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No, I Don’t Think Credit Cards Are Evil

No, I Don't Think Credit Cards Are Evil

My interview with John Stossel aired on Fox Business and in that interview, I shared how I have lived for 33 years without a credit card.

Most people don’t believe that this is possible. But it’s true.

I’ve never had a credit card and I’ve never had debt. Yes, for real.

My grandpa raised my dad to never go into debt for anything but a mortgage. My dad not only embraced this belief, but then he took it further. When I was a young girl, my parents paid off their mortgage and began saving everything they possibly could in order to buy land and build a house in the country.

After a few years of scrimping and saving, they sold our house, we moved to an old trailer out on land they had bought, and my dad was the General Contractor for our debt-free house-building project.

Seeing the sacrifices that my parents made and seeing the freedom that being debt-free gave them and the stress it relieved from their lives inspired me to commit to never go into debt.

My husband and I went into marriage with an audacious goal for him to go through law school debt-free. This was a much harder to actually follow through with than we could have imagined, but our firm commitment to a debt-free lifestyle inspired us to make many short-term sacrifices in order to achieve long-term benefits.

After law school, we decided to continue our commitment to living debt-free and we set another big goal: to pay cash for our first house. We knew that if we continued to live very simply and save as much as we possibly could, this goal could be a reality in the next 5 years (it helped that we lived in Kansas at the time, where housing prices are very reasonable).

Hitting that goal in less than three years was almost 100% thanks to the huge increase in income we saw from this blog. However, we both feel like had we not set the goal in the first place and had we not been so committed to a debt-free lifestyle, we would never have been so inspired to work very hard at growing this online business nor as motivated to think outside the box and look for passive income streams.

No, I Don't Think Credit Cards Are Evil

We look back at the last 12 years of our married life and have zero regrets that we’ve chosen to live debt-free. It’s allowed us much more flexibility to make business changes and life changes — like our big move to Nashville last year. It’s also allowed us to be able to continue to live simply so that we can invest our money in priorities that matter to us as well as be in a position to give generously.

I prefer to use cash and rarely swipe a debit card for anything — except for online business purchases, gas purchases, and travel expenses.

Some people think that I’m dumb for choosing this lifestyle. I’ve been called names. I’ve been told I was crazy. I’ve been reprimanded over and over again for missing out on so many credit card rewards.

And here’s the thing: I own that I’m weird. I own that the choices I’ve made personally and the choices our family has made are not for everyone.

But I hope that our story challenges you to think outside the box. I want to inspire people to not just fall in line with whatever everyone else does or feel like debt has to be a normal part of everyone’s everyday existence. Because it doesn’t have to be.

No, I Don't Think Credit Cards Are Evil

You don’t need to do what we’ve done. You may choose to use a credit card or get a mortgage. You might have found a way to meticulously track your credit card expenditures so that you are actually spending less and earn big rewards that you use to further lower your costs.

You might find that you have more self-discipline when you swipe a card than when you carry around cash. Instead of using cash, you might choose to track your spending through an app like Mint.com, EveryDollar.com, or YouNeedaBudget.com.

I’m a big advocate of doing what works for you. And if you’re responsible with your spending and you have found a system that works for your family and keeps you organized and (mostly!) stress-free, than I say to stick with it.

But if you are struggling financially and you are feeling discouraged and disorganized when it comes to finances, I encourage you to not just keep doing whatever it is that you’re currently doing. If you want to see change in your life and finances, you have to do something different than what you’re currently doing.

If you’re new here, I’d love to for you to sign up for our daily email newsletter here where I share money-saving advice, tips, tricks, and great deals. In addition, if you’re looking for practical ways to save more money, check out my series on 52 Different Ways to Save $100 Per Year.

My passion is to challenge people to live with intention in all areas of your life and finances. You aren’t stuck, unless you choose to be. So begin today to make wise financial choices. Be willing to make those short-term sacrifices. Be okay with going against the grain — even if others think you’re weird.

Your hard work and effort and sacrifices will pay off. And I’ll be here cheering you all the way!

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57 Comments

  • Shawna says:

    I wish we could pay cash for a home. We live in the Bay Area. We paid a little over 700k for a 1500 sq ft 3 bed 2 bath home. That is CHEAP in the bay area.

    I’m curious to know how much you paid for your first home. I bet it was less than our down payment!!!!

    Love your site. Thanks for all you do to help us save money.

    • Diana says:

      You can look at her “We Paid Cash” series, she has all the details over there, I believe.

    • Kristy says:

      We just bought our first home (in Kansas) a year ago. It’s just a small 3 bedroom 1 bath house with unfinished basement (which you really want if you live here). We got our house for $87,500.

