The Most Important App You Could Have

Original post

Most of us use credit cards. This article isn’t about that. Nor is it about paying your cards off every month (which you should do). It’s about something very simple that could be invaluable for you and your children.

Let me backtrack for a minute…

I had long avoided using credit cards. I was a cash and debit card kind of guy. I don’t like debt, and I’ve positioned myself to be ultra-disciplined when it comes to spending. If I can’t afford to buy something outright with cash… I don’t buy it. End of story. That’s still the case today.

That said, about two years ago something shifted and I began using credit exclusively.

I read that a debit card is less safe to use in terms of fraud liability than a credit card is. With a debit card, you can be liable for more than the $50 maximum that a credit card obliged you to pay in the event of fraud. Of course, you must report it to get the protection. But with a debit card, you can not only be liable for more, but it can also tie up your personal bank account until the problem is solved.

I used to use debit cards when I traveled overseas as well. I would withdraw cash everywhere I went because it was cheaper than paying the exorbitant exchange rate and fees while using most credit cards.

Today, however, I use only credit. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I used my debit card. The upside now is that I found a card that gives me huge rewards (I wrote about it recently… you can read more here). And it doesn’t gouge me for purchases overseas. I still pay off my account in full each month.

But there’s one feature I love the most. It’s the one that opened my eyes to the fact that I have a spending problem, despite being a very disciplined investor. I’ll chalk it up to the adage “You’re never too old to learn something new.” As a result, I now have a love-hate relationship with my credit card.

I signed up to receive text alerts each time I use my card for any purchase more than $5 and ANY gas station purchases regardless of the amount.

That might seem excessively low to some of you, but there is a reason behind it… I did it for security.

When someone steals your card or number, the first thing he or she usually does is test it out. They make small purchases just to see if it works. Small purchases don’t raise eyebrows. And gas stations are the perfect place to test it out since you can buy at a point of sale with no human interaction.

However, even with the best of intentions, this story has a sour ending. I have not had my card or identity stolen. But I have suffered another blow… This one is to my financial ego.

Now, after I use my card or see an automatic monthly purchase like Netflix or season tickets, I see a message pop up.

Not a day goes by without something being charged somewhere, and I am now seeing the full scope of my spending in one place. I see little things here and there that I know are frivolous. I also see expenditures at pharmacies, the doctor’s office, the mechanic, the restaurants I frequent, the grocery store and of course the monthly charges that make me feel guilty for not fully using the services I am paying for.

It shows me two things. First, I spend more frivolously than I imagined. And second, it shows me that I better get my finances in order. Some recurring necessary purchases are not going away and may increase as I get older.

The added bonus of being able to track your purchases electronically may well be the best thing that ever happened to me when it comes to spending.

By exclusively using a credit card for every purchase I make, I can now see the full picture in one place. While it’s not pretty, it’s the wake-up call I needed to address my finances. (Don’t get me wrong… I am not as bad as I am making it sound. Financial responsibility is my hallmark. But it’s bad for me.)

Pick up your phone now and download your credit card company’s app if you don’t already have it on there. Log in, go to your security preferences and start entering your different alert stages.

It will change how you spend, and I guarantee that you will spend less frivolously going forward. It will finally make that cellphone worth that automatic monthly charge!

Good investing,

Karim