What Kind Of People Live Without Credit Cards?

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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. 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?

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35 Responses to “What Kind Of People Live Without Credit Cards?”

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  1. Brad Chaffee says:

    Dude I freaking LOVE your mom and dad!! What an awesome and inspiring story! Thank you so much for sharing!

    Your parents are MY HEROES!! 😀

    I love this comment the most: “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?”

    Exactly!! They’ve lived their life based on their needs not on their credit score and what’s even cooler is that her score is above 700 without even trying to maintain it. Kind of makes you wonder what people are doing when they obsess over their credit scores.


    Great post Travis! Maybe even one of my favorites from you dude! All your articles are awesome but this one touched a special place in my heart. 😀

    • Travis says:

      When I came up with the idea for the post, I immediately thought of you, Brad….I thought you might like this one. You’re absolutely right – they have indeed lived their life based on needs -not wants or their credit rating. I explained to my mom that the better your score, the better interest rate you can get on loans. She didn’t know that…..but then again she never needed to know that either a.) they don’t finance things often and b.) because their way of life always qualifies them for the “good rate.” Glad you liked the post, buddy!

  2. Love this post, and the ideas behind it. In this respect we could all do to be a bit more “old fashioned” 😉

    • Travis says:

      I agree, Lauren. My parents really did their best to instill the same kind of perspective in me as I was growing up. I had a paper route when I was 10 years old and got $5.35 every two weeks – they made me put $3.00 in a savings account. Save first….spend what’s left over. Somewhere over time I lost my way…..but I’m back now and relearning how to handle my finances modeled after my parents!

  3. My financial heroes: YOUR mom and dad 🙂 Awesome, awesome, awesome! I have been credit-card free for over 5 years now and will do everything in my power to keep it that way. Travis, thanks for sharing with us a piece of your personal life.

    • Travis says:

      You’re so welcome, Veronica! It’s great to hear you’re credit card (debt) free and wanting to keep it that way. As I was sitting on my counter last night talking with my mom (my parents were in town for a visit), I couldn’t help but think that if I had been able to have conversations like that with my parents when I was younger, I wouldn’t have ended up in debt.

  4. Scraps says:

    Wow – you lifted my SPIRIT beyond my IMAGINATION.

    Your parents are AWESOME – they must write a post of how they have managed to do so for so many years. It would be an inspiration to me.

    I love this story – jsut let’s you know – it can be done.

    Thank you so much and thank your parents, too.

    • Travis says:

      I’m excited that you were able to get something so positive out of the post, Scraps! I hope that one day I can say that I screwed up, but then I put on my big boy pants and now I live my life just like them. Thanks for your comment!

  5. JMK says:

    Great story, but as always I have a beef with the assumption that using credit cards means you are living beyond your means. They are simply tools for moving money from your account to another. Nothing more, nothing less when used responsibly. If you are a recovering alchoholic or gambler, of course you stay out of the bars and casinos. If you can’t be in possession of a credit card without spending more than you have budgetted, then no you shouldn’t have one.
    Like your parents, we live very frugally and wring every bit of value our of our incomes. We also do virtually all our spending using our credit card. Until the card companies stop offering benefits for doing precisely what I would have done anyway, it would be foolish of me to say no thanks. Why would I voluntarily start paying for my vacation flights when I don’t have to? Our spending plan is worked out a year in advance and with very few exceptions we stick to it. Flying free every summer is just the advantage of making the system work in our favor.

    • Travis says:

      I don’t disagree with you one bit, JMK. I’m one of those people that (currently) cannot have a credit card without abusing it. So, I chose not to carry one anymore.

      I didn’t mean to imply that credit cards are inherently evil. While I do question the tactics of some of the credit card companies, blaming a credit card for debt is like blaming a gun for someone getting hurt.

      I was really trying to point out two things:

      1.) You don’t HAVE to use a credit card to build up a good credit rating. If you think you do you’re focusing on the wrong thing. If you live within your means, and pay your financial obligations consistently on time, your credit rating will take care of itself.

      2.) While there may be some benefits to using credit card reward points, it requires discipline to not overspend and get yourself into debt. That same discipline can be applied towards living within your means without credit cards, and without the temptation to overspend, which can lead to a very satisfying, debt free life.

      While credit cards can be used as a tool for your benefit, they are not required!

      Thanks for sharing your viewpoint, JMK, I always enjoy having you weigh in with your thoughts!

  6. Cynthia Gottfredson says:

    I offically closed all my cards the other month and it feels just right….

    • Travis says:

      I assume you were having some issues with credit cards to cause you to do so, Cynthia? If so, I’d love to hear your story!

      • Cynthia Gottfredson says:

        Yes, I had large credit card bills. At first I was listening to Suzy Orman for a while then move over to Dave Ramsey. He makes a lot of since and makes it easy to listen to him. I now I am on Baby Step two, I closed my credit cards all together. I just have two bills left and should be paid off by December 2013…. WHOOO!!!!

        • Good for you, Cynthia! Good luck on your quest to eliminate your debt. I chose to use a debt relief plan to eliminate my debt, but I have the utmost respect for Dave Ramsey as many people have used his program successfully!

  7. Travis, I think your parents are very very rich and have raised a fine young lad. I also don’t use credit and amazingly can still survive. Even if I am disciplined and can ‘beat the system’ by paying off my credit each month–why would I support a company who holds millions in bondage? It’s like giving slave traders a pat on the back and a sack lunch as the chain gang passes by my home. Plus, studies show those who use credit spend more money than do those with cash.

