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Want to borrow my pen?


I went shopping with a friend over the weekend – and by ‘shopping’ I mean she shopped, I watched.

As she went to purchase a stack of clothing, she pulled out her shiny credit card and tapped it on the counter excitedly while she talked about how cute the clothes were.

The cashier ran the card but couldn’t find a pen for the signature. My friend looked at me and asked, ‘Do you have a pen?’

I pulled out the only pen I had, my Financial Peace University pen from Dave Ramsey.

As she gleefully signed at the bottom, I couldn’t help but laugh as I imagined the Financial Peace pen bursting into flame the second it touched the credit card slip.

Surprisingly, it didn’t.

I miss spending like that. I miss buying what I wanted. But…

I don’t miss the credit card debt.


  • Reply NCN |

    Great story…
    In a week or two, all of the stuff that was purchased will just be “stuff”, but the debt will still be DEBT…
    Keep up the awesome work…

  • Reply Joseph |

    Actually, once you pay off all the debt you’re working on, you’ll probably be able to afford a measure of that kind of shopping again. Only this time it won’t be on credit cards, you’ll have the extra cash in your budget.

  • Reply Nichole@40daysof |

    I was wondering – did your friend feel at all concerned about having her shopping spree in front of you? Like should I drink a bottle of wine in front of a recovering alcoholic?

  • Reply Cynthia |

    Are you sure it’s debt? I use a credit card for all my purchases but then pay my balance in full each month. I’m earning cash back on all those purchases and just received another $25 reward check in the mail this week. So, sure, I would pull out a shiny credit card too but it would have been a planned purchase, in my budget, (even if it was a stack of clothes) and I wouldn’t have gone into debt for it.

    Unless you know her financial situation entirely, don’t assume that stack of clothing is now a pile of debt. 🙂

    I do like the irony of the FPU pen though on that credit card slip. That is funny! Do you think Dave Ramsey felt a breeze in the air at just that moment? 🙂

  • Reply Jen |

    Like Cynthia, I use my credit cards for as many purchases as I can (except McDonald’s/fast food – that just feels weird). I don’t have any debt except my mortgage, and I pay off my credit card balances each month. For me, it makes it MUCH easier to track where I’m spending my money. And I get cash back and air miles.

    But, yeah, using the FPU pen to sign a credit card slip? That’s pretty amusing 🙂

  • Reply oofgirl |

    Hilarious!! But good on you for all the self-control….both in not purchasing and in not bursting out in laughter or tears at the pen irony.

  • Reply JMK |

    The pen comment is too funny!

    I also use my credit card for absolutely everything to simplify my tracking but mostly to earn the flight rewards. We earn 2 tickets to Europe every year just for doing our normal basic groceries, gas and miscellaneous household spending.

    I pay off my balance every week just because it’s simpler to balance up my planned spending with the charges that have been posted at the VISA website.

    Last week I pulled out my card to pay for $10 in groceries and the elderly lady behind me said “oh dear!”. I think she thought she was quiet enough that only her husband would hear her, but I had to smile. I’m sure she was worried I couldn’t afford to eat, when in fact I was looking at it as just picking up a few necessities, and as a bonus collecting a few more miles toward our trip to France and Italy next year.

    When you see someone pulling out the card it can mean they’re in a total mess, or maybe they’re completely on top of things and using it as a great tool.

    Maybe next time you shop you should drag your friend to that thrift store you found?

  • Reply David - Debt Free Marriage |

    Maybe I’m old fashioned.. but putting everything on credit cards and paying the balances off in full seems like you’re playing games…

    Cynthia, Jen, and JMK.. I’m curious. How much money do you have to spend to get a $25 rebate check? How much do you have to spend to earn enough miles to go to France or Italy.

    The reason I ask this is because every rewards program I’ve looked at so far just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

    I got one in the mail yesterday… says I can earn 2 point for every dollar I spend on “qualified purchases” for the first 12 months. It takes 2500 points to get a $25 rebate.

    So if my math is right.. I’ll have to spend $1250 to get back $25. I have a better idea.. how about I get $1250 worth of stuff by using CASH, Coupons and deals, for about $300 and I’ll put the rest into my savings.

    So far there isn’t a reward program that has convinced me that it’s better than I can do on my own.

    I’m not saying that you’re wrong.. I’m just not fully convinced that this actually WORKS.

  • Reply Leah |

    Before I had a credit card, I also used to be judgmental of people who used credit cards all the time. I’d always think to myself, why spend money you don’t have? But as I got older, I realized it’s about being responsible and building a credit history.

    Now, I just have one card that I’m using to build a credit history, so I can get a mortgage someday.

  • Reply Pam |

    David – I would imagine Cynthia, Jen, and JMK do what I do and charge monthly expenses – not buy things they normally wouldn’t. I pay all my bills, buy groceries, gas, entertainment on my credit card. It’s essentially like getting a 1% discount on all my purchases.

  • Reply Cynthia |

    That’s exactly it Pam. I use coupons. I shop for deals. Also, it’s very easy for me to spend cash and not remember where it all went. I rarely carry cash. But when I’m buying groceries (with coupons), paying for gas (at the pump so I’m not tempted by anything inside the convenience store) or paying bills (cell phone, home phone, etc. all go on a credit card) I’m earning at least 1% cash back on every single purchase. And basically *every* purchase is a qualifying purchase so every single one earns me cash back. When I had my third child recently I even put all my hospital bills on my credit card. Then I submitted the bills to my HSA for reimbursement and paid the credit card off before the month even ended. That $25 reward check I referenced took me less than two months to earn and all the charges were spent on budgeted items. Why not get the best of both?? (look for deals, use coupons and still get 1-5% back!!)

    But that’s an individual question of course. I don’t like using cash as I find I tend to spend more. Others don’t like using credit cards for the same reason. To each their own!

