Life is short ... so what are we to do?
First, some background. Pat and I come from very different backgrounds, especially in the way we regard money. In my family, any sort of debt other than a home mortgage was an absolute no-no. Cars were paid for in cash, not on a loan. Credit cards were paid off in full every month. To make sure the credit cards got paid off, any time my parents used a credit card to make a purchase, that charge was entered into the checkbook just as if it were a check. That way, when the credit card bill came, there was always money in the checking account to cover it.
Pat, on the other hand, came from a family in which money wasn’t such an issue. His father ran a lucrative family business, and frugality wasn’t necessary. No matter how much Pat or his mother charged up on their credit cards, there was always sufficient money to cover it.
Now, over the past twenty-some years, I’ve been able to teach Pat some frugality. Up until recently, we’ve never carried a credit-card balance. The problem arose when we were building Five O’Clock Somewhere – there were major cost overruns, such as when the septic system that was supposed to cost about $5000 ended up well over $10,000, and when the provision of electricity to the lot was supposed to be about $2000, and it came in at more than $8000. Not having any other ready source of short-notice cash to cover the overruns, we put them on the credit cards, with the idea that we could pay them off in a few months.
Alas, the paying-off has been more difficult. It seems that no matter what we do, the balance owed remains the same. We keep promising ourselves that each month we’ll pay off more than we charge. But that’s not happening.
The good news is that if we didn’t have any credit balance, we would never have a credit balance. Every month, we do pay at least as much as we charge. If the existing balance owed were to disappear, we would never again be in debt. The bad news is that we do have that existing debt, and it’s not going away.
Because of that debt, I have been extremely critical of things Pat wants to do that cost money. My anti-debt upbringing makes me want to forbid any major expenditures until we’re not in debt any more. But Pat is accustomed to being able to do whatever he wants without worrying about costs and debt. When he chose to buy airline tickets and take a trip to California to join the sailing club on an excursion to Catalina, I was most upset. I really did feel that such a junket wasn’t appropriate until we got the credit cards paid off. Even if the excursion is immensely fun, fun is not a reason to continue to keep the ruinous credit-card debt.
When I confront Pat with such arguments, he generally counters with something to the effect that he wants to be able to do these things and experience these adventures before he dies. Before he dies? He’s only 46! He’s got plenty of time!
But two events within the past week have at least a bit altered my perception. First was when a colleague of mine died. She went home from work Thursday with what seemed to be a bad cold. Monday morning, she was dead. She was 36. She’d been fighting cancer, and after a long battle the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. She’d decided to stay at work, on a job that for her was truly a calling, for as long as she could. She remained on the job, in a groundbreaking adult-literacy program that she had helped to create. But last week, her number was up.
Then this weekend I heard about a couple who are members of one of the sailing clubs we belong to. They were planning their perfect retirement – because they had managed money well, they were going to retire early, in their mid-50s. They were going to move to Corpus Christi, where they’d already arranged to have a nice, big boat in a great location, and they were working on the finishing touches of the retirement plan. Then he died. Suddenly, unexpectedly, apparently from a heart attack, he went to sleep one night and then didn’t wake up the next morning.
So while I’m still plagued by worries about continuing to carry that credit-card debt, now I also get that guilt trip – what if I deny this particular pleasure until later, and then something happens so that later never comes?
Imagine the MasterCard commercial: “Eating, drinking, and being merry in case you die: Priceless.”