When Conventional Wisdom About Money Clashes With Conviction

Conventional Wisdom About MoneyMy understanding and beliefs about money began at the same place most do – with one’s parents. My parents’ handling of their personal financial life was truly a work of art. Transferring money from one budget envelope to the next to meet a need, hitting all the local auctions and thrift stores, and using the credit card for emergencies were all the norm in our household.

One can’t help but carry those same patterns of behavior into early adulthood. Parental modeling of behavior has that much impact.

So after college, I tried to follow the conventional wisdom about money by being as frugal and disciplined with spending just the same as it was instilled in me during childhood. I also became more in tune with what society had to say regarding personal financial habits. I felt myself growing and becoming grounded with all the practical information I was hearing.

One area that I began to differ from my parents was in the use of credit cards. They had used them mostly for emergencies and rarely for basic purchases. I was hearing a lot of conventional wisdom at the time saying credit cards should be used for everything – absolutely all purchases if possible. The reasons being…

1. It’s more convenient in that you have one bill to pay at the end of the month.

2. It’s safer than carrying a bunch of cash or a checkbook.

3. It offers certain protections on purchases.

4. It helps build one’s credit score, which will be useful when securing any type of loan.

5. It allows the purchaser to earn reward points that can be exchanged for products or services.

I thought these to be worthy arguments, so I dove headlong into the credit card world. Visa, Discover, MasterCard and American Express all found a place in my wallet. And so my life went smoothly along, following the conventional wisdom of society for the next decade.

Along the way, an interesting phenomenon occurred. Somehow, I lost the frugal and disciplined component of what my parents modeled for me and instead became a wild spender. As most bad habits, it didn’t happen overnight but was the result of small decision after small decision over an extended period of time. By my mid-30s, my wife and I routinely spent more each month than we brought in. The money we had saved in the early years of marriage was now being withdrawn from savings each month to pay the credit card bill.

We didn’t like this scenario, my wife more than I as she handled the budget in those days. I felt really confused. Here I was following all this wise advice about using credit cards, yet everywhere I looked there was failure in our monthly spending habits. A change of behavior was definitely required, but we didn’t know how or what needed to be done.

Then, from out of nowhere, two things happened almost simultaneously that righted the ship.

First off, we were exposed to some teaching that outlined a different method to pay for items – use cash or a debit card. It’s not like those methods were new, they had simply not been on our radar screen. The primary argument that drew us toward a debit card payment system was research showing that, on average, people spend less with a debit card and spend even less when using cash. That sounded like what we needed.

The bigger development was that I was undergoing a spiritual conviction in regards to my lack of discipline and views about money – specifically being in debt (which you technically are in when using a credit card). My faith is very important to me and God was teaching me some things though my reading of the Bible that I had never considered before. He was reworking my belief structure with each Bible verse about money I read.

The toughest part was that it greatly conflicted with my beliefs and behaviors of the past ten years. It also produced pressure to be a nonconformist and go against the grain of what society at large said was wise. “Surely people will think I’m weird,” I thought.


Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Money:

So what does one do when a personal conviction is in conflict with conventional wisdom? It depends on the situation and what values are in conflict. In this case, I followed my conviction, feeling that growing in my faith was the more significant issue.

The inner conflict that evolved as we contemplated altering our patterns of behavior would take too long to detail here. You most likely know how it feels to passionately believe in doing something one way and then realize there is an alternative way that might be better for you. All sorts of thoughts and emotions rattle through our minds as we fight the battle to change or to stick with what we already know.

As the years have passed, I’ve realized the credit card itself was not the problem. It was my own lack of discipline that got us into trouble. The card didn’t spend itself. I was the one who had to pick it up and use it.

However, I believe the cards assisted in opening up a door to my undisciplined side. I conclude this to be true because as soon as we made the switch to using a debit card, our spending dramatically decreased and our savings rate skyrocketed. Within two months, we were no longer spending more than we made each month.

Because of that transformation, we’ve chosen to completely abandon the use of credit cards. I simply don’t want the door to my undisciplined side to be opened ever again.

Your journey towards financial freedom may require some radical changes. Mine certainly has forced me to think outside the box. The solutions may be different than what you’ve been taught or what your friends are doing. Don’t fear confronting those issues. You may find change is a welcome thing.

Have you ever faced a situation where a change meant going against conventional wisdom? What’s the toughest part about change? Did friends and family not understand or poke fun when you got serious about your finances? How have you controlled your level of spending?


About the author: Brian Fourman is a private school teacher and personal finance blogger. His hobbies include rental real estate, running, cooking and sports. In his down time, he loves being a dad to his 4 kids and hearing his wife talk about all the cool things CPAs do at work. You can check him out providing encouragement and inspiration on his blog at Luke1428.com or by connecting with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.


Related Posts:

1) Why Is It Important to Save Money Instead of Enjoying It All Now?

