Day of Reckoning

"Our wallet is empty. Our bank is closed. Our credit is dried up. … We must make these cuts and live within our means because what is the alternative?" — Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger

It seems I’m not the only one who feels this way these days. I find myself discussing the credit crisis with friends as we watch one after another of our credit cards close or raise the rates to ridiculous levels. We started a plan to get out of debt before the economy took the current nose dive. At the time, we thought our budget cuts and efforts to get out of debt were a radical response to realizing how out of control our finances were. Since then, we’ve just been really happy we started when we did.

I’m mad. I’m mad at the credit card companies for being as heavy handed and destructive to their customers as they are, but more so I’m mad at myself for ever falling for their tricks. I can remember my mother saying, "Never trust a banker." And yet even she said you couldn’t live in the modern world without credit cards.

There’s a lie there, the same one propagated by the VISA commercial that showed someone trying to pay with cash causing a slowdown at a busy cash register. The truth is, our modern world has been destroyed by credit. We’ve borrowed money we didn’t have to invest in programs that then did not pay off. We’ve looked at detailed cost/return analysis and responded to statistics, all the while ignoring one simple fact: the money didn’t exist. While the statistics looked promising, hopeful, in reality the banks were the only ones winning. The term carpetbaggers has been running through my head a lot of late.

Whoever can is profiting from the financial instability. Have you seen them? The fake debt recovery services? The "get your share of the government bailout" people?

I like the idea of a tea party revolt, but in my household the tea party isn’t specifically against government — it is against credit. Someone suggested I just charge something worthwhile the other day — and I surprised myself with the strength of my reaction. "I will never use a credit card again!" In that moment, I saw the anger, frustration and humiliation that I’ve felt over my financial mistakes form into an iron core.

How I wish I’d learned this lesson 20 years earlier.

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