*update* I think I left the door a bit too wide open for me on this issue. I just needed to remind myself why I don’t want another credit card. The question is still a good one to ask, but I finally know that the answer is no for me.
My article on taking a look back at our first cash only Christmas was included in this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted by We’re In Debt (great site by the way, I recommend subscribing if you don’t already). The ‘King of Debt‘ at We’re in Debt made an interesting comment on my article-
I would argue that they could have earned rewards using their credit cards, but cash only is just that, cash only with no possibility of spending more.
I don’t disagree with the comment but part of my get-out-of-debt plan is cutting up my credit cards and closing accounts as I pay them off so going out and getting a rewards credit card isn’t an option for me right now.
This topic really just brings us back to the old argument of what we are doing with PERSONAL finance and why we have to consider the emotional and non-mathematical parts of the equation. Looking strictly at the numbers, yes, you would be better off spending your money on a rewards credit card and paying off the balance early each month (never carrying a balance). That is true IF you have the discipline to pay off the balance on time AND the discipline to not spend more money because you are using your rewards credit card. Can you honestly say you are never tempted by your rewards points to buy a little more than you had planned before? Maybe you aren’t and if so, you are the person that should be using this strategy. If I am honest with myself, I know that I would be tempted to spend more money in order to earn the rewards. If I spend less money using cash (and debit cards) then that is how I need to pay for things until I develop better discipline with my spending.
Taking control of your personal finances really requires a focus on the human and emotional aspect of your money (we are starting with the assumption that your finances got out of control like mine). I can’t just look at the numbers, do a little math, and suddenly be out of debt. That is part of the process, but I have to understand what got me here. Honestly, I think I’m a shopaholic. I thought that seemed crazy at first, but after reading this great article by J.D. at Get Rich Slowly, I really think that is me. Like most men, I don’t get any joy out of going to the mall or shopping anywhere in general, but if I sit down at my laptop with a cup of coffee and visit Amazon.com, I could easily spend and spend some more without thinking about it. In fact, I did just that when I got my Amazon.com rewards credit card! Oh how I loved racking up those Amazon points- well, guess what? I couldn’t use that card wisely and it only took a few months for me to max it out. Is that stupid? Absolutely that is stupid. I am not trying to suggest that a rewards credit card is evil, but in the wrong hands it certainly is. No offense to anyone who has struggled with alcohol, but this is much the same situation- the bottle of beer in itself is not evil, but in the wrong hands it can do great damage.
I am not trying to argue with the comment regarding the benefits of rewards credit cards. If I didn’t make it clear, I absolutely agree with that opinion. However, I want to stress the fact that this strategy is not for everyone. You need to know yourself, be honest with yourself, and do what works for you to save money and take control of your finances. I am not saying that I will never use a rewards credit card. I may get to the point where I can have the discipline to use it as a personal finance tool and actually earn money with it, but I’m not there now. I actually admire the people who are able to do this- they must truly be wise and disciplined. Frankly, I love seeing people ‘stick it’ to the credit card companies and earn money using the very same piece of plastic that is the downfall of so many others and costs most people thousands of dollars a year in interest charges. I can’t argue with the math, I just know I can’t trust myself in that area yet.