choice 5 why my credit cards remain in my wallet

January 14th, 2008

Choice #5: Why My Credit Cards Remain in my Wallet

Over the past month or so, I’ve gone into detail about some of the specific choices of our debt reduction journey, and why we’ve decided to do the things that we do in the way that we do them. I’ve talked about saving for college, paying off a 0% credit card well before the 0% offer elapses, the $1000 emergency fund, and paying off debts in interest order vs size order. And yes, I still believe that the $1000 emergency fund was the right choice for us at the time we made it, even with the recent emergency-fund-draining car problems.

The next personal choice I’ll discuss might be one of the most polarizing, or it might not really make a difference to anyone – who knows. :) I carry my credit cards in my wallet. In fact, so does my spouse. I have taken them out on occasion and kept them in my drawer, usually when I’ve felt like I “should” because that is the prevailing wisdom when you’re getting out of debt, but I’ve always put them back. I have three basic reasons, one of which my spouse actually shares with me.

I’ll start of with the one I think is kind of the oddest, but yet it is a reason anyway. If I have them in my wallet – I feel like I have them under my control. They aren’t just randomly stashed somewhere, or destroyed and the numbers are just out there in the universe. I know where they are, and I know where to find them. This makes me feel less nervous about my identity being stolen. It may sound strange, but it is true. If the numbers were just out there and I had no tangible record of them, I feel like they are more vulnerable to being ripped off. Honestly, typing that out, it seems odd, but it is how I feel. My spouse had his identity stolen several years ago and I’m still not over it. ;) However, this isn’t the reason my spouse carries his.

Second, honestly, I just don’t need to take them out to not use them. Different people have different ways they need to deal with things. For me, I was okay just deciding not to use them anymore. I was never really an “impulse” credit user. I always knew before I even started shopping if I was going to use credit or not. I just wasn’t a responsible user. And I did a whole lot more damage to myself with those credit card convenience checks than I ever did with the actual card.

Third, they serve their purpose as the “just in case” strategy. And I’m not talking about as an emergency fund – even when we decided to use credit in this recent emergency, we didn’t do it impulsively by whipping out one of our credit cards, it was a deliberate process that ended up not involving any of our existing cards. The “just in case” I mean is “just in case” our debit card stops working. This actually did happen, and we were fortunate enough to have it resolved before we would have had to use credit, but if it had happened when we were already on our trip instead of just starting on our trip, we might not have been so fortunate. At Gather Little By Little, glblguy talks about setting up a second bank account to serve this same purpose, and that might be something I choose instead in the future. At this moment, I’m still balancing keeping as little money as possible in my pocket and as much of it thrown at debt reduction as I can, and I think that the debit card not working is unlikely enough that I’d rather use my credit card as the backup plan. Oh and for those keeping score, this is the reason my spouse carries his.

In summary, I feel better knowing exactly where they are and honestly, I don’t think about them all that often. I think about the debt, but the cards themselves? I don’t give them much thought. So for me, being in my wallet doesn’t make their use more likely to happen. To each, indeed, their own.

This does not mean I think everyone should carry their credit cards. We all have our own spending triggers, and the key to navigating this is knowing what yours are and avoiding them. I can’t carry cash. I just spend it on randomness. I’d end up much further in debt if I just took all my money as cash and carried it around. I’d end up having to use credit to pay my bills and all would not go well. That’s the devil I have to eventually conquer.

Are you in debt? Do you carry your cards? Or have they gone through the shredder? Leave a comment and let me know! :)

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27 Responses to “Choice #5: Why My Credit Cards Remain in my Wallet”

  1. We only have one credit card, and it stays locked up in our fireproof box. If our debit card didn’t work, I would just use my checkbook, I suppose, or go to the closest ATM. I’ve never had a problem.

  2. I still carry mine because I’m basically living off the thing right now. I have no other way to pay for the $400 in gas it costs me just to get to work and back every month. Which is why I’m making negative progress towards my debt.

  3. Mine are all still in my wallet. I never really had an issue with wanting to use them, and I like to have it available in case of an emergency.

    My husband carries 1 or 2 with him for the same reason.

  4. I have three credit cards. One, I keep in my wallet for those “crap! my debit card didn’t work!” emergencies. I also use my credit card at the gas pump. I don’t use it anywhere else, unless I make online purchases.

    Card # 2 I will close later this spring (I booked a flight on it, and I’m waiting for the flight to go A-OK before closing).

    Card # 3 I have no idea why it’s still open. It’s in my filing cabinet. I’ll need to think about that one.

