Money/Investment Tips: (Part Two) Credit Cards

Updated Feb. 7, 2024

Credit cards are necessary but potentially dangerous.

When I was much younger—in my twenties and thirties—having a credit card was a big deal…at least for me. More than anything, credit cards meant status: you were a real somebody if you had a fistful, and I didn’t have even one.

Back in those days, qualifying for a coveted credit card was much tougher than today. I tried to qualify for one or two several times but was denied, probably because I never had one before and my income was not sufficient to meet the bank’s standards. Also, I hated being forced to tell anybody—especially strangers at banks or credit card companies—how much money I earned or had just to get a card.

Funny how things change. I have all the credit cards I want or need and always throw away any advertisements mailed to me informing me I “qualify” for yet another one. Like so much of life, when you no longer need or desire something is the precise time you can finally have it.

Basically, the only card I use is my Discover card, one I’ve had for years. I have one or two others I rarely, if ever use, and I couldn’t tell you right off the top of my head which ones those might be.

We all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies, and one of mine is I despise paying banks and credit card companies one single penny in fees or interest. I’ve had my Discover card for, I believe, over twenty years, and I can recall maybe paying interest on the charges except for once or twice. And this was because I forgot to make a payment, which occasionally happens.

I never carry a balance on my credit cards longer than the usual grace period of one month. Each and every month I pay off the balance in full because, as noted above, I abhor the thought of giving my hard earned money to a credit card company because of interest. To me, the concept is obscene and I won’t do it.

“We all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies, and one of mine is I despise paying banks and credit card companies one single penny in fees or interest…”

Roy Spears

And I’ve been this way my entire life and don’t plan on changing this philosophy anytime soon.

Why do I think this way? For one reason, I believe the interest rates charged by credit card companies and banks to be usurious and ridiculous. Who would agree to be robbed this way, month after month, year after year? It’s insane.

It’s astounding—and foolish— how many people carry huge sums of credit card debt, paying exorbitant interest rates every month—hundreds and hundreds of dollars just in interest payments alone. Who can possibly get financially ahead doing this? Most people can’t, and this is one reason many Americans are broke.

(Update February 7, 2024: Interestingly, Youtube’s algorithm suggested this video by legendary financial guru Warren Buffet where he discusses credit card debt. [Begin at timestamp 7:15]. Buffet has excellent advice:)

Warren Buffet dispenses financial wisdom

Looking back, I’m glad my applications for credit cards were denied in my younger days. I was forced to live within my humble means and only purchased items I could afford. If I had been issued credit cards, would I have been tempted to max them out, live beyond my means, and become hopelessly trapped in the credit card, self inflicted prison system? Possibly. I might be a slave today to the banks and credit card companies, helplessly drowning in debt and never having the hope—or financial power—of crawling free from underneath that system.

For young people starting out in life, adopting my philosophy toward credit card debt is a wise one. I would even recommend not having any credit cards, but this seems to be an impossibility in today’s world where we have to have credit cards to do most anything: purchasing airline tickets, shopping online, etc.

Unwisely using credit cards can ruin your life.

There are, I’m assuming, still debit cards where you have to have an account with money in it which is then tied to your credit card: how much money is in that account then determines how much “credit” you are then able to qualify for. I find this to be a difficult but better arrangement than what a true credit card is all about because you are forced to once again live within your means—or how much money you have in that account.

Then, as you learn budgeting and the proper use of credit card debt (paying the balance off each and every month so you never have to pay interest, fees or overdrafts), you can transition to a credit card once you qualify and your credit is established.

If you read my first post on money and investment tips, you might recall the helpful phrase I used: it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines. This is one wise saying and, like so many other great maxims, has many potential meanings and applications. For credit card debt, it teaches carrying such debt is one of those “leaks” in our finances which can prevent us from becoming financially healthy and threatens to sink our boats.

So be wise. Recognize and understand both the benefits and dangers of having and using credit cards. And especially if you are just starting off in life on your own, make it a rule you will never buy anything with a credit card unless you can pay it off before being charged interest.

The Legend of King Arthur

I enjoyed watching the video series, Anne of Green Gables, with my daughters when they were small. Since this genre wasn’t something I was inclined to watch for my own enjoyment, I’m glad I was exposed to the movies; I wanted to watch something wholesome and family orientated that would resonate with them.

