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“We’re Debt-Free. No Thank You.”

Guest post from Jessi of The Budget Mama

I used to feel rich, as if I had “made it” when I whipped out one of my shiny credit cards.

I loved the rush I’d get purchasing a brand new Coach bag. I loved spoiling my loved ones with expensive gifts that were well above my pay grade.

I loved going on well-deserved vacations and spontaneous weekend getaways. I felt like a reality TV star. I always looked like a million bucks and felt that I looked good too.

But then, in the dark of night, it would seek me out.

The fear.

The looming.

The dread.

The truth.

I was broke.

Sure, I had nice things and I had amazing credit, but I was broke. I was scrapping by living paycheck to, “Please God, let this paycheck last me until next payday”.

I thought I was happy living the good life with all my stuff. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I mean, aren’t we supposed to enjoy life? Enjoy the fruits of our labor by spending our money how we see fit?

Yes. We are supposed to enjoy our lives and spend our money in a wise way; but too often we forget that cash is real money. Debt just means you borrowed the funds to pay for it.

I used to love my credit cards. I couldn’t live without them. I always had them with me. I felt empowered when I used them, but then I’d spend the night stressing about how I was going to pay back the money plus pay rent and buy groceries.

One day, while working a huge sale as a manager of a jewelry store, I came face to face with the person I wanted to be.

She walked in and put purchased an expensive watch for her husband’s birthday and paid in cash. When I tried to convince her that our store credit card was the best option to pay, she looked me in the eye and said, “We’re debt-free. No thank you”.

Now, many years later I get to give this same response. I no longer have credit cards, student loans, car loans, and am working hard towards paying off the mortgage. We’ve been able to dump just over $55,000 in two years!

It’s an amazing feeling when you can walk into a store and pay cash for something that once you could only “afford” to pay for with credit.

It’s freeing no longer lay awake at night realizing that you’re living in a self-made nightmare.

If you’re where I was, I want to encourage you that paying off debt and living without it is a real possibility. Also, YOU CAN DO IT!!!

Carry only cash and make swiping those cards a thing of the past so one day you too can respond, “We’re debt-free. No thank you”.

Jessi Fearon is the founder of the popular personal finance blog The Budget Mama, where she shares her family’s real life on a budget in all its gory details. She believes that money is a tool that should be used to help us live our best lives possible and she is an advocate of achieving financial freedom by helping her readers learn how to manage their money.

photo source

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47 Comments

  • Aubrey says:

    Just because you use credit cards doesn’t mean you can’t be debt-free.
    My husband and I are completely debt free – no student loans, no car loans, and paid off the mortgage on our current home about 5 years after moving in. And we managed all of that while living on one modest income AND using credit cards. We pay off our credit card bills in full every month so never pay interest and use the cash back gift cards to be able to buy almost all birthday/Christmas presents throughout the year.
    Credit cards are only bad if you can’t control your spending while using them. Many people are able to use them responsibly.

    • jennifer says:

      Exactly Aubrey!

      I definitely disagree with the “no credit cards ever” that this blog tends to recommend. Good luck buying stuff online with cash—or airline tickets, or hotels, or renting a car.

      Want to get gas? You’ll have to waste extra time walking to and from the building and waiting for the clerk to ring you up instead of just swiping, pumping, and leaving.

      If your cash gets loss or stolen, you’re just out of luck. With a credit card, I make one quick call and don’t have to worry about a thing. I won’t patronize restaurants/shops that don’t take credit (aside from Aldi, but even that annoys me a bunch since I don’t get any rewards from using my debit card). It is too big of a hassle for me to carry around cash—unless I’m going to a festival or something with a bunch of street vendors I never have any on me.

      We pay off every month and use the cash back for Christmas.

      • Felicia says:

        I have purchased airline tickets with a debit card as well as made hotel reservations.

      • Erin says:

        When someone says “pay cash” that can range from paying with actual bills, to a check, to a debit card. “Paying cash” is just a general use of the word to mean “pay in full” with no payoff plan or credit card bills. It goes to the business or other person immediately and it’s gone from you, versus going through a credit card company and paying them instead directly paying the seller.

    • Susan says:

      I think I would have liked this post better if it stopped with just “no thank you.” Knowing in your own head that you want to stay debt free is one thing, but I feel like saying that to the cashier would communicate an air of superiority to them (and anyone else standing within earshot).

      • Hi Susan! I definitely don’t use this statement as a way of offending anyone or as attempting to come off as superior and I hope that I didn’t come off that way in my post. I simply use it as a way of reminding myself of what I’ve worked so hard for. My mission in life is to encourage others that want to live without credit cards or debt that they can. It’s not always easy as I’ve learned the hard way and I hate that my post upset you as that was not my intention. I simply use it as a way of reminding myself of what I’ve worked so hard for.

