Businesses have stopped taking checks, and we’re constantly being bombarded with offers for credit cards that offer low introductory interest rates and rewards point programs of some sort. Some experts even tell us jumping on the credit bandwagon to build up a healthy credit score is a necessity (nowadays it’s real easy to get a free credit score). It seems as if we are being pushed towards swiping a card to make our purchases.
But is it possible to ignore all of this and live a credit card free life? My friend Brad Chaffee, founder of this site, is dedicated to living a credit free, cash only lifestyle. While he has gone to great lengths to do exactly that, his view would be considered extreme by many. But it begs the question, are there really people that make their way through life without having to use credit cards? I searched far and wide and actually found people that have done just that. They haven’t had a house or car payment in years, and their retirement accounts are fully funded for decades of worry free finances. Who are these people? Let me introduce you to my parents, Ron and Sharon Pizel.
My dad managed a lumber yard company for decades, while my mother worked in retail as a cashier. We were always smack dab in the middle of the middle class. When I was growing up, I watched my parents try to squeeze every ounce of value out of the money they earned. Generic soda, patched knees on jeans, and having to explain why there was a cover on every piece of furniture in our house did nothing for my social status. Eating at a restaurant was reserved for very special occasions, and when we did go out for a meal, McDonalds or Pizza Hut was as high class as we got. Even though they’ve been a two car family as long as I can remember, the number of vehicles they’ve owned during my lifetime is a single digit.
I was recalling some of these memories with my mom this weekend when she said, “But we always found the money for important things when we needed it.”
Like the monthly payment they made for five years to allow my brother and I to have braces on our teeth. I can’t even imagine the financial (and emotional) strain they went through maintaining two homes so I could stay put (with my mom) for my senior year in high school even though my dad was forced to switch jobs and had moved across the state. Both my brother and I graduated from college debt free, because my parents filled in the financial gap that we couldn’t cover by working, or through grants and scholarships.
They did it all without credit cards. They did it through hard work, analyzing every purchase with extreme scrutiny, and taking the very best care of every possession so they would last as long as possible. They did have a mortgage, but always paid more than the minimum. My mom recalled the only time they had a car payment was when they had both my brother and I in college at the same time, and that lasted less than a year.
They did it by paying themselves first, without ever hearing that phrase. It was just the right thing to do. My mom described to me how she has one checking account, but she keeps track of different “funds” inside that checking account including Car Repair, Entertainment, House Improvement and Property Taxes. My dad is content to let my mom handle the financial details, but when it’s time to put an application of fertilizer on the lawn, he asks mom if the money is there.
It always is.
At the age of 70, my dad just “retired” for the second time, but still works in a part time as a handyman. He just can’t sit still. My mom works as a cashier at a grocery store holding on to her part time income as long as she can to ensure they can be comfortable in retirement. They love to travel and in recent years have been to Alaska, Europe, and Hawaii. My father sent me a message via Facebook from their hotel in Honolulu (they don’t have cell phones) to let me know what a great time they were having.
My parents are my financial heroes. Not because they’re rich (they’re not), but because they understand the value of a dollar, make the most of it, and appreciate and enjoy everything they have.
My mom didn’t know her credit score, but she was interested in finding out what it was. We hopped on the internet and found it was 739. The only negative remark that was dragging her score down was a lack of open credit accounts. She just shrugged her shoulders.
Why should she care?