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.