2) How the Things I Want for Christmas Are Different Now That I’m An Adult

3) The Value of Time and Money

Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. says

    I can’t have a credit card on me. I am way too undisciplined! If the card is in my pocket, I spend money that I don’t have. I cut up all my cards long ago. My lack of discipline may not be the cards fault. What is their fault is the outrageous rates that they charge, How they justify charging 20% when their basic cost of funds is under 1% is beyond me. I guess they do it beause they can.
    Brad @ How To Save Money recently posted..How To Avoid DebtMy Profile

  2. MomofTwoPreciousGirls says

    We have a mixed bag of ways we work with our money. There are certainly categories where it is so easy to go over budget. In our house it’s groceries, toiletries, clothing, restaurants, entertainment and our blow money. Those items are budgeted in cash. When it’s gone it’s gone. The monthly bills, the fixed ones and the necessities, are paid by card. I do not autopay (I monitor the bills to ensure accuracy and any rate changes) but I use the credit card. Also for monthly daycare bill. Then I just pay it off. I earn about $25 cash back on those bills I have to pay anyway, but I know using the card to pay for those other categories does not leave me with any pain in parting with the money!

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing Brian! Mine really isn’t financial, per se, but I dealt with a lot of the same going against conventional wisdom when I left my job two years ago. Friends and family were not understanding and thought I was just being foolish. Truth be told, I still struggle with this mentally, but nearly two years down the road things are looking great! :)
    John @ Sprout Wealth recently posted..Never Be Afraid to FailMy Profile

  4. says

    Great post, Brian. For me, it was when I decided to return to work after I had Lauren, which was always my intention to do so. But in my neighborhood, I am one of the few working Moms. Most quit their jobs once they became Moms and their expectation was that I would do the same. In fact, I had good friends say some really hurtful things to me about my decision to return to work. I love my girls but I also love the work and I do. And I know for a fact and deep in my heart that I am a better Mom because I work. I don’t regret going back to work and I don’t regret turning a 12 hour day into 8 hours so I could make breakfast for the girls in the morning and walk them to school and be home to make and eat dinner with them at night.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..To Save for Retirement or College? Which Is the Better Choice?My Profile

    • says

      “…I am one of the few working Moms…their expectation…” I know my wife can relate to this. There is an expectation/stigma that moms should only stay home when they have children. Honestly, a lot of that comes from teachings in the church that don’t give a balanced view of the wife’s role. (For a balanced role/perspective see Proverbs 31). While I agree a mother has an important role to play in the family – to nurture and protect – some also have to provide…and shock of all shocks, actually enjoy doing that. :)
      Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted..Wrestling Against Something Twice Your SizeMy Profile

  5. says

    I think it’s great that you’ve been able to stave off credit cards. As you said, I imagine it’s a bit hard when you read about everyone churning for rewards, but you’ve stuck with it and that’s awesome. I guess for me it would be choosing to pay my student loans off quickly. Many of my peers don’t see their student loans as an emergency or anything to get up in arms about; they’ve made peace with the fact that they’ll be there for 10 years. No thanks!
    E.M. recently posted..Being Grateful – Mother’s Day EditionMy Profile

  6. says

    I sold my business right as I was about to pay it off and start making lots more money, so I guess that is kind of going against conventional wisdom, but I’m much happier. Money I make now is mine and it doesn’t go back into the business, which is where much of it went before. I think we have to figure out what works for us as people and with our family situation if that applies and do what’s best, regardless of conventional wisdom.

  7. says

    I think in some ways it’s still hard Brian. I look at what my friends are able to do (buy houses-in LA even, travel a lot more, eat out more) and I can’t help feeling restricted. But it’s reality at the moment. But the good things is my friends DID embrace what I was trying to do, and that part is REALLY cool! So there have been some pluses and minuses.

  8. says

    I recently cut my credit card, and I understand the obstacles you faced when you got rid of yours. Insofar as other people’s opinions and expectations go, it’s wonderful to be free of their power. Proverbs 29:25 states “The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” In this case, you’re safe from the societal norm of overspending because you’ve closed that door to your “undisciplined side”. In so doing, you’ve opened up another door – and it looks like it leads to freedom.
    Prudence Debtfree recently posted..Debtor Sought for Advice: A Colleague’s Dream Home DilemmaMy Profile

  9. says

    I used to think spending money on decorating your home was vain and self absorbed. I felt uncomfortable buying things that weren’t necessities. Eventually, feeling societal pressure, I overcame that much to my regret because it has been a factor in our debt spiraling out of control. Its not really an issue right now as we’re living on a tight budget, but I often wonder which side I will end up on after I our debt is paid. It’s almost like I’ve eaten the apple in the garden of Eden and now I cannot go back to being “sinless”. It doesn’t help that my daughter has a flair for decorating either, and likes to share her ideas on what I should do. 😉
    debt debs recently posted..Worth it Wednesday ~ Dear Debt LetterMy Profile

    • says

      “…which side I will end up on after I our debt is paid.” That’s an interesting thought. Our views might tend to change about how we spend our money once we are completely out of debt. Things we once didn’t purchase we now do because the money is freed up. We’ve begun to spend just a bit more now that our debt is gone…but we are certainly not going overboard.
      Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted..How Much We Pay Our Kids For ChoresMy Profile

  10. says

    It is an interesting concept. It is like an addiction. No addict would see it coming or even accept that they are addict until there is no denying. I am not suggesting that credit cards cause addiction but they offer a wrong sense of security and means to spend.
    tci recently posted..How to Reduce Car Fuel Consumption?My Profile


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