    I think as long as you have designated reasons for using your credit card, even if you are in debt, that’s ok.

  5. Thanks for the link. Mine are all gone…want nothing to do with them.

  6. As a constant reader of your blog, I have surmised the following conclusions: until you make some serious changes in your attitude about credit and debt, I’m sorry to say, you will always be at a crossroad and never on a clear path.

    In order to be debt free and on the road to freedom, you have to make some hard decisions. You’re still floundering around.

    #1 Until you cut up those credit cards or cancel them, carrying them around in your wallet accomplishes absolutely nothing. You are just fooling yourself. Carrying them in your wallet is a crutch. You are terrified to carry CASH in your wallet because you will spend it, yet you keep credit cards for a ‘just in case’ your debit card doesn’t work. As long as you believe in that scenario: it will be true and it will come true and it will happen. Your reason to carry the credit cards in your wallet will protect you from identity theft is also preposterous. As if your wallet or handbag will never be stolen or misplaced. Identity theft can happen anywhere, anytime and anyplace.

    You seem to have an inaccurate financial slant on your life: you can not face up to yourself and your situation. You do not look at yourself realistically. You do not face the truth. Until you do, you are just threading water. You will continue to get nowhere, fast.

    Cases in point:
    1. You noted that your house is cold, you can feel the coldness on your walls YET you will not have a (free) energy check on your home. You sit and suffer. You keep the thermostat low and think you are saving money. An energy check may point out a few things you can do (like put plastic covering on a window or insulation under a window or door-I don’t know-I don’t live there)but you hide your head under the covers, wear tons of clothes, which by your own statement forces you to wash more clothes and use more energy. Duh? See what I mean? You don’t face reality nor your problem, or tackle it head on, so you remain a victim.
    #2. You won’t take the time to figure out your true net worth. You state you never did before. You just learned how to do it from watching the guy from your mortgage app figure it out. You doubt your home furnishings are worth $25,000 or anything for that matter. Your goal is to be set at zero. Well, zero is where you are. You give absolutely no value to your life. Don’t you have retirement funds? College funds for the kids? savings? Equity? Oh yeah. Right. You don’t want to know or face it. More hiding under the covers and not facing your true reality. Another victim.
    #3. When you planned your Xmas trip to relatives, you miscalculated the expenses of the trip. You didn’t take into account tolls, extra food, etc. etc. This is another example of not facing up to the reality, the truth of your very real situation.

    You have stressful bills to pay but you will not touch your kids college fund. Every financial advisor will tell you that you must worry about your own life first! You kids will probably be able to get low cost college loans, yet you financially drain yourself now, when you and your husband need that money most. Suppose your kids don’t even go to college? Maybe they go to a trade school? From your own experience and student loans, you can fully understand the folly of student loans??????? You kept the $$ in your kids college fund, borrowed $800 from saturn (or whatever) to pay off the balance of your car repair and then you console yourself by saying “See! I told you we need credit. We can’t live without it”. A crutch. Another victim. Another day that you fall deeper into the credit trap and another day further from being debt free. Another day away from true financial freedom.

    Well, I’ve put in my 2 cents before and usually what you do is become extremely defensive etc. etc. etc. and lace into me. Well, go ahead. But I understand you completely. It is NOT easy giving up the credit and actually going debt free. It is a painful, painful, brutal process. It took me around 3 years to shed my old ways and until I faced reality head on, I was just wasting my time, money and energy.

    You need to get rid of those credit cards. Stop with the excuses. Carry a $100 bill in your wallet instead and start keeping cash in your home. Then you never have to worry about being short again. If you can’t control your spending the $100 in your wallet, then you will realize that you STILL have a problem. Until you control that spending urge you will never be debt free.

    I know it’s frightening. Listen, i travel to Europe without a credit card and I become paralyzed with fear each time I use their ATM machines. What if the machine eats my card, what if a pickpocket robs me, what if…what if….the list goes on and on. You just got to DO it girl!

    (please when you write back to me, please don’t be screaming at me or something. it’s difficult for me to tell people how I see it. take it from someone who has been there, done that. it is NOT easy. it’s very hard. but you are almost there and it’s frustrating to watch you struggle. i feel your pain.)

    Good luck.

  7. Boomie dear,

    I thought it was Boomer now? I must distract you. ;)

    I don’t really get defensive. I just explain. You make assumptions about me and my life that I don’t see as accurate.

    But I know that your reality colors your view of everyone else’s, and so I know there isn’t much point in questioning your assumptions :)

    Why should I live paralyzed in fear as you describe?