  • Marie says:

    We live internationally. There is NO way (due to residency rules) we could live without a US-based credit card. I am SO grateful that I had a credit card before, and I knew how to use it responsible.

    Different lives and lifestyles require different rules. There is no “one size fits all” in this.

    • Marie says:

      (And to note- we have ZERO debt of any kind)

      • Andrea says:

        if you don’t have debt, good for you! (I was in debt for most of my adult life – and I have been debt-free 15 years!) – I would tell people NOT to use credit cards

    • Aubrey says:

      How true!
      My first job out of college was overseas. I never got a credit card in college, despite “amazing” offers coming constantly from the credit card companies. When I got my job overseas I knew I needed one, if for nothing more than emergencies. But, because I had no credit history and was no longer a student I couldn’t qualify for one – even though by then I had a good paying job! I had to get my first credit card with my dad also listed on it – and learned an important lesson (at least for me!) to keep one credit card current at all times so that it’s available if ever needed (think….needing to evacuate from a foreign country due to an emergency)

  • Julie S. says:

    I love this post! Thanks for sharing, I really have enjoyed your “We Paid Cash” series especially about buying your home with cash. It was very inspirational, so few have done it and I appreciate your sharing it with us readers.

    I have been a long time reader and I am loving the direction the posts are taking lately. Your honesty about struggles in friendships, with being “real”, and your sharing about your health etc all makes it feel like we are sitting across a table from one another somehow.

    I know it isn’t easy to do what you do, but I appreciate it very much. You have certainly impacted my life, and affected our focus and goals. Plus, I get up earlier now thanks to you! lol I think I have all your books too!

  • Kari says:

    Such encouraging words! What an example you are, to us all, that it can be done. My husband and I are living debt-free. In fact ,we made the decision to sell our home a year ago, to fund a new business, instead of taking out a loan. There is so much freedom in knowing we aren’t tied to any debt. As you stated so well…we have definitely “gone against the grain!”

  • jacqueline says:

    You inspire me constantly. While my friends look down at us for loving below our means and not settling into a home…I know we are doing the right thing. We cant wait to buy land and pay cash for the home we build. I could never have a mortgage!!

  • I’ve always been so inspired by the fact that you’ve never had debt! As someone that did the compete opposite of you and is now working her way through being weird and journeying towards debt-freedom, THANK YOU for this beautiful reminder that even though others don’t get it, we do and that’s what matters.

  • Crissy says:

    Awesome! I am 42 and never had credit card and no debt except mortgage and that will be paid soon! Keep up the good work!

  • Lori L. says:

    My husband and I have been debt-free for 20 years, we also pay cash for everything. We were very, very poor when we first got married. We built our first house ourselves, my husband is very handy and a hard worker. We sold that house, for a profit after living there for 8 years. We built our second house and had to only borrow a little bit of money, we paid that off in a few years and have been debt-free every since. Our four kids are grown now with homes of their own. They are all very frugal, we taught them from very young to be careful with their money! It’s so nice to be in our early 50’s and not have to worry about paying loans off. I do tend to spoil my 10 grandkids a little! ?

  • Diana says:

    Such an encouraging post! I am from India and while the interest rates are way low over there and most of the time the Govt writes your debt off over there, I was shocked to see how the systems works over here, thanks to your blog posts and comments from your readers. I came to the US with my husband in 2011 and by God’s pure grace I found you dear Crystal. Without this awesome blog of yours, I would have totally messed up our lives. A Big Thank You to all that you do! May God continue to bless you, your family and everything you put your hands into!

  • Victoria says:

    I so agree that it comes down to choice. Living within your means looks different for everyone. Yes, it means we don’t spend more than what we make but how we spend it is going to differ due to our values and priorities. I have this conversation with my 3 teens over and over. They see their friends families have different things than we do and ask “how come we don’t have that ?” I answer with “priorities and values” we are all given so much money and we all spend it according to our priorities and values. We don’t have less than their friends we just have chosen to spend our money on different things that express what we value.

  • Kristen Lanese says:

    Love your blog, have been following you for a few years now. In this article you hit home on something you said..”you own your decisions”! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this. I think we live in a society where many have forgotten that we are still the only ones responsible for our day to day living and decisions. I’m teaching a summer curriculum to my 3 kiddos (ranging in age from 6, 8 & 11)
    Enforcing the value of a dollar and how we all work so hard for our money we shouldn’t be persuaded by magazine adds, TV commercials or store billboards telling us what we need and how this is the next big thing that will bring us happiness. We need to take hold of our freedom and I so appreciate how you are always putting posts out there about this. Your blog is like no other, it is honest, selfless and touches on so many topics. Thanks for restoring faith that there are still salt of the earth people out there, who care more about humanity than the good ole’ American dollar! Keep on posting… I’ll keep on reading 🙂

  • I love that you’re “embracing your weirdness”. I think that’s a huge part of chasing any dream, because chances are, at least some of the people you meet won’t get it, and when you’re not rock solid in what you stand for, it’s easy to get derailed by that.

