Chapter 8: It's Time To Take Charge Of The Charge Cards
Red, the straight-A student who loves history, would normally love to engage in a conversation about history. But in the midst of her crisis, preoccupied with trying to deal with her family's financial situation, she didn't have the desire nor see the point in getting a history lesson. And from her sister, no less, who hates history. But that should have been Red's first clue that it would be very pragmatic, highly relevant, and "instantly translatable" to her situation and daily life.
P.S. – Black's history lesson would change how Red looked at credit cards, not only then but to this day. And based on feedback from others (men and women of all ages, and even students), something as unexpected as understanding the original purpose of those little plastic cards (and now mobile wallets, although we both still do it the old-fashioned way) can dramatically change one's perspective on how to use them.
||Quick call. I think it be might be helpful for you to understand the history of credit cards.|
||What ever happened to "Hello?" I'm trying to come to grips with our own personal credit card history, and even that's more than I want to know. I don't think knowing the history of credit cards is going to help me deal with our personal dilemma. I'm not sure anything will help.|
||I know you feel overwhelmed, and I have no desire to continually look backwards, but sometimes understanding history helps you. It did when we looked at the history of your spending habits.|
||It doesn't sound like you're going to drop this, so can you at least make it quick?|
||First, there were gas charge cards, which eventually lead to general purpose charge cards, like American Express. Keep in mind these were charge cards, which meant they had to be paid in full every month. They were created as an alternative to having to go to a local Western Union office to wire for money, which is what people did instead of carrying large amounts of cash or trying to cash out-of-state checks. Then in the late 1950's Bank of America issued the first "credit" card – meaning they were extending credit to the cardholder – and initially promoted it to people traveling, in particular salesmen, who could not easily access their home banks.|
||That makes sense. I remember Mommy telling me how when she and Daddy traveled out West in the 1950s for three months, they had to use Western Union to cable Grandma and Grandpa for money on a regular basis. Now this is all very interesting and will be useful if I find myself on a game show, but what, pray tell, does this history lesson have to do with my credit card debt?|
||Patience, grasshopper! The point is credit cards were started as a business tool to save time and provide convenience. Credit cards were NOT initially designed as consumer debt or financial aid.|
||That may not have been the initial plan, but times have changed. Nick and I, and our mountain of credit card debt, are proof of that!|
||True. But if you returned to the original purpose of what credit cards were meant to be – a convenience so that you did not have to write lots of checks or have cash available all the time – you might find that you use your credit cards differently. Rather than looking at them as a line of credit or endless funds to buy things, you would start to view them as simply a convenience tool, nothing more.|
||You mean actually pay off what you spend each month? All the time? Do people do that? It's an interesting concept, though perhaps not very realistic, and an entirely new way of looking at credit cards.|
||Actually, it is a very old way. The original way. And, that is the point I am trying to make. Think about it. Mom and Daddy always paid their credit cards off every month, and even today, Mom only carries about four credit cards, if that many. I think it is important to remember the history – and true purpose – of credit cards.|
It was extremely annoying when Black was always right. Especially when I thought I finally had the better of her, and then, she proved me wrong. Understanding that credit cards weren't originally intended to be used as long-term debt makes a huge difference.
Chapter 15: I Need A Warning System
In the midst of Red's "crisis", one of the many things she learned was the importance of communication. But talk about something (pun, intended) that gets lost in day-to-day living, especially when those first months found Red's life turned upside down and she was focused on "fighting fires", so there was little time to talk about day-to-day topics. But Red realized she needed a way for the family to talk about important subjects in a more proactive way than what they'd been doing. And she had come to realize that it needed to be two-way communications, not just parents talking and children expected to listen.
P.S. – When Black first introduced the idea of a family meeting to Red, it was a revelation … the idea that there could be a "neutral" setting that allowed everyone to share thoughts and opinions on topics big and small. So, did family meetings become a regular event at Red's house? It would be nice to say they did, but they didn't. However, the concept resulted in more productive one-on-ones (Black would probably argue those still qualify as meetings) where issues or problems could be tackled in a "safe" environment, and both sides would genuinely listen to the other with an open mind (ok, sometimes it was a semi-open mind). Interestingly, many years later, when Red's girls became young adults, she found they'd have impromptu family meetings, and that made Red smile as it reminded her of Black's initial idea all those years ago.
|Got a minute?|
|Maybe. Depends on the topic. If you are calling about hopes, dreams or birthday gifts, the answer is no.|
|None of the above. I like your idea of sitting down as a family and discussing important issues, like charity. Plus, it will help the girls learn the value of communication. However, I don't want them to think I am lecturing them. Any ideas?|
|Call a meeting. That is what I used to do in the corporate world. I would hold a monthly staff meeting with everyone in my department, whether or not there were specific issues or problems to discuss. I would order in pizza or sandwiches for lunch, and we would talk about different things that were impacting the department. Most of the time it was to provide everyone with an understanding of what each of us was working on and/or things we would like to do or do better. There was no right or wrong. It was an informal forum for discussing things where no one felt threatened or was on display.|
|Did you have an agenda? Or was it a free-for-all?|
|A bit of both. If there were any specific issues that needed to be addressed, it would be on the agenda; otherwise, it was less structured. And I would usually start the meeting by stating one positive thing the department had accomplished since the last meeting. Then we would go around the table, and everyone would give a brief update of their projects and whether they had issues for discussion or areas of concern. We would write them down and then discuss them. I would end the meeting by coming up with an action item to be accomplished prior to the next meeting.|
|Sounds great for a business meeting but a little too formal for a family.|
|You asked a question, and I gave you a suggestion. I did not say it was the perfect solution, but I do think it has potential. I need to talk to Larry about some things that are on my mind, so this "Family Meeting" concept might be useful. Let me think about it and get back to you.|
I know I have often questioned how Black's mind worked, but one of the things I like best is that many of her ideas are not things I'd ever think of doing. Sometimes I'm not sure whether they're things anyone else would ever think of doing either. But I was intrigued by the idea of a family meeting — not to mention curious how she planned to use the concept for her own purposes.
