My Credit Card Is My Single Most Powerful Budgeting Tool

Maybe the title of this post surprised you, as credit cards are often villified in the personal finance community. However, if you’re out of debt and you can manage credit without overspending, a credit card has more perks than pitfalls.

I have two main credit cards: gold American Express card, which costs $150 per year, and the no-fee MBNA cash-back rewards card.

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I used to have the Platinum American Express card, but downgraded to the gold card when I went back to school. I really, really miss my platinum card and the airport lounges and my free car rental upgrades and my gift cards to Coach… sigh. Maybe next year I can get it back.

Whenever possible, I charge all purchases to my American Express.

At stores that do not accept American Express, I pay with my Mastercard.

I have a third no-fee, no-useful-rewards Visa card that I’ve had since I was 18 that I don’t use but just keep buried in a drawer because I constantly go back and forth about cancelling it. On one hand, it has the longest history (nearly 11 years!) but on the other, it never gets used so maybe it’s credit history doesn’t matter. I keep it out of a mix of being to lazy to cancel combined with a sense of emergency preparedness that, if my wallet were to get stolen again, I would be able to access money while waiting for replacement credit and debit cards to come in.

How My Credit Card Helps Me Budget

1. My credit card statement lists my spending, down to every penny. As much as I like money, even I find it tedious to write down where my every cent goes. My credit card statement is a perfect record of where my money has gone. (note: it’s possible for your credit card to contain mistakes and erroneous charges, which is why it’s important to check it against your receipts. Because I manage my transactions manually in the budgeting software I use — Money 4 by Jumsoft — I look at my credit card statement online 1-2 times per week to make sure it matches my own records)

2. All my regular bills are charged to my credit card, reducing the number of due dates I have to remember from a half-dozen to just one. I don’t know or care when my credit card, Netflix, or cellphone bills come in — they are all automatically charged to my credit card and I know when my credit card bill comes due!

3. I rack up the rewards points like crazy! By making an effort to put all my spending on plastic, I spend over $1,000 on my credit cards every month. On the American Express this will translate to 1,000 Amex points, or the equivalent of $10 (a 1% return). Already this year I’ve used Amex points to pay for over $250 of hotel stays when I went out of town to attend weddings. I love how Amex let’s you select how many points you want to apply to recent travel purchases:

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 *Note: even thought the American Express is “my” card, I use the points for joint spending with my boyfriend, like these hotel stays. Both weddings we attended were for cousins of mine, so I felt like because I dragged him all the way to Edmonton for my family events, the least I could do was help with the costs of our hotel stays. It’s just another way we share money after our joint chequing and joint savings accounts.

The only reason my credit card works for me as a budgeting tool is because I never carry a balance.

I usually make payments against my credit card balance 2-3 times per month. I have to — it gives me anxiety whenever I see it creep over $700! I’ve finally developed that magic personal finance sixth sense where I can just *feel* when my balance is getting too high and I just pay it down. This is the best practice because I never pay interest on any of my purchases.

If you owe a balance on your credit cards, DO NOT USE THE CARDS JUST TO GET REWARDS. The rewards don’t negate what you pay in interest, so you’re still operating at a loss. Put the cards away, kill the debt, and when you’re down to zero wait a full month, and then you can start using the cards again.

My credit cards make managing my finances easier, but I know it’s not for everyone. Anyone else have a great rewards card or other credit card that helps them budget?

What’s so special about the Delta Credit Card? Let’s Look at Why People Like Me Love It!

One thing that really inspired me to start saving money is my Delta SkyMiles credit card. I wanted to travel ever since I was a kid. Growing up, it was really difficult to go anywhere because we were a large family, and the costs were just astronomical. I don’t think this card existed back then because I’m pretty sure my dad would have wanted it. I initially was looking for a card that just would earn me some miles and give back on purchases. In addition to these basic perks, the Gold Delta credit card provides a number of other benefits as reviewed on milecards.com.