    Thank you for being an encourager.

  • Jessica says:

    I think it comes down to responsibility for the choices that a person makes. My father has never been responsible with money. No college degree and he worked in an auto parts factory for 30 years. He got fired. No pension. Just before that, he’d taken out a personal loan to invest in… scarab jewelry. Yeah. So no job = no money to repay his loan. He hid the evidence from my mother for a while but when gone to help my uncle on a cross-country move, the tangled web he wove caught up with him as a creditor called and my mother answered that day.

    Four years later, my parents are divorced. My father repaid his debt and has gone through 4 more jobs and is now working at a big box store. He has minimal retirement savings. No pension. He’s only 55, so no chance at social security for a while. He pretty much lives hand to mouth while taking care of my disabled sister and working part-time.

    My mother, on the other hand, has always been responsible. She puts money into savings first. She works overtime whenever possible. She pays cash for everything. The lies and irresponsibility played a big role in their divorce, and they had been married for 36 years.

    So I grew up with those divergent influences. My husband and I have had debt at times – my master’s degree and our mortgage. We worked hard and paid the mortgage off in 7 years (instead of 30). We paid off my student loans in 3 years. We do have credit cards but use them responsibly. In my town, the crime rate is high and I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking around with cash. Someone steals your cash, and it’s gone for good. Someone steals your card, you call the company and you’re not liable for charges.

    I do get irked though when people don’t take responsibility for their own financial problems. It’s not the credit card company’s fault or anybody else’s!

  • Maryalene says:

    I love this post! However, I do think it’s important to note that having a credit card doesn’t necessarily equal being in debt. Lots of people use cards and pay off the balance every month.

  • Beth says:

    Thanks for this. I kind of grew up so similar to you and adopted the thinking that credit cards were so evil. And well now I have car insurance that is through the roof because I have no credit score, so I’m having to swipe a card. It literally hurts every time I do it ;). I’m learning that I can still be responsible and frugal with a credit card.

  • Carrie says:

    Our only debt is a mortgage as well. I do have two credit cards…both are kept at home though. We occasionally put something on them and pay them off when the bill comes. We have also bought appliances with “same as cash programs” and paid them off within 6 months. When we bought our house we were told having no credit is worse than bad credit, so we do things periodically to establish credit. We don’t have car loans (I don’t think cars hold enough value to go into debt for them).

  • Angie Marcum says:

    I really enjoy your blog and have followed you for a long time. I, now have my own blog which is just pretty much starting out. We struggle at times, but are working on trying to get out of debt. I hope we can save up cash to purchase my husband a vehicle in a couple years when my vehicle will be paid off. I love all the ideas you come up with. I loved your goals series and trying to do much more with that and I also have followed Flylady the last few years which in your new series you had used some of her ideas she stresses. Thanks for being here and encourage myself and other readers who need to hear what you say even if only a small part applies to our lives. I wanted to know I shared your post this morning.

  • kariane says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I find it inspiring, and it certainly does help me to think differently about money, finances, and debt.

  • mmm says:

    I never had the Visa in my name until my mother in law passed, 9 kids my hubs the oldest and my mil was nearly 90 I paid for the shebang and it was a shebang, I negotiated with the funeral place and I played it well and close to the vest, afterall it was the first purchase on the new Visa in my name..It
    worked out okay, now 15 years later I don’t use it only if I need a heart or lung transplant, the hubs uses it is is paid off immediately, no one needs that unless one has to have an emergency to live then one can use it has bode us well for almost 42 years of marriage..If more people used just cash to buy groceries and absolute neccesities they could buy a nice home in our tiny town and pay off the car and the home quickly, but we live in a society that doesn’t teach their kids anything about the words, plenty, grateful, manners and budgeting whatsoever!!!!

  • Susan says:

    Have been following your blog for several years and love it! Watched you on TV last night & people probably do wonder “how does she live without a credit card”?. My husband & I are in our 60’s & are debt-free except our mortgage. In the past couple years, we paid off credit card debt, are very frugal & live within our means. We do not have any credit cards. We don’t run into a problem without one until PayPal needed one in order to have a check sent to us(built up money thru SavingStar)Anyone know how to get around that?

