You know. Like they tell you NOT to do.
I have mentioned before that I paid for my big trip to Africa largely on credit. And I said I’d get into that later, so here I am. I know conventional wisdom states that the last thing in the world you’re supposed to do when Sorting Out Your Life is to solve the problem by paying in credit, so this is going to be wildly unpopular advice. But I say you know yourself well enough to know what you can handle financially as well as physically and emotionally and all the other -lys.
That trip was something I really wanted to do. I knew it would be a game-changer (though not precisely how so). I also knew that I would be able to pay it off by the end of the year because I had a job to handle it and I did the math.
I’m not at all saying that you should put every little thing you want to do on a credit card just because you want it. But cards exist for a reason, and I think that gets skipped over because this financial expert or that doesn’t believe normal people can handle it anymore.
There are very few people who keep their credit immaculate. It’s hard. There are surprises in life and there are impulses you can’t or don’t want to ignore. Until about 3 years ago I almost never carried a balance, and then life threw me a curveball during which I learned that A: no emergency fund is ever really big enough, and B: it’s impossible to be prepared for EVERYTHING, no matter how much of a control freak you are.
The last thing I needed right then was the guilt of not being able to keep my credit super-clean. That’s way too much pressure. The cards were there to pull the weight when I could not. Your best intentions are no match for the reality of life, and that’s why these things exist. Give yourself a friggin’ break. I wish current me could have told past me that, but, you know, LEARNING.
Of course it’s a privilege to have the flexibility of credit, and abusing it is just going to stress you out or get you in trouble in the long-run, but there is a balanced view to take here. It’s just money. You can make more money. Not that it’s always easy, but you can.
You can’t, however, make chances. You can’t turn back time. (Even with money, as Jay Gatsby has so shown us.)
Since that’s all the case, I believe that since you can lean on credit in rough times, you should absolutely be able to make use of it for the good times as well.
I could have waited an extra 6 months to book that trip to Africa if I wanted to be ultra-responsible. But it was meant to be a celebration and a reward and all sorts of other intangible things as well as a trip. It was the right time, so I went for it. And I spent a lot more money than I expected to while actually ON the trip. (It’s hard to say no to things you may never get a chance to do again. So no regrets.) As I throw about £300 at that balance every month, it doesn’t feel too bad, because I remember what it’s for.
I don’t want to spend my whole life catching up to my credit balance though, so that’s why I AM waiting the extra year for the Trans-Siberian. That and it’s not really smart to go off for months at a time without a good cushion of cash.
If you can pay up front for these things, it’s always better. But if money is the ONLY thing holding you back, and you can come up with a workable plan to manage that when you get back, that is what credit is made for. There is such thing as using it responsibly. Trust yourself.
…and think about getting the frequent flier mile bonus card BEFORE you spend loads of money on going to Africa, so you don’t, like me, come back and kick yourself on the could’ve-been-billions-of-bonus-miles-on-top-of-your-amazing-holiday you just missed out on. But more on that some other time.