    I’ve never said “we need credit and can’t live without it”. I made a carefully considered choice and although it isn’t your choice, I own it, and it is mine.
    :) I’ll leave the rest because we will never see eye to eye, and that’s okay. Further explaining against your assumptions won’t really accomplish much.

    I do appreciate the time and effort you put into your response though. Even if I don’t agree :)

  8. Oh and PS – I’m not a victim. I have never claimed to be a victim, and I do not consider myself one. I do not have a victim mentality. I own up – this is our fault, and we are fixing it. Not my parents, not his parents, not our children. We take responsibility, and we work to change.

    I am not a victim.

  9. @boomie – Given you don’t even know paidtwice, that was a pretty judgmental comment to make. How can you really truely know someone by just reading their blog? If you really read her blog as you say you do, you would know she is making positive progress and hasn’t fallen back into hold habits. She owns up to her mistakes.

    Trust me, victim and Paidtwice are like oil and water, they just don’t mix.

  10. You’ve had a debti card not work? Well, just have a second account and second debt card (with a totally different bank). That’s what I do. The credit cards are GONE from my life (like Gibble) and I would rather do without something than go back into those debt chains! Oh yeah…I also carry a checkbook :) That works also. But I do understand about carrying cash.

  11. @DFR – yeah, due to some system being down my debit card didn’t work for about half a day on our trip to visit our families. The shocked look on my face when it was declined was probably priceless, and the swift call to chew out my bank had me learn that it was any card from my whole state and two neighboring states from that bank that were messed up. Heh. Not pleased, was I. We managed but we learned a little lesson. ;)

    If my debit card gets declined I am not sure wherever would be all keen to take a check from me right after…. ;)

    Glblguy also has the dual account thing. Ever since he mentioned that, I have been considering it for the long term. For the short term I just defy convention ;)

  12. I need to set up a second account, now that I don’t have any credit cards to fall back on. :) I actually do have a second account, but it’s at the same bank as my first account, so that doesn’t do me much good.

    Paidtwice, I know we see things a little differently when it comes to credit cards, but I would never consider you a victim. You’ve been kicking my tush when it comes to snowflaking and paying off debt! Whatever your thought process is behind keeping the cards, it seems to be working well for you.

  13. Yes, we are in debt and we still have 6 open credit card accounts *gasp*

    I do not carry them in my wallet but I do have easy access to them. I do use them occasionally b/c certain cards carry certain promotions that I can benefit from. For example, one card has free shipping if you use their card. I used it at Christmas time and it got paid off as soon as the bill came in. Another card gives me double airline miles if I use their card to purchase my airline tickets. Therefore, I use that card for my travel expenses. Again, it gets paid off as soon as the bill comes in.

    I’m comfortable keeping my accounts open. I have been irresponsible in the past but I have learned from my mistakes. Yes, I’m still paying for it but it will not happen again.

    So, if YOU are comfortable with your cards in your wallet, then keep them there.

  14. Wow! I don’t usually read your comments…what’s up with Boomie?!LOL If he/she is so bothered by your blog than why does he/she read it?
    Seems to be one weird cookie if you ask me….

    Anyway, I think you and your spouse are doing great:) Carrying credit cards/not carrying credit cards, using cash only/using debit card only…who really cares? A person HAS to do what works best for them. I only use cash because that’s what works for me. However, I don’t think any less of your method of personal finance just because you do it differently from me. Keep up the good work. You are truly doing a great job!

  15. I think this is like families. You know the one where happy families are all the same, but each dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in it’s own way.

    Well I think debt is the same. It wasn’t necessarily credit cards themselves that got you into trouble, it might have been the cheques, or store credit, or wasting cash, or whatever else.

    And you have to fix your own problem, not someone else’s. If that means only carrying cash, you only carry cash. If it means almost never using cash, then almost never use cash. I’ve never had a problem with credit myself, but I have issues remembering to pay bills on time. I set up everything to work automagically, and hey presto, problem solved. For me. Not for paidtwice, or anyone else.

  16. And plonkee wins for best comment. Some people need to carry cash. Me, I see the numbers on my computer screen bank account as more real than cash in hand. Cash in hand doesn’t give me a big enough picture–so I use debit and check in regularly.

    But that doesn’t work for some people.

    Whether you do cash or not, “Carry $100 in your wallet” is bad advice for a lot of people. Maybe that works for some parts of the country, but where I live the chances of getting mugged are just a little higher. Big city and living in the cheaper part of town with the higher crime rate, all that. I never carry more than $20 if I can help it.