  • Reply Claire in CA, USA |

    Has anyone seen the movie “Confessions of a Shopaholic?” I made it required viewing for the FPU finance class I taught some teenagers. It’s highly entertaining, but has a fantastic moral. This post just reminded me of it. 🙂

  • Reply JMK |

    More on the card earning flights comment I posted earlier:

    Our VISA earns Aeroplan miles for Air Canada. We live in eastern Canada, so for us a flight to Florida is 15k miles, California 25k, Central America 40k, South America 50k, western Europe 60k miles, eastern Europe, Asia, Middle East and Australia are 75k. Our 4 tickets to Rome last time were 240,000 miles. The annual fee for our card is $120. As a bonus, when you first get the card they give you 25k miles free to get you started. A friend of mine takes turns with her husband cancelling the old card and applying for the new one in the other name so they get the 25k mile bonus every year (you can’t cancel and reapply the same year yourself).

    To clarify, I charge all our weekly groceries and gas for two vehicles to the credit card. Most weeks this is the only money we spend. We also have our monthly phone, cell, internet and life insurance charging to the card automatically. Annually we charge our house/vehicle/trailer insurance, vet visit, vehicle license tags, and kids sports/music fees. Then there are the purchases that pop up occasionally during the year: gifts, thrift stores (clothing), hardware, car repairs, tires, and dentist bills which are then reimbursed by our insurance. We go to restaurants about 6 times a year. There are hundreds of other tiny items through the year that we also pay with the card even when cash would seem more logical. Some stores have a minimum charge to use a card, but if the store will accept it, we use it. Our favourite coffee place (Tim Horton’s for any Canadians out there)doesn’t take VISA and I might feel silly charging $1.52. Instead I got a reloadable customer card. Online I can load it with any dollar value using my VISA. For convenience I have it set up to automatically reload another $30 from my VISA whenever the balance on the card drops below $5. Now I earn points on my coffee too. Every little bit counts. I’m really annoyed when I cannot put something on the card.

    With our card, we earn one mile for every dollar spent, except grocery, gas and drugstore purchases which earn 1.5 miles. Knowing this we try to make as many purchases as possible in these stores, for example my husband buys his $100 monthly bus pass at the drugstore rather than directly from the transit authority (1800 miles/yr instead of only 1200). In a typical month we normally earn about 2800 miles this way (33600/yr). The annual expenses and miscellaneous stuff add another ~15000 miles (our house/car/RV insurance is $5k alone). This puts us at about 60000/yr which is the number required for 1 flight to Europe.

    The second trip each year is earned normally in two ways. My DH travels about 12 times per year. All of this business travel must be charged to his company AMEX. We pay a $100 annual fee to add a feature to his AMEX account so that each dollar spent can be converted to a Aeroplan mile. Because he is required to bill the per diem charges even though he spends less and we save on his groceries/gas when he’s away, we make a profit of about $250/wk on his travel. I just figure the $100 fee comes out of the profit on the first trip each year, so it’s free. Transfering the points earned on his business travel normally, plus the actual points he earns by getting on the flights adds up to another 60000 miles/yr. So in rough numbers our own spending gets us 1 ticket per year and my husband’s business travel earns us the other.

    Sorry, I guess my original statement was misleading. We personally earn 2 tickets every other year, and his work earns us another 2 every other year. Last vacation I priced our tickets and they would have cost $1200ea or $4800 for the 4 of us. Instead we paid two years of the $120 annual fee on the card.

    I’m in the process of getting quotations on having our roof redone this fall. It will be going on the card and I’ll pay it off immediately with the cash we’ve saved up, but there’s no way I’m going to miss out on thousands of miles!

    If we weren’t able to earn as many miles as we do it probably wouldn’t be worth the annual fee. It wouldn’t be worth paying the annual fee for several years to get 1 free flight. We only do this because we’ve made it our business to run everything possible through the card to earn the free stuff ASAP. Keep in mind also that when we take those trips every other year we charge all the hotels, restaurants, car rentals, cruises etc on the card so we’re earning miles for the next trip while we’re having fun on the current trip.

    The only things I haven’t been able to charge to the card are the mortgage, property taxes and electricity. Really annoying since those are three of our biggest expenses.

    If I were a single person with considerably lower expenses I’d probably switch to a no/low fee card with a cash back feature. Unless you travel for work or have a lot of business expenses, I doubt a single person would probably wouldn’t be charging enough to the card to justify the annual fee.

  • Reply Beks |

    Sorry to all the credit card users who pay it off – I just don’t think there is a good reason to use credit cards at all… for anything… no matter how many miles/rewards you earn. Statistically, you spend up to 40% more when using credit cards because you don’t feel the ‘pain’ of spending. For me, that is true. I spend more on plastic (even at the grocery store) than with cash. Besides that – I don’t like dancing with danger.

  • Reply Sandy |

    I know how you feel. My husband was laid off 9 months ago and I miss eating out on weekends with no guilt. We still eat out, but try to keep it to a minimum, unlike before where we would go for any restaurant we wanted and could spend $60 easily!

  • Reply CK |

    There was a similar conversation re: credit cards on this blog a couple years back when Tricia was running it. I think it is clear that:

    1. Everybody handles their finances, including the use of credit cards, differently so there is no point in over-generalizing.

    2. There is clearly a fraction of people who do not and/or cannot use credit cards responsibly. These people should use cash.

    3. Conversely, some people have problems keeping track of where cash goes. While it does not follow that these people _should_ use credit, it is pointless to deny that:

    4. Credit cards have their advantages: a small rebate (usually 1-3%), clear accounting of where money is spent, no need to carry cash, etc. Certainly worthwhile if used properly.

So, what do you think ?