  • MCL says:

    Of course, credit cards are not evil. I LOVE using credit cards! My husband and I have been married for almost 24 years. We have been debt-free our entire lives except for a 14-year period when we had a 30-year mortgage that we paid off early. We DO NOT buy it if we cannot pay the card in full every month. We have always paid the balance in full. It does take discipline and sacrifice but we love the rewards we get with our cards. I am one of those people who spends more recklessly with cash. So as Crystal says- find out what works for you and when it fails, try another way. But please, don’t feel like using credit cards is somehow evil or bad.

  • I love that you own that you are weird. I do, too. We became debt-free by the time we were 42, and believe me, this would not have been possible without being weird and like you say, people have called us all kinds of other things along the way.

    I totally agree that it takes a commitment to a goal, and then focusing on that goal like a laser beam. Things come up, like they always do, and that may give you a little detour, but keeping focused on that goal can never, ever leave your sight.

    Sounds like we are like-minded…I love being “weird.” Sitting here six months from being debt-free, weird feels pretty good 🙂

    • I should also say…we do use credit cards, but we have never paid one penny of interest. We now have enough air miles from that credit card to take a nice little trip 🙂 I will say, paying off in full, every month, for 18 years takes focus, commitment, and discipline, too, which may not be something that comes as easily for others as it does for my type-A self 😉

  • debbie says:

    I don’t have cable. Is there an online link to the interview? I’d love to see it. I live debt free as well and pay off my card each month. I love how my credit card tracks my spending and those rewards are my fun money! I don’t have a debit card though and have never used an ATM. People think that is weird.

    • We don’t have cable either, but a friend recorded it for us!

      It will be available to view online next week, I believe.

      • Becky says:

        I don’t have cable either, thank you, I’ll be waiting 🙂 Crystal, the negative comments about you are horrible. I believe those types of people are just jealous or your intelligence. I found MSM 6 years ago. I read your posts everyday. God bless you and your family and keep up the great work!

        • Honestly, I get it that the choices we’ve made don’t make sense to a lot of people. Some days, the constant stream of negativity can be discouraging (I usually delete those kinds of comments because I try to keep this place really upbeat and encouraging — not a forum for debate), but there are so many, many more readers who are so positive and encouraging, so that makes it worth the few really negative/harsh comments each day.

          Also, I fully own that that’s part of putting my life out there on the internet and I don’t expect everyone to agree or like what I write. But that doesn’t meant that some times, the sharply critical emails and comments don’t sting at times. So thank you for your kind words and thank you so much for being such a long-time reader!

          • Pauline says:

            I immediately thought that, when reading your post. In trying to aid others, sometimes, the results in feedback, treatment, etc. so isn’t what we expect, is it? That said, important to try to convey the information and do what we can in sharing!

  • Stormy says:

    I agree with you that everyone has to do what works best for them. However, I disagree with the assumption that credit cards = debt.

    I got my first credit card at the age of 16, so while you have not had a credit card in 33 years, I have had cards for over 33 years. In that time, I have never paid one cent in interest, but have received thousands in credit card rewards. I also have no mortgage, no loans for law school, and no loans for my child’s private grade school, private prep school, or private college.

    My cards are automatically paid in full each month, and I try to put everything I can on them — utilities, home and car insurance payments, groceries — to get the most rewards earned.

    We both get to the same place — a debt-free life — just take different roads.

  • Carol says:

    I hope that you would please consider telling us when John posts the show on his website. Thank you for considering this.

    • I will definitely try to remember to do so. I think it’s a week after it airs — so next Friday. But I’ll keep checking his site and let you know when it’s live!

  • Challice says:

    I am twenty-seven years old and I have never owned a credit card either. I am deeply encouraged by this post today because there are some times when you wonder if you are making the right decision for your family. Especially when you feel pressured from all around you about being able to take care of your family should you need to buy something that will need a credit score. Thank you for the post. Keep up the good fight.

  • Alison says:

    I loved reading this post!!! It’s inspiring and encouraging for all of us to do the same. Five years ago I went through a divorce and was trying to raise 3 teenage boys and get them ready for college. One of the things I always kept in the back of my mind was what my mom said to me, “the things that you are used to living with are not so important and that you may have to give up the luxuries you are used to”. I remembered this whenever I thought I needed something and realized I could live without it. I will say that it is rough and is hard to give up things. But I can say that I do not have any debt and am helping my boys establish the same ethics. And that is a great feeling!!!

  • Nancy says:

    Credit cards and debt are not mutually exclusive.

    I have 2 major credit cards that I use for my cell phone bill, gas, groceries, going out and all of my work expenses. The card gets paid off before the bill is due every month and the 1.5-5% cash back that I get back is so nice.

