billion cards circulating out there, a 300% increase just since 1980). The plastic money seems to come out in earnest every November and December, as even cautious folks seem to lose self-control. Bankruptcy costs the U.S. economy over $40 billion annually, a hidden tax of $400 per household when these costs are passed on to consumers, as they usually are. So, when you add up your own holiday expenses in January, throw in a nice chunk of cash for gifts that other people bought on credit but then couldn't pay for.

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