Anne was fascinated with the Arthurian legend. In one of the scenes from the movies, she reenacted the boat incident from the poem “Lady of Shalott.” Though I first watched this particular scene over 20 years ago, it planted a seed of curiosity within me to learn more of the legend.

I can’t recall whether or not I read much of King Arthur when I was in grade or high school; it was a body of literature I don’t believe I was exposed to or encouraged to read. Though I’ve always enjoyed fantasy and science fiction, the mythical story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table never crossed my literary radar.

Curiously, the references to the legend in society is extensive in certain respects. For example, during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, his aristocratic wife, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, spoke about Camelot, the mythical kingdom/castle of King Arthur, comparing it to her husband’s administration.

I remember this “Camelot” reference and, again, it was a term that stuck in my mind but was something I did not fully understand until later in my life when I started doing research on the topic. This helped fuel my interest in the story of King Arthur.

It wasn’t long ago I stumbled on the magnificent poem, Morte d’Arthur, by Alfred Tennyson. It describes the last moments of King Arthur’s life with his last and most trusted knight, Sir Bedivere, whom Arthur instructed to take his sword, Excalibur, and throw it into a lake.

This poem is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of brilliant and creative writing, capable of stirring the emotions on an unusual level not often experienced in most writing. It moved me when I first read it and still moves me when I read, or listen to it, today.

How I stumbled on the poem is interesting: while listening on Youtube to a famous speech by Winston Churchill, “We shall fight on the beaches,” he quoted this line from the poem:

“Every morn brought forth a noble chance
And every chance brought forth a noble knight…”

This line leapt out at me and I googled it, discovering its origins; the poem has since become one of my favorites.

I admire great writing and talented authors: Tennyson is one of those rare artistic geniuses whose canvas is paper and brush his pen.

Recently, I stumbled on a superb reading of this poem and have listened to it several times. The video is amateurish and distracting in places, but the narration is where the magic happens:

A reading of “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Tennyson

There are several reasons why I like this poem: one is the idealized world which the legend reflects. There is chivalry, bravery, honor, dedication to morality and noble causes, redemption from betrayal, etc.

In the romantic and idealized kingdom of Arthur and his knights, we have a wise king who rules over both his kingdom and subjects in a wise, just, and loving manner.

“Every morn brought forth a noble chance

And every chance brought forth a noble knight.”

Adding drama to this idealized story, we then have treachery, greed and betrayal, and groan to learn that even in a kingdom ruled so wisely and justly by a good king like Arthur, such wonders fail to last. Among the final words of the dying Arthur, this sentiment is expressed:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

Tennyson creates a showpiece of emotions using only the power of words. One particularly riveting scene is the internal conflict which raged within Sir Bedivere when he finds himself torn between obedience to Arthur’s last request for him to fling Excalibur in the lake and his sudden greed when he views the jeweled hilt of the sword twinkling in the moonlight. How Bedivere justifies these two acts of disobedience to his king’s dying commands, and how he finally overcomes his failures to obey, is exquisite.

I believe most people yearn for the values found on the “old paths” which the best of American society was founded upon. Sadly, these values are evaporating like the morning mist: the nuclear family, honesty, hard work, commitment, justice, simplicity, integrity, honor, wisdom, and plain old common sense.

Those golden days are headed for extinction and I see little hope of Americans recovering what we have lost as a nation and society. Now, we are too divided, almost as divided, it seems, as the North and South were by slavery during our Civil War times.

This is one reason I’ve always been attracted to fantasy and science fiction literature: the real world we live in can be so depressing that temporary relief can be found in what J.R.R. Tolkien labeled the “secondary world,” a fictional, idealized location where the “old paths” are prominently followed and woven into society.

Tennyson’s poem does justice to this idea of a “secondary world” by providing readers with a cast of characters and chains of events that epitomize the values most people yearn for in society. I can relate to that.

Money/Investment Tips (Part One): On Eating Out

I did not come from a wise or rich family. Not having a mentor in the form of a financially savvy parent, older sibling, or other close confidant hurt me in a myriad of ways.

