I really don’t like the way Easter is coming so early this year. It seems that Shrove Tuesday and all its pancakes crept up rather quickly. Most people were only adjusting to a healthier way of eating and suddenly there it was, a day of indulgent pancakes. When Lent is later it almost gives a second wind to all good intentions. As you are just getting bored with new regimes and thinking of climbing off the wagon, Lent comes along and is a great excuse to keep on going.

Christian or non Christian, Lent is observed by many as a time to make changes or perhaps some useful sacrifices. If you consider Lent to be more than just a time of giving up chocolate then maybe its early arrival is timely. As we look at the current financial predictions for the future maybe forty days of restraint is just what we need. Reports of excessive debt, rising interest rates and household bills, potential job cuts and stagnating wages should perhaps have us on our guard. As some people feel a personal pinch, globally there is the so called credit crunch and general bad feeling in banking circles. On the one hand we have never enjoyed such a high standard of living but as a nation we have never before been in so much personal debt. We may look great and have all the luxury trappings but it doesn’t come cheap and in fact many are doing it on tick. The great house, the fancy car, the salon, gym and yoga shaped bodies, the coiffed hair, the botoxed foreheads of seventeen year olds on forty year olds, the designer clad children who attend allsorts of after school activities that will make them better human beings and lots of other things that I could easily fill the page with, are costing us more and more money. It’s fine if you have the cash, spend it with abandon, but when it’s coming courtesy of our friends at Visa or MBNA then you are most definitely creating a problem for the future.

When I was a child credit cards weren’t that commonplace. It is really only in the last 25 to 30 years that everyone has got in on the act. I remember the days when Access and MasterCard were equally as popular as Visa. Wasn’t it the Access card that marketed itself as ‘Your flexible friend’? By the time I was a teenager most adults were being sold credit cards on the basis that they were more secure and, most definitely, more convenient. The rise in popularity of the credit card went hand in hand with our new prosperity. By the nineties, as Ireland was emerging as a wealthy country, people were flashing the plastic at every given opportunity. The colour of your Credit Card was important then, be it gold or platinum. Politicians almost encouraged this new found consumerism as it created a general feel good factor and continued the illusion that the Country ‘must be doing well’. As the nineties progressed people gave little thought to the fact that the actual cash being spent was being borrowed from the future in re-mortgages and credit cards.

Basically credit cards confuse people. The money on the card is not theirs but they are lulled into believing it is a slush fund or spare cash. As one old slogan used to say, “It takes the waiting out of wanting”. I don’t know which card that particular slogan was used for, but in 2008 I think most of us can now see the folly in it. There is nothing wrong with waiting for something, indeed we can look back on previous generations and realise that maybe it was the waiting that made them better. Only those who pay off their credit card bill in full at the end of every month are really benefiting and unfortunately they are few and far between.

When my parent’s generation got in on the use of fantastic plastic they still had enough grounding in real cash to be relatively cautious with them. In the eighties credit cards were rarely used for petrol and groceries for personal use. Today everything from petrol to VAT bills are often paid on credit cards. The new generation of twenty-something year olds have no idea about caution with a credit card and many, statistics tell us, are constantly getting themselves into trouble. Not only do they have to contend with credit cards with higher and higher limits but now store cards are also the order of the day. Only last Saturday I was offered one for a large department store in the city. It’s just all too easy.

This Lent instead of giving up chocolate I’m going to consciously put the waiting back into wanting. I’m going on a low spend Lent, where unnecessary luxury items such as shoes, clothes, or fancy treatments and cosmetics are off limits. Now some items are totally necessary such as haircuts and dry cleaning but the other stuff that advertising and the gurus tell us we ‘must have’ and that is ‘new and improved’, is not allowed.

I’m actually looking forward to the process. Who knows I might even find it so liberating and freeing that I carry it on throughout 2008. It will be a time to sort through all the ‘stuff’ I already own and I’m sure I will become re-acquainted with items that I had totally forgotten about. I am quite interested to see what shape the temptations that will come before me take.