    Not to mention, that having those cards helped me secure an excellent credit rating which saved me thousands on my car loan and will do the same when I get my first mortgage next year.

  • Katherine Anderson says:

    I don’t believe in having credit card debt, but that said I do have one. We use it for all our purchases in place of our debit card. I enter all my purchases into my check register as if I had used my debit card, so when the bill is due, all the money is there. No interest, no debt. We have cash rewards with the card and by doing this we earned enough rewards to buy 4 new tires and pay for 4 nights of our hotel on our recent honeymoon. It does take discipline, but it is worth it for us.

  • April says:

    My husband and I have no debt beyond our mortgage, however, using credit cards allows us to travel all over the world with our children for just about nothing. He is a business owner, so his expenditures are substantial. But using specific rewards credit cards for those expenses, we garner hundreds of thousands of travel rewards points and use them for free flights and hotel nights. Without this option, we would not be able to afford to travel besides a week at the beach each summer, but so far in 2015, we have flown to and stayed for absolutely free in Miami, FL, Cabo san Lucas, Mexico, Williamsburg, VA, and this Friday, eleven days in Maui! Each of these has cost us absolutely nothing more than what we spend for food and activities. No dollars at all for rental cards, hotels, or flights.

    In my view, people throw away many thousands of dollars by not responsibly using credit cards. We pay off our balance every month 100% without exceptions, which is obviously key. Paying interest and fees would turn this into a losing battle, but if you are responsible, credit cards can literally be a ticket to far away places for your family.

    Even if travel is not your interest, many cards pay back 2% of what you spend in cash, so though I get much more value out of my points by leveraging them for travel, at minimum, you toss 2% out the window by using cash.

    Anyway, just another perspective! I sincerely appreciate your “do what works” encouragement. 🙂

  • Antonella says:

    As a long-time reader, what I truly appreciate is your willingness to explore what can be useful for you and your family, apply it, tweak it or ditch it (if necessary): always learning and doing what’s best for y’all.
    This is how greatness is born 🙂
    Keep showing us how to live with intention and not as slaves of what’s “the norm”.
    Hugs from Italy

  • Robyn says:

    Thank you for sharing this! We’ve had our share of ups and downs, but I can testify to the fact that these principles work. Our only debt has been our mortgage, and since graduating from FPU, my husband and I have consistently been saving and working toward goals.

    And we’re getting there. We have breathing room. We’ve been able to take the kids on some really fun vacations, and it feels great to have the freedom to do that.

    I’m just researching online to find a good deal on a hotel, since a friend offered to take our kids overnight next weekend…which means we can go for a quick romantic getaway. I love that our budget allows for this splurge!

    There is no shortcut to where you want to go financially, but if you keep at it, it does pay off!! (Pun intended!)

  • Winona says:

    thank you for this Crystal. I believe credit cards ARE evil. I went bankrupt last year because of them. I hope I never have another. It’s hard living on cash, and I’m barely getting by as a single parent caring for 4 kids. But getting by we are, and while I have no savings at all, I don not have debt. And I hope to remain that way. I don’t think you’re crazy or weird, I think you’re smart, and you inspire me to think and act different. Thank you for that.

  • Stephanie says:

    My journey has been so different. My family did not model good financial decisions and I got myself into debt right away with all those wonderful credit cards in college. Now married our credit is awful, but we are committed to digging ourselves out. It is SO hard and overwhelming. We are taking our first big step by doing something that makes no sense to most people. We are picking up and moving from an area with a high cost of living (NY) to one with a lower cost of living (TN). We are hoping this is our first step to moving towards one day being debt free.

  • Karen says:

    I use a credit card with a cash-back feature, which is paid in full before the due date. I even used it for some home remodeling; paid lump-sum for a discount from the remodeling company, then paid the total before the bill was due. I would NOT do this if I were making monthly payments, though. The cash-back would be negated by the interest charges.

  • Marion says:

    it’s very difficult to rent a car without a credit card- even with a debit card you have a hold or have to make a deposit. Plus a credit card gives you insurance on the rental. Same with hotels, you often will have a large hold on your debit card. Renting in many cities is very competitive and it is difficult to rent if you have no credit history. Just because you have a credit card doesn’t mean you have to have debt.

  • Stephanie says:

    Do you use an envelope system for your cash budget? How to keep your cash organized? I get overwhelmed with paper clips, sticky notes and envelops. I have also tried colored mini binder clips…

    I love it. We follow Dave Ramsey’s plan. We have a budget and it is always a challenge to stick with it at the grocery store.

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