I immediately earned 30,000 bonus miles after I made my first purchase of $1,000. You have three months after you open an account, but I bought airplane tickets to Australia the first weekend I had the card. I wanted to get over to Sydney as soon as possible. The air miles that I racked up for this trip alone allowed me to go on another trip just a few months later. My friends were really surprised that I was taking off to go to New York. It was kind of thrilling to be able to use the card that frequently.

I earned a $50 statement credit after I purchased my next tickets through Delta. This was part of the bonus that I got from my trip to Australia. When I decided to book another, I saw that I was able to get some cash back for flying with Delta. I earned as I spent as well. That’s part of American Express’ advantages for the Delta credit card. Cardholders get two times the miles on Delta purchases. So now, whenever I fly, I choose Delta because it earns me more miles, and I happen to really love their in-flight service. The attendants are exceptional, and there’s always some great bonuses like in-flight movies and comfortable seats.

I also earn one mile for each purchase that I make for everything else, so when I went to SoHo during my stay in New York, I racked up some more miles, and I also got some miles back from my hotel as well. If you use the card, you can check your miles each day and see how much you’re getting back. It’s really amazing. I never thought that a card would pay me so well, but I’m actually getting paid to travel and for making the purchases I would have made anyway.

There are some other great benefits to using the Delta card. I was able to check my first bag for free on every Delta flight that I booked. Since the benefit applies to traveling companions as well, the savings come out to about $200. They were pretty shocked to get priority boarding, but that’s another perk of having this card. You always get to board first and settle in without being bothered. There are some other premium travel perks as well, such as 20 percent off in-flight purchases.

The greatest part about this card was that they didn’t have an annual fee for the first year. Flying has really been much easier since I got the American Express Delta card. I didn’t know that I could earn money back before, and it’s been a blessing to be able to go where I want, spend money and always have some bonus miles to help me go on another trip in a few months.

Shopping with the Delta card is almost too easy. You can check your account online, and the interface is really smooth so you can see how much you’ve spent, how many miles you have and look at all of your transactions. The customer service team at American Express is also really fabulous. They helped me when I lost my card. I didn’t think I was going to be able to do anything on my trip to Colorado, but I had a new card quickly, and they also took care of any purchases that might be made with my lost card, which was great for both my credit and my peace of mind.

Overall, I give American Express’ Delta card a really high ranking. If you love flying all over and want to earn something in return, you’ll always have extra miles, and the annual fee is actually pretty low considering what you’ll find at other credit card companies. I’m currently planning another trip with my Delta card and hope that it’s just as good of an experience as the rest. I have enough miles to go overseas again, so I’m thinking about London this time. It wouldn’t be possible without the Delta card. It’s the only reason that I get to travel this much.

It’s All My Fault

As an adult in debt that is not related to absolute necessity (i.e. medical debt), I am fully aware that my debt is my fault. Not my parents’ fault because they didn’t tell me what to do with my money, not my school’s fault because proper financial education was not required, and not the big bad credit card companies’ fault for giving me credit when I was young and irresponsible. Mine.

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At the age of 18, we are officially declared adults. We can vote, smoke, have holes drilled into our bodies, and obtain credit with little to no income. I did all of these things. With this power comes great responsibility (thank you, Uncle Ben!). Adults are in charge of themselves. Therefore, whatever happens to them is directly influenced by the way they choose to live their lives.

Sallie Mae did not hide the fact that I would eventually owe the money I was borrowing back with interest. Neither did Visa. They gave me paperwork that laid this information out, and I signed it.

I am in a heap of debt. While it’s frustrating sometimes, the one thing I don’t do is play the victim. If you blame everything and everyone around you and do not take responsibility for your debt, you are essentially saying “I am not an adult. I am a child who ate too much candy and got a tummy ache.”

Grow. The. Fuck. Up.

If I may quote a movie (and I may because I’m the one writing this), “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Okay, ‘cause I don’t associate with people who blame the world for their problems. Because you’re your problem Annie, and you’re also your solution.” If you don’t know which movie this came from, we probably can’t be friends. It’s not personal, I just really can’t associate with people who don’t watch awesome movies.

