Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Working to Support My Wedding Habit -- With a Little Help From a Friend

I'm going to California twice this summer.

Not to San Diego, Miramar, Fort Irwin, or anywhere else military-related, mind you -- once to Grass Valley and once to San Francisco. And not on the government's dime, but on mine.

I can't afford either trip. You see, there's this budget thing, where I factor in a mortgage, a condo fee, a car payment, other utilities, and then the major complicating factor that spending part of the week near the base in CT means incurring additional 'incidentals' like higher-than-average gasoline expenditures, hotels, meals at the diner, etc. That doesn't factor in the totally unexpected costs that just seem to have a way of coming up time and again -- car repairs, new uniforms, subscriptions, and gifts for birthdays and other milestones.

From a financial standpoint, then, there's nothing rational about my decision to go to either, the cost of which could easily be placed in the low four-figure range for airfare times two, lodging, gift, suit, and related incidentals. However, I place great value on friendship and on the idea of families and marriage, so it's natural that I would want to go -- I'll see a lot of friends, I'll witness a special life milestone for people I care about (and hope the gesture might be reciprocated in the not-too-distant future!), and will get to take in some new scenery.

But, as stated above, I will pay dearly to do this.

I write this not just to share a personal saga (this mess is largely of my own doing, so I especially have no right to complain...I've never once wished I'd chosen Norwich or Westerly over Lowell as my 'base camp'), but to introduce an oft-vilified friend who is going to help me pull through -- my credit card.

He does not judge me.

He does not passive-aggressively say okay and then complain to others that I've hit him up with an open palm.

He is up front about the terms of the deal.

I just saw a Chris Dodd re-election commercial this morning focused on praising the gentleman from Connecticut for saving "regular people" from the evil credit card companies. I'm sure there was merit behind it -- the targeting of students by the companies is particularly loathsome and predatory -- but, as someone who considers himself responsible but temporarily somewhat "budget-challenged" I tend to think of the card as an ally, not an enemy.

I know that I will be okay. My living situation will normalize in just a couple of months, and expenses of several types will fall accordingly. Besides, twelve month deployments thousands of miles from a shopping mall have a way of straightening out some of the most challenging budgetary problems, and there appears to be one off on the horizon.

As a mature adult, I am glad there exists a means that will allow me to do the things I want but don't truly need, with a full understanding of the terms involved in the deal.

I know it sounds almost un-American to take personal responsibility for anything these days, whether it's obesity, smoking, or even implication in a murder (just read Chanequa Campbell's quotes in the Boston Globe about the Justin Cosby killing), but I'm willing to stand up and say that I "get" what credit cards to do for me. I'll take the memories, the laughs, and photos, and I'll pay the points down the road.

Life is short, and I'll enjoy both weddings.

So to the suits and the corporate shills at Visa, thank you -- I'll raise a champagne glass in your honor.


kad barma said...

It's unfortunate that credit cards have become so entrenched as the popular method of paying Tuesday for a hamburger today. Credit, like any other product, comes in a wide range of quality and prices, and people often forget to shop around before saying "charge it". Home equity lines of credit, payroll advances, borrowings from IRA's, refinanced automobiles, loans from relatives, and many other choices are generally far cheaper than the cost of borrowing against a credit card. Even when cards become the last resort of choice, there's a broad variety of terms and rates and people rarely inquire as to whether or not they're paying the most favorable one. I'm willing to bet, if everyone called their card provider right now, more than half of us would find that our provider currently offers a better rate from an alternate card program than the one in our current agreement.

I'm hopeful you find a balance transfer offer that'll give you a decent (non-usurous) rate on your travel advances. Airfare is expensive enough without raising the price another 20, 30 or even 40% by the time the bill is finally paid off.

The New Englander said...


Thanks for throwing those alternatives out there. The HELOC is a great option that would make sense if I find myself in another pinch down the road...the only problem now is that I have very little equity to speak of (just refinanced a little while ago and this reality sank in when I looked at the numbers)..

Probably the next best thing is your suggestion of a transfer, and I'll definitely look into it..there are all kinds of deals going where it looks like I can pay a couple points up front, and then let the balance sit at a zero or a close-to-zero rate for about a year before the time comes to pay the piper..