The next time you hear the mellifluous voice in the MasterCard ad declare, "There are some things money can't buy...," stop and imagine what that man's life might look like. For the sake of this exercise, let's say he's the owner of MasterCard Worldwide and he's got an adorable baby daughter. Now imagine that he's not worried about a college fund for his child, because you'll be paying a chunk of his child's tuition bills. Because in a sense, you are: The average American credit card holder carries a $6,664 balance; at 14 percent over the next 18 years, that's nearly $12,000 in interest to Mr. MasterCard.
"You've made everybody else rich with your debt," says Farrah Gray, author of Get Real, Get Rich. And Gray isn't referring to just credit cards. Interest payments of all kinds are lowering your standard of living while lining the pockets of strangers. "The people who financed your car, those interest payments you make send their children to college," says Gray. By asking his clients to visualize the luxury car they're buying for a credit card executive or the gorgeous tropical beach reserved for guys who finance automobiles, Gray has been able to jolt even die-hard debtors out of their comfort zone. Debt is like any other habit, he says: "We get comfortable in our day-to-day lives and ignore what is truly best for us. Instead, we work, work, work—and pay interest."
Breaking out of the cycle, Gray acknowledges, is not easy. His advice is to find another stream of income to pay off your debt. Whether it's selling stuff on the Internet, baking muffins for a local café, or doing calligraphy for wedding invitations, the sources of income are endless. But what will work for you is intensely personal. "To figure out what you can do, just ask yourself, What comes easily to me and is hard for other people?" Gray says.
He knows what the response to his advice will be: Readers tell him they don't have time to do anything else. "There are weekends, there are days off; we all have lunch breaks," he tells them. "People find the time for things that they really want to do."
Next: When you say, "I wish I knew—if only I had a clue what I wanted to do for retirement."