    • That’s an interesting statistic that I hadn’t heard before (people who use credit spend more). I wonder if that reflects how many people do not have the discipline to use credit cards as a tool correctly and end up overspending. I know I fall into that category……which is why I am working towards eliminating credit cards from my life completely.

      • Cynthia Gottfredson says:

        Dave Ramsey say’s that all the time, When you use your credit cards all the time, you will buy more.

        Here are some nick names for these cards,

        American express credit card = American distress card
        Band of america cards = American Bondage Card.

      • Desiree says:

        From what I understand it’s not due to people not using discipline. Rather it’s more psychological that when people see actual money leaving their wallet it seems more expensive (even if it’s exactly the same price) than if they use a credit card which delays the payment and thus the pain of making a purchase.

        Even though I know this is true, I have to put everything on the card…have to get the airmiles after all! 🙂

        • Travis says:

          I can see that point, Desiree – it doesn’t seem like you’re really spending money when you use a credit card because you don’t see your bank account balance decrease, and there’s not any less money physically in your wallet / purse. I do still think it comes down to discipline though…..you have to have the discipline to associate swiping the card with the spending of real dollars.


          • JMK says:

            Even using credit cards I do see the immediate impact of spending that money. This past Saturday I picked up the weekly groceries, filled up the gas tank and bought my son’s October bus pass. When I got home I updated my spreadsheet and replaced the planned grocery amount with the real number ($2.14 under budget), replaced the planned gas amount with the real number ($3.00 over budget), and marked the bus pass done (planned amount didn’t change). This is all the planned spending for this week. If I had made an unplanned purchase, I would have had to add a row to the spreadsheet to include it, and the balance would update to include the new item. Each Friday I pay off the credit card and transfer all the excess in our account to either retirement savings or make an extra mortgage payment. If there had been an unschedule purchase during the week, the transfer would just be slightly smaller. By updating the spreadsheet after every purchase as if I’d made the payment with cash, I don’t treat my credit card as a bottomless pit of money. I only spend based on what was sitting in the account, same as if I’d used cash or paid be debit. The only difference is now with 1.5 miles per dollar spent, I’m up a couple of hundred miles toward our next trip. I think paying off the card weekly is a big part of being able to stay accountable for me. Review your charges a month later and those purchases are all a vague memory.

  8. Great post Travis! I had the same kind of parents. They were school teachers that were never rich but still did very well for themselves. They sent three of us to college and one (me) to 4 additional years to Dental school completely debt free. I am INCREDIBLY thankful for that!

    My dad has been gone for three years now but he made sure to leave my mom in a good financial position and we’re all thankful for that as well. If I can accomplish the same thing for my family I’ll be very happy.

    I wrote a post the other day addressing the no credit card, no credit score subject that you might like titled “You Don’t Need a Credit Score, Here’s an Alternative” to counter the myth that you need a credit score to get by in life.


  9. wildeyed says:

    “But it begs the question” This is incorrect usage. What you want to say is “It prompts” a question.

    • Travis says:

      Checking the official use of the phrase, you are correct, wildeyed. Although modern usage of the phrase has confused things enough where most “experts” just suggest avoiding the phrase all together. Which I will do from this time forward. Thank you for the correction.

  10. Jessica says:

    Hey Travis –
    I really enjoyed this article and the message behind it. I think many people get sidetracked and lose sense of the true value of a dollar and get lost in excess. An article I read recently comes to mind that noted that more than 10 million Americans don’t even have bank accounts – it really is hard to believe the amount of people who stick to cash only transactions and forgo plastic payment entirely. But it seems as though your parents were able to master the art without leaning on credit or many other financial crutches.

    • Travis says:

      I agree, Jessica – people get caught up in the latest cell phone, tablet, car, or whatever. They only see what commercials and other people are telling them they want. You really have to look deep and see what YOU really want to do with your money. Be selfish with it. My parents were selfish with their money for years and years and are now reaping the benefits of it by being able to take the trips they’ve always wanted to take. Nice to see and meet a new face – hope you’ll come back and keep reading and commenting! 🙂

  11. John says:

    Didn’t see mention of debit cards… does all this “Credit Card” Logic also apply to debit cards?
    I as as I made it to the age of 32 with zero credit score… aka no credit lines. I can’t buy a home, or a car unless I pay cash. So….. unless any body has ideas on how to get past that part I think I am going to get a prepaid credit card with security and start building my MFING credit score.

  12. John says:

    Thanks Travis. Yeah I don’t feel like having a credit card to be honest. I know sooo many people who have falling into the credit trap. I just really am tired of renting and moving. Would be nice to have a home that you can actually call your own I will read that link 🙂

    • Travis says:

      Sorry didn’t see your response here, John – hope it helped – stop back sometime and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

  13. JD says:

    This is a great website and we should all try to free ourselves from credit. I must ask though..Why do you allow banks to partner with your website? They are part of the problem.

    • Travis says:

      Thanks, JD – I’m glad that you like the website. As far as the advertisements, what you have to understand is that it’s a “random” advertisement through google. What pops up is different from person to person, and visit to visit. While I prefer not to have credit cards because their way of business and my lack of self control don’t mix well there ARE people that can use them to their benefit. This website has no explicit partnership with any particular bank. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you will keep reading!

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