Our world is increasingly moving towards electronic money: credit cards for purchasing, stored value cards for 7-Eleven or the subway or Starbucks, electronic gift cards, debit cards for cash, even mobile phone swipes for automated drinks machines… In many cases, though, it is the credit card that is moving into the center of the electronic money world from e-commerce to gas stations to whatever it is you want to buy, wherever, and whenever.
Though, it is in fact a handy way to keep a control of your budget, much more so than cash. You get a consolidated statement at the end of the mouth with how much you have spent, itemized and clearly set out; you are given a few weeks to pay the balance or minimum amount; and you get different kinds of bonuses – rewards, cashback or airmiles. You can even get a special deal on a balance transfer, or on purchases! Hmm? Sounds not bad, eh?
And then there is the thrill of temptation: something you see in a store you wouldn’t otherwise consider. Why? Because you just wouldn’t spend that much cash on a new bag (ladies?) or a hi-fi system (guys?) or something for the family (a new sofa?)…
This can be the beginning of a long love and hate relationship with the credit card. You love it because it allows you privileges (the gift catalogue, airmiles, vip rooms at the airport) but you hate it because of the charges (interest payments, membership fees, surprising charges and penalties). Everytime you pay off your statement, you think to yourself: Hah! I’m free. I’ll go celebrate! You go out, and take the card! Soon you start to think: Woah! I’d better not spend so much.
And there is the rub. Cash is a flexible medium. It can be spent or saved. It can be given away, loaned, invested or lost! Whatever you do with cash, it is YOUR choice. But a credit card can only be spent. It is a card for consumption. So it should be treated as such. If you wish to take part in the electronic money world, you’d be better to look for non-credit based alternatives, if you really want to be in control.