Don’t Go Into Credit Card Debt For Special Events

When Sarah and I were married in 2003, we had a fairly low-cost ceremony. We rented a local Knights of Columbus hall for the reception, utilized a lot of family help in the preparation, and the total bill was quite reasonable.

The honeymoon, however, was a different story. We went to the United Kingdom for our honeymoon, flying into Heathrow and traveling up and down the country from south London to Inverness.

While we had some savings, most of that trip went on a credit card.

In 2004, we spent almost two weeks in Washington state. We rented a car, camped in a few national parks, and saw a bunch of the sights of Seattle.

While we had some savings, most of that trip went on a credit card.

In early 2005, we attended the wedding of a friend at a faraway vista. We stayed at a hotel, enjoyed the local flavor, and enjoyed a few other events while we were there.

While we had some savings, most of that trip went on a credit card.

In 2005, we went to Las Vegas. We saw a couple of shows, played some blackjack, drove out of the city to Hoover Dam, and even did an overnight stop at the Grand Canyon.

While we had some savings, most of that trip went on a credit card.

I bet you’re noticing a theme here. Whenever we had a special event, like a wedding to attend or a vacation, we allowed the credit card to finance a trip we would not have otherwise been able to afford.

Our logic at the time was that we would easily be able to pay this off in the future. With any sort of deep examination, it would have been pretty clear that this logic was flawed. If we were spending more than our income now with only a tiny apartment and no children, why would we be able to magically pay off debts in the future without drastically changing our habits? Would we magically get rich?

Here’s the truth. You should never, ever go into debt for a “special event.” If you can’t afford to save up for a special event, then don’t enjoy that event. It’s that simple.

Since our financial turnaround in 2006, Sarah and I haven’t done a single special event that wasn’t paid for entirely out of pocket. We’ve gone on a few trips, sure, but every one has been paid for entirely with cash. No credit cards were harmed in the making of our vacations.

In a few years, we plan to do some international travel with our children. Do you know what the cost of five international plane tickets is? Thousands. Do you know what the cost of living is in many European nations (our first trip or two will be to Europe)? In many cases, double the costs of the United States and you have Europe’s costs.

These trips will be expensive. We will not go on any trip until we have adequate cash in hand for that trip. If we can’t afford the trip we want to go on, we wait another year and go camping in a national park that summer.

What about a wedding? You have to go to a wedding, right? The second you hear about a wedding that you have to attend, start saving. Remember, you never have to attend. Your attendance at a wedding won’t affect the roof over your head or the food on your table. If you want to make room for this desire, then cut back as much as you can and put aside that cash for the wedding travel expenses. Weddings don’t just appear out of nowhere; usually, you do have several months of notice.

If you want financial success in your life, you have to separate the genuine needs from the wants. Modern life tries very hard to blur that line, but the truth is that the list of needs is pretty small. A roof over your head. Clean clothing. Basic hygiene. Basic food and water. That’s about it. Everything else is a “want,” and the more “wants” that you fill your life with, the harder the path to financial success becomes because of your choices.

The high cost of a trip or a concert or of cable television isn’t holding you back from financial success. Your choices are.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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