Own every decision you make in adulthood. You should be proud of and/or learn from every single thing you do. When I get mad about my HUGE amount of debt, it’s at myself. No one else spent that money for me. No one else over drafted my checking account like twenty times freshman year. No one else decided to max out my credit card buying spray paint. I did ALL of it and I own it. Because blaming it on someone else would be me waving the white flag to adulthood. It would be saying, “I can’t make my own decisions”. It would be the easy way out and I would lose all respect for myself.

So please, stop blaming:

Your parents

Your teachers

The economy

Marketers

Credit card companies

Banks

God/Allah/Buddha/Satan/Nature/Dave Ramsey/Me/Whomever or whatever the hell you believe in

You’re your problem. And you’re also your solution. Decide today to own your life.

How I fixed my credit card spending in 30 days

Since July, I drastically reduced my spending in all areas. How?

I forgot my PIN to one of my credit cards

and

I broke the other (literally, I cracked the card)

So for just over a month all my spending has been cash and debit. The result? I’m no longer a month behind my expenses. This is a big deal for me! Normally I put everything on my credit card, then pay it off as I am paid. While thiscan seem like an overall safe practice, it’s always given me some anxiety because I think that if anything were to happen, I would need to use my entire my emergency fund to wipe out my credit card bill — and then what would get me through the emergency?

I know I can call the credit card company and get a new pin, and call the other one and get a new card, but I just kept procrastinating that and spending my cash instead. Now I don’t even want to go back to spending on my credit cards because using cash has been so good for me!

Want to fix your credit card spending in just 30 days?

Step 1: cut up the card so it cannot be used

Step 2: do not call the credit card company replace card

Step 3: keep paying until the balance is gone!

You’re done! I know, I know, not exactly rocket science but at least it’s effective.

The Centurion: the Black American Express Card

Have you heard of this? My first encounter with the black American Express card was at a Christmas Party last year.

 

Someone had used the box it comes in (a bulk wooden thing with velvet trim inside) to house their present for the gift exchange. Would have just been nice if the card WAS the gift you know?? After the gift exchange was finished, I guess not enough people recognized what the wooden box represented so the gifter whipped out his black American Express and started showing it off to everyone. You know, not to point out he had one but just because it was made out of metal and that’s “so cool”. I had no idea what the card represented (or should I say what the cardholder wanted it to represent), but the overwhelming awkwardness of flashing your credit card around a party made me go home and google it. Here’s the lowdown:

The card requires a one-time fee of $5,000 followed by an annual fee of $2,500

The income requirement is not publicly disclosed, but it seems to be around $100,000/yr (personally I felt this was a little low for such an “exclusive” card)

The net worth requirement is not publicly disclosed, but is rumored to be around $250,000

The spending requirement is also not publicly disclosed, but looks like you need to blow $250,000 on your American Express Platinum card the year prior (baffling if you’re only brining in $100K/yr)

On average, Centurion card holders are 49-yro males with net worth over $1 million dollars and perfect credit scores who love to use their Black American Express card to buy clothes for women.

So why would you even want any of that?

Well, the first perk that caught my eye was complimentary companion airline ticket on international flights with the purchase of one full-fare ticket. Wow! Assuming you buy first class (and why wouldn’t you? You have a black card!), the complimentary plane ticket for your travel buddy would justify the annual fee and then some! I’ve checked: first class fights to Europe from Canada run in the neighbourhood of $5,000 — that’s twice the annual fee. Imagine being able to get that for FREE for a friend or spouse? I feel like it would be a lot easier to convince people to travel with me if I could offer them a free first class ticket ;)

Upon your arrival at your international destination, why not check in to a Mandarin Hotel? You get one complimentary night as a black card holder. You’re also complimentarily enrolled in Hertz and Avis rental car programs.

Furthermore, you can whip your titanium credit card out of your wallet at parties to let everyone know how rich you are. Who can put a price tag on that?