When is the right time to say good-bye to something that served you well?
Originally published on medium.com
I began a journey 18 months ago. When I set out, I knew there was some extra baggage I would have to leave behind eventually. Even though financial burdens were weighing on me, it was not easy to cut ties with one company in particular, and that company was American Express. It’s not their fault, though. The problem is me.
It All Began Rather Innocently
The story really started 28 years ago, in 1993. For years, credit cards and charge cards have been a way of life for me. They helped me furnish a home, take vacations, enjoy dinners out, and generally feel like I had everything I needed. Except for wealth. And it was decades before I realized that I wanted future wealth more than present comfort.
My American Express card, in particular, was a badge of honor. It was marketed as a prestigious card. Being accepted for this card signaled that I had graduated college, gotten a job, and made it.
Settling In To The Status Quo
Initially, my Amex was a charge card that required a monthly pay off. Somewhere along the line it turned into a card that let you carry a balance for some purchases, like travel expenses. Soon, I was rewarded with offers for a few other credit cards. Then I added a mortgage, car loans and a home equity loan as my life unfolded. I was good at finding lower interest rates and higher credit lines. I could always make the payments, but I wasn’t making progress financially.
Mid-Life Wisdom Finally Takes Hold
When I turned 50, it became clear that if I wanted the freedom to do the work I loved without worrying about money, I had to reduce my expenses and build up my savings and retirement. The most glaring issue was paying now and in the future for things I bought in the past, on credit. Debt has grown into a shadow that I couldn’t escape.
We all dream about that day when the credit cards, the mortgage, the car, and the student loans will be paid off. The trouble is we don’t get mad enough to do anything about it. It’s more comfortable to keep making payments than to do the hard work of budgeting properly, saying no to spending on all but the basics, and yes to picking up side hustles or part-time jobs to reduce the debt once and for all.
When I was finally scared enough about the future and mad enough about my mistakes to change, I went all in. Took a financial class. Learned to budget every cent I had. Stopped using credit 100% and only paid with cash or a debit card. Over a year, I worked like hell to pay off all the credit cards and cancel them. It was hard but such a relief that I can’t believe it took me so long to start. I was so proud of what I accomplished.
Hanging on to the Past Serves No One
But I couldn’t cancel the American Express. Not right away. That card was like an old friend. It had been with me since I was a young, hopeful college grad. It had seen me through marriage, three kids, job changes, life experiences, and lots of good times. So as long as I didn’t use it regularly, I thought I should keep the Amex card for emergencies.It took me months to change my mind.
It’s so silly. After all, the card was just a vehicle. It was not the thing I loved, it just helped me spend time doing the things I loved with people I loved, but I paid a terrible price by working so much harder to live those moments. So why would I want to risk repeating that behavior?
In time, I diligently built up savings. For emergencies and vacations. For car maintenance and insurance. I made better choices when I did spend. And then I realized I didn’t need American Express anymore. It was no longer the safety net I needed. I had not pulled it out of my wallet in months. Now I had my own money as a backup.
Finding the Courage to Break Free
I was months into my debt-free journey before I had the courage to pick up the phone and call American Express to cancel. The nicest young man tried earnestly to keep my business with offers of bonus points and reasons to stay. He did his job well, but I was determined. I said no (several times), and he graciously closed the account.
After 28 years, I got out the scissors, and with a bit of apprehension, cut that card into pieces. And I felt…. well, not what I thought I would feel. No regret, no sense of loss. Just the satisfaction of knowing that I was no longer a person who needed American Express or any card to get me through life. My behavior had permanently changed. I had mentally moved on.
We Are Better Off Without Each Other
Professionally, I’m in marketing. I know that the goal of good marketing is to create relationships, something American Express did very well. They became like a friend to me, but over time my friend no longer made my life better. This was a friend I was happy to have for many years, but we grew apart, and I have moved on. It’s okay. American Express has plenty of other friends, and they will be fine without me.
The point is that I did it, and you can too. Whether it’s with people, brands, or bad money habits, sometimes breaking up is the right thing to do.