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5 Steps to Reclaim Your Personal Freedom

5 Steps to Reclaim Your Personal Freedom

One of the best things that happened to me was that the economy went into the tank.

Before economic times got tough, I enjoyed all that life, easy loans, and low-interest rates had to offer. And this was a natural state for most people I am acquainted with. After all, people naturally want to improve their circumstances, enjoy the best life has to offer, and “shoot the moon” when possible.

Without balance and moderation, though, we have no limits to our wants. That’s what happened to me when times were good.

Some of my friends (and my wife, for that matter) have fewer desires than others. They have spent years developing an attitude of frugality and restraint. It’s not that they lack ambition or even money, they are simply wise.  

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I, however, had to learn it all the hard way.

It was only when the economy went south that I faced the fact that I was riddled in debt, and I wanted freedom. I have learned that true “freedom” comes with imposing (healthy) restraints on myself. That means delaying gratification, settling for less, and even doing without — behaviors I did not have when I lived my life with credit.

Restraint is not easy in our consumerist society. Our media glamorizes the material lifestyle; advertisers are all over the place, and even our neighbors are living high, even though they may be one paycheck from the edge. I was like that, too.

We can overcome this. I finally did. It begins with our mindset.

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If you are constantly battling the urge to spend, here are a couple of steps that may help hold you back:

1.  Realize that it is in our genes to feel dissatisfied with our circumstances. As Alexander Green explains in his book Beyond Wealth:

An early human who was content with what he had — who spent his days lazing on the African savannah admiring the clouds and thinking “Ahh, life is good” — was far less likely to survive and reproduce than his neighbor who spent every waking hour trying to gain some advantage.

2.  Think back to a large purchase you made. Did you originally want it badly, only to find out after you bought it that you didn’t appreciate it that much? Think about how that purchase didn’t quite do it for you. Why will it be any different this time? The psychology of desire is an important thing to try to understand in ourselves.

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3.  Stop giving a crap what anyone thinks about you. Stop caring about the Joneses. Life isn’t a competition for social status (besides, there will always be someone else who has it “better”, anyway). Quit the game, even if your friends are still playing it, and you will quickly stop caring what others think of you. Do work you love, even if it doesn’t pay as much. Stop collecting “stuff”, and start creating incredible memories.

4.  Appreciate what you have and stop focusing on what you want. This took me some time, and I still battle with it. But the thought of losing my wife, my kids, my health — as dark as that sounds, it always “brings me back”.

5.  Stop daydreaming about living the life someone else is living.

Sound easy? It only took me 40 years to figure out, and I still have ways to go.

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We have been programmed by our culture to want everything, spend unconditionally, and consume ruthlessly to keep up with the Joneses. At the end of the day, however, our reactions and actions are our own. We can make the choice to defy consumerism and balance our lifestyle to live simply and happily.

It’s worth a shot, right?

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Last Updated on March 4, 2019

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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Using Credit Cards with Rewards

Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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