By Jeff Davidson
Do you remember your high school and college history classes? Can you recall any nation that accumulated huge deficits over a prolonged period of time, lacked a concerted effort towards reducing these deficits, yet was able to sustain economic prosperity for its residents? Can a nation (or a person, you in particular) run up huge deficits and expect no consequences?
It’s likely that you have some financial debts. For decades, millions of people have accumulated personal debt with credit cards, loans, and other forms of financing. Such sustained deficit spending eventually erodes a person’s ability to prepare for the future, and worse, to capitalize on current opportunities.
What’s all this have to do with experiencing what I call “breathing space”? The more you owe, the more enslaved you are! In The New Politics of Consumption, Dr. Juliet Schor said that chances are, you’ve been taught to consume much more than you need.
As time passes, I find—and you might share this insight—that the more material possessions I own, the less I feel in control of my time. During my college days, and early 20s, when I had little, I felt the most free.
Feeling in Control
Right now, how would it feel if all your credit cards were paid off? How would it feel if you paid your monthly rent or mortgage several months in advance? How would it feel if your car loan was paid off?
How would it feel if you were actually able to pay some of your utility bills for months in advance? For most people it would feel great. You’d feel in control of your time.
I know the arguments about losing the interest I could earn if I let my money sit in the bank instead of paying the electric bill three months in advance. Ah, but wait.
A month after I’ve paid my electric bill for three months in advance, I receive the next month’s bill. Guess what? It shows that I have a huge credit and that nothing is due. I smile when I see these kinds of bills, and so will you.
Put the Breaks on Spending
To reduce your personal financial debts, I suggest placing a moratorium on spending, regardless of what items entice you, until your credit cards have zero balances.
Concurrently, there is value in paying others to do that which you don’t like to do. These are separate issues. Paying for something that frees up your time is a life benefit. Paying for material things that you don’t need, and certainly don’t save you time, might be satisfying but ultimately can be draining.
Here are some exercises for controlling your checkbook and winning back your time:
1. If you pay bills by check, write out checks to pay bills in advance of their due dates.
Then, keep an advance file with a folder for each day of the month. Place the check in a sealed, addressed, and stamped envelope. Then put the envelope in the folder of the day it’s to be mailed.
This way, the money is allocated in advance in your checkbook, and your bills are paid on time. If your checking account pays interest, you don’t lose interest.
If you pay bills online, pay a month in advance or a larger sum than is currently due. The feeling of being even a little ahead will be worth it.
2. Once in a while, overpay the balance on your credit cards or pay early.
This gives you the aforementioned psychological boost when you see a credit on your next statement, and gives you a good reputation with your creditors, which comes in handy.
3. Keep a stick-on note in your checkbook or a digital reminder for your online accounts as an immediate reference that lists what’s coming in this month and what needs to go out.
This provides you with a running mini-cash flow list you can refer to at any time. Update it regularly.
If you pay online, develop the habit of reviewing your account a little more often to detect opportune times to pay in advance. Note: If you pay via automatic bank withdraw, then you don’t really have this option.
4. Review your old checks and see what you paid to whom for what.
Do the same thing with your monthly credit card statements. Put a red mark next to all those expenditures that you didn’t need to make, or that you could have done without.
5. Now, considering expenditures on the horizon, which ones can you do without?
As Roger Dawson, author of The Confident Decision Maker, says, “It doesn’t matter how much money you’re making; if you’re spending more than you take in each month, you’re headed for trouble.”