Now at age 62 and looking back on my life, I’m surprised I’ve made it as far as I have. Though not wealthy by any stretch of the definition, I’ve had a few financial successes in life and have not had money problems for years.

I sometimes wonder where I would be if I had a wise dad who lovingly dispensed his knowledge into my life. Much further ahead in life, I’m certain, in more ways than I can imagine.

My path to moderate success and achievement is an interesting one, so much that I think it might be helpful to others—especially younger people starting out in life—to learn from my mistakes, successes, and philosophy.

In that spirit, I will start this new series of posts, “Money/Investment Tips” with this Part One and see where the idea goes. Hopefully, it will help someone to better secure their own financial future and that of their families.

These posts will be random thoughts and will not be in any particular order of importance. For example, this Part One will not represent the most important financial tip of my life, but something I have long observed that sets apart someone with money and those who financially struggle.

Early in my business career as a contractor (I started a painting business circa 1982), I was broke—really broke. I was going to the UA and was 100% self-supportive: no one was paying my bills (though I did take out a Pell grant for my first semester or two and eventually paid it all back) and, like most self-funded students, I struggled to make ends meet.

At one time I was so broke I was reduced to selling my plasma—a horrible experience.

How I got into the painting business is an interesting story, but one I will save for later. I want to discuss what I clearly saw was a waste of money: going out to eat when it came time for lunch.

Painting houses for a living is hard work. I’ve always been an early riser and made it a point to arrive at job sites as early as possible: 6:00 a.m. if the customer didn’t mind and if it was in the summer. My hours would change as the seasons did, but I always wanted to start early.

Since I often worked ten or more hours, I naturally needed to take a lunch break. Most of my jobs were in the foothills of Tucson and not near a fast food joint. Since I took 30 minutes for lunch, hopping in my truck and driving ten or more minutes to some restaurant, ordering food, eating the food, and driving back another ten minutes meant stress due to not enough time for a relaxing, pleasant meal.

The second thing I noticed was the cost. Because of my naturally frugal mindset, I compared what it cost to pack my own lunch versus going out to eat. A home packed lunch cost pennies while going out to eat cost dollars. Calculating this “going out to eat vs. packing my own lunch” over years and decades provided me a no-brainer incentive to pack my own lunch every day, a practice I never abandoned.

And one thing I noticed with other contractors and hourly employees: those who went out to eat every day were the ones who never seemed to have any money. I made the same observation with friends and family members: those who made a regular habit of regularly going out to eat were usually the most broke of all the people I knew.

I’m not alleging this is a rule that is set in stone; there are many people who go out to eat every day and have money to spare. They are high income earners and going out to eat is simply a business expense like anything else, or an affordable luxury, or an integral part of their jobs, like sales people who have to schmooze others.

Constantly eating out is one of the big “money leaks” many people fail to recognize.

No, I’m making this observation based on my own first hand experiences with blue collar workers like myself, people who earn their livings with their hands.

I have a younger half-sister who has struggled financially most of her life. She is one of those people who go out to eat at least once a day and more. For most of her life she had regular jobs, nothing that brought in huge money, and I noticed her constant going out to eat was one of the reasons why she never had money.

I know another contractor who eats out most every day not only for lunch, but for breakfast and dinner. It’s unreal. If it was not for the hefty stock portfolio his deceased parents left him which he regularly draws upon, he might be living under a bridge by now.

There is a bible verse from the Song of Solomon 2:15 reads, in part, “…it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines.” It can be taken several different ways and one of the ways I’ve interpreted it is in money matters: it’s the small things in our daily lives—like constantly going out to eat type things—that rob us of financial security.

In line with going out to eat is paying a daily visit to a Starbucks. What a waste of money this is for vastly overpriced products.

It’s the little foxes that spoil the vines.

I’m not saying we should not enjoy life—not at all. Going out to eat, enjoying a Starbucks, buying ice cream at Dairy Queen—there is nothing wrong with indulging in these luxuries if it is done in moderation. But when a young person is just starting out and they are living on their own with no one but themselves to rely on and have no access to inherited wealth or other such privileges, if they wish to get ahead they need to live and spend wisely.

When eating out becomes a regular habit, something you routinely do as part of your daily life, trust me: unless you possess a lot of money, you will never get ahead financially.