        • Sam says:

          I actually had a different reaction when I read the ‘We’re debt free. no thank you.” I didn’t see it as an air of superiority, but in a response to yet another person (albeit your job to do so) suggesting credit and taking on debt is the better way to go. Considering the context, I think it was entirely appropriate. She didn’t announce “We’re debt free so therefore I am paying cash.”

          • I totally agree with you, Sam! I think this is more in response to someone encouraging debt, not a statement about credit cards in general. This is about being debt free – not saying that credit cards are out of bounds for everyone. Great post!

        • Diane says:

          I think it can inspire people, too. I usually just say I pay cash, but I have shared with certain friends that we are debt free.

        • JF says:

          It encouraged me as we too are working toward being debt free. It’s funny how we feel free to express to others that we bought a new car but we have to be shamed when we say we paid it off.

      • Joan says:

        If I feel chatty, I say nope, I have 2 cards I can use anywhere. Or sometimes, I just say no thanks, I don’t usually feel the need to explain myself.

  • Leana says:

    I enjoyed reading the post. The sad reality is that many people aren’t very good with credit. Also, studies show that folks tend to spend more when using plastic. And let’s face it, we live in “instant gratification” type society.
    That said, I also agree with the previous commenter. Credit cards can be a great tool if used responsibly. They provide convenience and purchase protection. Some cards offer extra warranty, travel insurance and other benefits. You will have a hard time renting a car if you don’t have a credit card.
    Credit cards have also allowed my family to travel for pennies on a dollar.
    The key is to try to be self-disciplined and spend only what you would with cash in hand. I know it’s easier said than done.

    • We have debit cards instead of credit cards. I can count on one hand the number of times they get used during the month. We have been married for 3 years, and never had a credit card during that time. We use debit cards to rent cars and everything else that “requires” a credit card. But in the long run, I find that using cash as much as possible keeps our bank account happy, and when the cash is gone we stop spending. We too are trying to get out of debt.

      • Sarah, point taken. Credit cards are definitely not for everyone. I totally agree with you there! You should do what works for you. I hope you get rid of your debt soon, sounds like you are on your way there.
        I do stand by my previous comment, though. While you can rent a car with debit card (thanks for clearing that up), most credit cards provide perks. Some give primary coverage, which means you don’t have to file a claim with your auto insurance. That will help keep your premium low in case something happens.
        Also, there are cards that are great for renewal benefits. Case in point: Chase IHG MasterCard. You pay $49 annual fee, and in exchange you get free night certificate, good anywhere in that chain. There are some beachfront Holiday Inn hotels in Florida that go for $300 per night in high season.
        My point is: Credit cards are not evil, the problem is with how people use them.

  • Susan says:

    Aubrey said exactly what I was going to say. Using credit cards does NOT equal being in debt. They’re only dangerous for people who can’t control their spending. And carrying cash has so many risks. If it’s lost or stolen, it is gone. With credit or debit cards, you have recourse.

    I use credit cards regularly but don’t carry balances. The benefits are great.

  • Stormy says:

    While I am very happy for the author, that she was able to get out of the huge debt she put herself into, I once again feel I must say that not everyone who uses credit cards uses them as irresponsibly as the author of this piece obviously did.

    She states — “I loved the rush I’d get purchasing a brand new Coach bag. I loved spoiling my loved ones with expensive gifts that were well above my pay grade.” I have had credit cards since I was 16 (a long time ago!), and I have NEVER bought a Coach bag, I have NEVER bought gifts that I could not afford.

    I have also NEVER paid one penny in interest, as I pay off my credit cards in full every month. My mortgage is completely paid off (years early), I have never taken out a car loan, and my child attended private grade school, private prep school, and private college, all completely paid for and without my taking out any loans. My credit cards are all rewards cards, and the rewards allow me to “buy” many necessities and gifts for free.

    I fully understand that not everyone can do this, that some people might not have the self-control to use credit cards wisely, and obviously this article is meant for them. I am just very tired of having articles such as this assume there are only two kinds of people — those who do not use credit cards and those who use them irresponsibly. Not everyone who has a glass of wine is an alcoholic, and not everyone who uses credit cards gets into $55,000 debt as this author did.

  • “Debt is dumb; cash is king.” Even our kids know this tagline of Dave Ramsey’s and remind us often. It’s TRUE!

    Thank you for sharing your story! I love reading and hearing about other peoples success in dumping debt!

  • Jennifer says:

    Wow. I’m trying to get there. another R10000 and I’m all done.
    God is good. I was retrenched and found a job again within a month, so those beneficiary payments have gone a long way to freeing me. With God’s grace I’ll be able to stay this way. Just need to work out how to earn enough to resign.
    God knows my heart. He will make a way! Isn’t He amazing.

  • Tshanina says:

    Yay Jessi! I’m so excited for you!!!

