Call Your Credit Card a "Plastic Check"!
I was probably the only fifth grader I knew with a checkbook, and definitely the only one hunched over the dining room table trying to balance the numbers every month. Sure, I would rather have been watching Saturday morning cartoons, but this was my mother’s requirement: I had to learn, at a tender age, how quickly money slipped through my fingers and how important it was for me to keep track of it. (See also: How to Financially Educate Your Children)
When she signed me up for a credit card, hoping to reinforce similar principles, my mother conditioned me to think of the credit card as a checkbook. Knowing the end of the month would bring a bill and an ensuing check written out for whatever I’d spent, I never felt the thrill of freedom that courses through many people’s veins when they get their hands on that piece of plastic. Instead, I felt something more like fear.
Credit cards seem to have been specially designed so people can live outside their means and suffer for it, but you don’t have to use them that way. Many credit cards have a great advantage over checkbooks; they offer tantalizing points systems that award you monetarily as long as you pay up. I use my two credit cards to get more than what I originally paid for by working up to a free plane ticket or a cash bonus, but as a rule, I never put anything on a credit card that I couldn’t write a check for that week.
My husband and I made some major life purchases this summer, the most costly one being a bedroom set and mattress. My husband somehow convinced me to let those charges sit on our credit card because our savings investments will make more interest in a month than our credit card can charge. Mathematically, I saw his point, but my trepidation at the “slippery slope” of credit card debt trumps what many might deem simple financial logic. Ultimately, I’d rather dip into savings to get rid of that nasty figure on the card statement, then replenish our savings from our paychecks. At least I’d be “balanced” at the end of each month, and mom’s not the only one who would be happy about that.