Chapter 7: My Husband Gets In Hot Water – I Want To Make Soup!
When Red was in the midst of her crisis and trying to deal with seemingly every aspect of her life, it quickly became obvious that she had been living in an old-fashioned sitcom where life appeared to be perfect. Adjusting to reality wouldn't be easy (now, that could be a sitcom!), especially when one of the biggest adjustments had to do with what she viewed as one of her strong suits – people skills. More specifically, her relationship with her husband because Red's expectations of her husband and her marriage definitely weren't related to reality.
P.S. – Since then, Red has learned about how important it is to have realistic expectations in any relationship, but when it comes to spouses/partners, it's essential. And Black has (finally) gotten her to realize that you need to be honest with yourself (ideally about both you and your partner), so that you set your relationship up for success, not failure. But Red will add a warning … understanding the logic of this mindset and approach is much easier than accepting and implementing it. Although she'll agree with Black that it's worth the effort if it results in a more successful relationship.
E-mail From: Black
Subject: Perception vs. Reality
Sent: Saturday, February 7
Not really, or at least nothing that I know of. But our marriage is not paradise. I went into it knowing I had made trade-offs and compromises. And that is OK. I had no false expectations. But at times I have to stop and ask myself if either of us has changed or whether I have merely forgotten to adjust my thinking for changing circumstances. I always thought Larry and I had the potential to be great together. Not because we were a perfect couple, but because we were an imperfect couple that appreciated our differences.
But when it comes to you and Nick … the two of you need to face reality. Together. As a team.
By the way, how is your house-hunting going? That is a perfect place to start working together. And a lot more productive than wasting the afternoon online with me.
||I found Black's comment about having a great marriage very interesting since I didn't think it existed in real life. However, her comment got me thinking that maybe my expectations of marriage needed to be adjusted to be more realistic. I guess I was thinking a great or even really good marriage was one where two people were perfect for one another. One where there were never any major issues that tested the relationship. One where problems had obvious and easy answers. One that ran on automatic and didn't require any special effort. OK, so I was living in a fantasy world. Nothing new there!|
Chapter 7: My Husband Gets In Hot Water – I Want To Make Soup!
One of the hardest lessons Red had to learn during her crisis (partially because she was adamantly resisting it) was one that Black couldn't believe she didn't already know – that marriage (and relationships) isn't all flowers and romantic dinners, but is about teamwork, with an emphasis on work. As well as realizing that life isn't fair, which means teamwork can be 50-50 one day and 90-10 the next.
P.S. – Over the years, Red learned that the concept of teamwork applies to families, not just marriages. Although she sometimes gets so focused on the challenges of being a single mom that she forgets Black's analogy about teamwork. So, falls back into the habit of acting (remember, she was a theater major) the martyr rather than being part of a team that works together.
|… Stop complaining that your life is no longer perfect. Shut up, suck it up and work at it.|
|Thanks for the sugar coating! And for the record, I don't mind the work. What I mind is that I feel like I'm the only one working.|
|That is because you are
doing more than you are used to doing and you do not think Nick is doing anything extra.|
|True. And I don't think
|Yes, it is. It all averages out. The first few years I was racing the Ferrari, my crew did not have to do much to the car on race weekends. Basically "nut and bolt" her, fill her with fuel, and clean the windshield. The car was new, I kept my nose clean and stayed out of accidents and away from the walls. Then late one afternoon I had a minor
"sharing of paint" with someone, and they needed to stay late and work on the car. I apologized to the crew. My
crew chief, Scott, explained that
was their job. The fact that it
had been easy up until then was fine, but
they were always prepared to do whatever it took to keep my car racing. A
marriage is no different.|
|I don't think you can compare racing a Ferrari to a marriage. One is an expensive hobby, and one is your life!|
|Really? Scott is in charge of making sure my race car is ready to be driven to its limit on a racetrack at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour. If something goes wrong at that speed, things can get very ugly. And I have to be secure in knowing that the car is 100% race-ready. You cannot have doubts in your mind. I would say my relationship with Scott is as serious as a marriage, because every time I put my car on the track, I am trusting Scott with my life.|
|I never would have thought of it that way. So do you trust
Larry with your life?|
|Trust in a marriage is different. The point you need to understand is sometimes a marriage is a 50-50 partnership, and sometimes it requires one party to increase their usual workload to get through challenges. At the moment, you may feel like it is skewed, but even if it is 90-10, the important thing is you have to work together. That might mean that you have to bear a bit more of the "work" right now.|
|So I'm supposed to accept the fact I'm carrying more than my share of the work and let him get a free ride?|
|In a word, yes.|