    I know you feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off of your shoulders now that your debt is gone. :o)

  • Stormy says:

    While I am very happy for the author that she was able to get out of the $55,000 debt she caused, I must respectfully say that not everyone is so irresponsible with credit cards.

    The author states “I loved the rush I’d get purchasing a brand new Coach bag. I loved spoiling my loved ones with expensive gifts that were well above my pay grade.” I have had credit cards since I was 16 (many years!), and have NEVER bought a Coach bag, have NEVER bought gifts out of my price range. I have also NEVER paid a cent in interest, as I pay my credit cards in full every month. In addition, since they are reward cards, I manage to “buy” both necessities and gifts with the rewards I earn for free.

    While I realize that not everyone can use credit cards wisely and applaud the author for realizing she is one of those people, I have a problem with articles that assume there are only two kinds of people — those who do not use credit cards and those who use them irresponsibly. Just as everyone who drinks a glass of wine is not necessarily an alcoholic, not everyone who uses credit cards is in debt.

  • Diane says:

    Congratulations! We are debt free completely as well. There is a Target employee I won’t check out with because he’s so agressive with pushing their card.

    • Sarah says:

      Target actually has 2 red card options. We use the debit option. I am sold on it because it’s instant cash back on things I buy anyway. Target is our nearest store, and I go there for almost all our necessities as well as some groceries and clothes. I’m never spending any money I don’t have in the bank, and every penny of our debit purchases are recorded and accounted for on our budget. There’s actually a smart way to use the red card. No, I don’t work for Target. I just like paying a little less for stuff I’d buy anyway. 🙂

      • Kelly says:

        Yes, I agree. We have the target debit card. You can also get free shipping with it, which is awesome for us because the nearest target is 30-40 min away.

      • Sarah says:

        Just because studies show a correlation between two things, doesn’t mean they are a given. We actually used to use cash and found ourselves spending more, being less accountable, and not always being completely sure where our money went. Especially since we shop a lot online for things like clothes, toiletries, and gifts, we found ourselves struggling to keep up with the cash at times. Having to make change and take the exact correct amount to the bank to cover online transactions, and having to take 3+ hours a couple times a month to figure out the cash denominations needed, get to the bank, get back home and divide the money up ended up being a big stress. Using debit and an online budgeting/transaction tracking tool has helped us tremendously in moving forward in our financial goals. I think it’s great that there are options for money management, and that people can make their own choices about what works for them! 🙂 It’s probably best to be glad that you’ve found what works for you, and not have to assume that those who use debit or credit cards are overspending. It really all comes down to self-control and personal priorities, no matter which method you choose to manage money! 🙂

  • MCL says:

    I am debt-free AND a credit card user. The two are not mutually exclusive. Do what works best for your family. I love the rewards I get with my credit card.

  • Brandi says:

    I’m a bit bothered by adults who say that NO ONE should have a credit card because THEY are not responsible enough to use one without spending more than they have. We are debt free except mortgage and we use credit cards for every purchase and pay them off every month. We’ve taken 2 free trips to Disneyworld (flown, nice hotel, tickets, the works) with our credit card rewards. The problem is not credit cards, it’s spending more money than you have!

    • Laura says:

      I completely agree! I’ve had a credit card since I was 19–so 14 years. In that time, I’ve never charged anything I couldn’t pay for right away, and I’ve always paid the balance in full each month. The company hasn’t earned one penny in interest from me.
      Instead, I receive several hundred dollars worth of rewards each year, just from charging things I’d be buying anyway, such as paying for gas and our Internet bill.
      My family of five has been saving these rewards for almost 3 years, and we’ll be taking a seven-day cruise next year, including spending money for extras, for $0 out of pocket thanks to rewards points.
      In fact, I would go as far as to say that credit card rewards actually HELPED my family become debt-free. For a few years, we redeemed our rewards for cash, and applied this as extra payments to help us pay off our student loans 10 years early.

    • Susan says:

      I completely agree! I use credit cards routinely, and I don’t carry balances. They can be dangerous for people like the author of this post who aren’t responsible. But for those who are, the rewards are great.

  • Great post! Yes! It must feel so good to have a goal, complete the goal and be able to look back on that moment and know that you’ll never be there again. So proud of you guys!

  • Cheri Read says:

    Great post! I too am working toward the debt-free dream. Can’t wait to pop over to your site and see how you dumped all your debt!

  • Nice post Jessi.

    I think there’s a big difference in mindset when you use plastic rather than cash. Cash is tangible. You feel differently when you hand it over. At least, I do. I know that when I use my credit card, it’s just numbers on a statement and I’m much more likely to spend more than if I’m only able to spend what’s in my wallet.

    Credit cards can be useful but store cards are a trap. Even if you clear the balance each month, you’re more likely to spend impulsively. In debt or not, that’s never a great idea.

