June 22, 2009 -- Forget the trusty pair of scissors. Consider, instead, lawnmowers, shotguns, microwaves, blowtorches and even liquid nitrogen.
Consumers fed up with credit cards are finding new and creative ways to destroy their plastic and are often turning such events into public spectacles.
Robert Cilley is a retired North Carolina district court judge who was once asked to preside over a funeral. But nobody at this funeral was sad. Inside a miniature casket that Cilley made in his basement from scrap wood were the torn-up credit cards of 50 or so people.
"The deceased represents the merging of two very powerful bloodlines: the one whose motto is, 'You know you deserve it,' and the other, whose motto is, 'You can have it now,'" Cilley said during the funeral. "Our friend didn't want worship. He just wanted everything that he gave you back again in one form or another -- with 18 percent interest."
Recalling the event, Cilley said, "That whole thing was done ad lib. That was a long piece of inprov."
After his eulogy, one by one, people took a vow of credit card abstinence and then filed up to the casket to dump in their cards. The group then headed outside and buried the coffin.
"We had a nice line-up over there," Cilley said. "It was like one of those come-to-the-altar things at an old Billy Graham meeting."
But it wasn't enough to destroy the cards as a group. The whole event, as with many others in the past few years, was captured on film and posted on YouTube. The hope: Inspire others to abandon their credit cards.
As the recession drags on, many Americans are changing the way they live. Part of that is learning the difference between a healthy loan and having too much bad credit. And for most, that means abandoning -- or at least cutting back on -- their reliance on plastic. (The banks are helping by slashing credit lines as they try to limit their exposure to losses.)
Families struggling with mortgage payments, unemployment or fear of losing their jobs have been spending less and saving more. With dramatically lower home values and stock market investments, Americans are trying to build up larger cash reserves. And that often means not using their credit cards.
In April, U.S. consumers posted the second-biggest drop in borrowing ever, according to the Federal Reserve. Consumer credit fell $15.7 billion, or 7.4 percent at an annual rate, to $2.52 trillion. The record drop occurred one month earlier in March, when outstanding consumer credit fell $16.6 billion.
Cilley said the message of his funeral event, organized by his wife and her friend a few years ago, was to teach people not to use their cards unless they have enough money to pay them off in full.
"I'm old enough to know how to use it," he said. "The idea of using an 18 percent line of credit, I don't think so."
Cilley's wife, Marla, organized the funeral as part of a weekend-long conference with Pam Young, author of "The Get Out of Debt Book."
The Portland, Ore., gathering dealt with things that make people's lives stressful, and one of the sessions was about finances.
"When your finances are in disarray, your whole house goes to hell in a hand basket," said Marla Cilley, who runs an online self-improvement blog called FlyLady, which is also her nickname.
She said many of the women at the session started addressing their habits and that it was a pivotal event.
"It stuck with you," she said. "We did it in a humorous way and we learn best when we laugh."
The funeral was hardly the first or last creative way to destroy credit cards.
A British personal finance Web site featured a video this fall on six insane ways to destroy your credit card.
Let's just say that a tiny piece of plastic has no chance against a blowtorch, sulfuric acid, fireworks or even a shotgun.
Another video is titled: "Citibank vs. 12 gauge." It's pretty self-explanatory. And yet another is called "The Tennessee Credit Card Massacre."
Kevin Surbaugh, who runs a personal finance blog that he started when he first began to dig himself out of debt, said of credit cards, "They are a trap. They charge high interest rates."
So one day he and his friend, Sean Thornton, took out a gas-powered lawnmower and showed their credit cards who's boss.
Keeping Credit Under Lock and Key
"We both had credit cards we wanted to get rid of," Surbaugh said.
At one point, he had about $20,000 in credit card and automobile debt. Today, it is roughly $4,000, which Surbaugh plans to pay off by October.
On his plans for the extra cash when his debt disappears, he said, "Build my savings base. I've learned."
And thanks to his video of the lawnmower incident, others might also be learning.
As for Surbaugh, he has one credit card, which is nearly impossible to use: He keeps it in his bank's safe-deposit box.