  17. I have about 12 credit cards with total available credit well over $100,000. With the exception of 0 percent deals, each card I use is paid in full each month. The bonus points and convenience are great. You have to do what works for you. If that means cutting up the cards, so be it. For me it doesn’t.

  18. @Mrs Micah – hopw you put it is way better than I could have. “I see the numbers on my computer screen bank account as more real than cash in hand. Cash in hand doesn’t give me a big enough picture–so I use debit and check in regularly.”

    That is what it is like for me too. Indeed.

  19. So, if you carry credit cards in your wallet, and your wallet gets stolen, you are at risk of identity theft. Well, that’s easy enough to resolve – call your bank (AND the police) as soon as the theft occurs, and the protection will kick in. Then, if you’re extra paranoid, you pay a little bit and get the credit bureaus to lock down your identity so no one can go running around opening accounts in your name. Credit cards might not be your friend, but they do go a long way in making sure you’re not SOL in case of theft.

    On the other hand, you carry $100 and get mugged… well, say goodbye to $100. Ain’t no one helping you get that one back!

    The problem is not the credit card. The problem is irresponsible usage. If you’re not irresponsibly using them, then it doesn’t matter where you keep them (except, I suppose, in the case of ID theft).
    You gotta do what works for you!

  20. We’re debt free but for the mortgage and both my husband and I keep credit cards in our wallets. We use them strictly for gas–not gas station visits for Cokes and chips–just gas (pay at the pump.) We’ve used a primarily cash system for so long that it doesn’t occur to us to pull them out other places. Plus, I don’t want to have to think up a safe place to keep unused cards in my office.

  21. I’m still new to the pf blogosphere but the great credit card debate always seems to get people all riled up. I see it’s no different here. :) Good for you for knowing your strengths and weaknesses (I’m bad with cash too!) and then working them to your advantage. I too still keep all 4 of my credit cards in my wallet. For me, too, my husband and I never used them for impulse purchases and since getting serious about debt elimination, we have used them responsibly, i.e. used once to make an online purchase since one of his cards offers the single use number feature and then paid it in full (it was a card with a $0 balance. Yes, we still have credit card debt but we are making steady progress to get rid of that. It works for us and I don’t think anybody will change my mind to freeze them, cut them up or close the accounts.

  22. I agree that Boomie is a bit out of line. Though, the line between the people ok with credit cards and those that aren’t is quite sharp…

    That said, I wrote about this last week (http://smarteasymoney.blogspot.com/2008/01/credit-cards-necessary-evil-or.html), from the point of view that psychology has a large role to play in how you handle credit cards (and money in general), and *that’s* what needs to be addressed when someone has a spending problem. I don’t see the credit card as the problem — I see the way someone handles their credit card as the problem (and what you’ve explained makes perfect sense and is sensible).

    Like you, I’ve been in situations where my debit card didn’t work, or where I’ve simply left it in a different purse when I was doing something like grocery shopping. I carry my primary credit card with me, and I rarely use it. I personally see a lot of use in carrying a credit card (even when it’s not used regularly), and having at least one (hopefully one that provides some kind of rewards). I think a cash-only-no-credit life is admirable, but I know it’s not for me for a variety of reasons.

  23. Thanks for all the perspectives and experiences!

    I forgot to mention – someone else emailed me when I posted about my cold walls suggesting contacting my utilities for a free energy audit. I did contact both my gas company and my electric company, and mine don’t do them. I did get the number of a company I can pay to have do it – their estimate was anywhere from $500 to $1500 depending on how complex it became. For the audit.

    Has to wait til another time. ;)

    I grew up in an apartment, not a house, so I don’t always know the homeowner stuff.

  24. I’ve had the audit done and unfortunately because of the way my townhouse is built it would cost a fortune to have insulation put in. Also it would take cooperation of 3 different owners which if you knew my neighbor (he was convicted of assualt and battery of a police officer while drunk), would see my problem.

    So it’s easy to pick on things about people’s lives, when you don’t live there. Example, I’ve heard by a single family home, but whose going to foot the bill for it when I can only afford a townhouse?

    Same with CC, use what you can afford. If you can use a CC, great. If not don’t. Choices. It’s all about choices.

  25. I cut up my four credit cards…never will I need to go in debt to get stuff. I have started my emergency fund and have used it when the tire blew and needed replacement. I think that a person has to be “sick and tired” of being sick and tired to change. You don’t need credit cards at all to live a good healthy financial life. Use your debit card and track your spending. Then plan your money each month and “tell” it where it goes.

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