    • Susan says:

      Just because “you” would be more likely to spend impulsively doesn’t mean everyone else would. I have store cards, and I don’t use them impulsively.

    • Aubrey says:

      “Even if you clear the balance each month, you’re more likely to spend impulsively.”
      NOT TRUE for everyone.
      I tried the cash-only system for a while and found I spent more. I didn’t track my expenses as well and got to the end of the month with nothing/very little left in my cash envelopes whereas when I use credit I can track it better and always (and I really mean always!) end up with money left over in my budget at the end of the month.
      What works for some doesn’t work for others!

  • Stacy says:

    I just want to say WAY TO GO!!! 🙂
    My husband worked in the credit card business for years and while SOME people can use credit cards responsibly, the sad truth is that most people cannot behave with them. It’s better to be safe and use cash.
    Just wait till you pay off that house!!! Woohoo! I hope you’ll come back and post about that too! 🙂
    Romans 13:8

  • Meghan says:

    I followed the link to her site and browsed around. It’s interesting to see other people’s budgets (he he- kinda strange!)
    It saddens me that they’ve decided not to tithe to the church right now… I hope they revisit that decision. All money comes from God and a tithe is just giving back from our first fruits.
    We use credit cards responsibly (there are actually a lot of perks to CC) and are also debt free (other than the mortgage) on one income.
    Thanks for sharing the article! 🙂

  • Hannah Beth Reid says:

    This is a great perspective. Thank you!

  • Congratulations on becoming debt-free. That’s a huge accomplishment! I also get a bit annoyed at pushy sales people who promote their store’s credit card. I understand, though, that it is their job and that they, in some cases, may earn commissions from it. I like that you found a polite way to tell them no and explain why.

  • Jen says:

    I needed this. I’m a “self made nightmare” and I hate it. I needed encouragement that every small step and every sacrifice is worth it.

  • Tracy L says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure each family handles credit differently and they have to decide what is right for them. Although, we were debt free for years until we took on some student loan debt for our kids college. It’s much easier to throw a few extra treats in the cart at Sam’s Club when you know it’s going on the card and not paying cash. We are fortunate to be able to do that but if you aren’t careful (and sometimes we aren’t) it can add up. I sometimes have to say cash only for a few weeks to make sure we don’t get into an uncomfortable situation. Good luck everyone!

  • Jamie says:

    Wow, I had a completely different reaction than many of the other commenters here. I think it was awesome that she said that! It’s hard to communicate tone in type, so this could have easily been said with an excited, proud-of-yourself tone rather than a snotty holier-than-thou attitude. Those few words awakened a desire to be debt free yourself, which is awesome! She helped to change you life by saying that rather than a simple no, thank you.

    What we say and do in our day to day life can really make a difference if we think about what we are doing.

    And a big fat way to go on making your own debt free journey! I can’t wait to join you over there.

  • Congratulations on your accomplishments!

  • Patti says:

    I love the ‘we’re debt free, no thank you’ response. Ever since we did our debt-free scream (6 years ago as of this November) it seems every store tries to sell me on their card. It’s so tempting to say yes and think I’ll be one of those ‘super people’ who can be diligent and never carry a balance. But I’ve done a lot of soul-searching in my years on this planet and can be honest with myself. I need the envelope system and ‘ouchie’ moment Dave Ramsey talks about when paying cash.
    To those ‘super people’ I tip my hat. Good for you, but I’m honest with myself and happy to be debt-free and credit-card free.

  • What an inspiring post, Jessi! (And how nice to see you here – congrats!)

  • Vickey says:

    This year alone I have disputed three large purchases because the store where I purchased an item would not return my phone calls nor would they fix the item I purchased. No effort was made by the 3 companies until I disputed the purchase with the credit card company. Consumer protection is why I use credit cards. I also search out 0% interest when I purchase on credit. And then pay off the balance the next month or soon after. My goal for 2016 is to pay down as much of my mortgage as possible and to pay it off within 5 years.

  • Meg says:

    Ouch, some of you are brutal!! I don’t know debt statistics, but I’m assuming … Yes assuming … That most people these days just have a hard time with credit cards. I myself have flip flopped through my life with credit cards. I’ve had good and bad relationships with them. Many many people around me have all sorts of material things and they sure aren’t paying cash or paying it off at the end of the month. If you’re super responsible with your credit cards then great …. But there are so many others who really need the motivation to get right. No, her $55,000 was not dumb credit card debt from buying coach bags. Lord have mercy. There were other things such as vehicle, student loans, etc. Not everyone is perfect and reading her blog she’s the first to admit … I think it was a great message for those who needed it. For everyone else, congratulations on being being super responsible.

  • Latoya S says:

    Wow, this is the best thing I’ve read all day! Yes, this is something I inspire to say one day as well, “we’re debt free.” Thanks for sharing this story, it’s one that needs to be told more often!

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