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Card Times: Why your credit card isn’t always best option

When the financial waters get rough and the storm that is trying to save money hits your checkbook, you look for salvation and safety anywhere you possibly can find it.

And that includes within the friendly confines of the life preserver that you know all too well: the credit card.

Yes, that plastic purveyor of security and well being as it relates to your financial security isn’t afraid to rear its ugly black strip and tempt you to use it when things aren’t particularly fun or easy when it comes to money.

The credit card, for the most part, carries with it a much-needed negative connotation. They’re quite simply bad news for the masses, mostly because we aren’t educated on how to use them properly and often run to them like a bad relationship you simply can’t get over or walk away from for good.

Now, the credit card, in fairness, can be a good thing. People who use them and pay off the balance right away or reap the perks with them as far as points and travel benefits, for example, have no issues with credit cards. They take them for what they are worth and should be: a 30-day loan that you make good on right away.

Those who find themselves in some sort of financial peril tend to turn toward the credit card to use it for things that go beyond emergency purchases, like braces for the kids or a hole in the roof that needs fixed desperately and without hesitation.

No, this is about using a credit card, for example, to pay off another credit card, and truthfully really not getting ahead at all.

Have you ever used your credit card for purchases that you’d consider daily? If you’re charging coffee, lunches and groceries with your credit card because you simply don’t have the money, that’s a huge red flag.

Furthermore, some have the bright idea of paying student loans or other low interest debt with credit cards, which is a true head scratcher. A student loan can have a rate as low as 2%, so why would anyone in the right mindset pay that loan with a credit card with a rate that could be 10 times that amount?

Truthfully, paying any bill with a credit card means you need to rethink your budgeting and expenses, and might need to start cutting the latter. Using a credit card is the financial version of putting a band aid on a bullet wound.

Budget Breakdown: Why your budget isn’t working for you

Have you every stared blankly at a spreadsheet, your budget specifically, and wondered why what is in front of you just isn’t how your monthly expenses versus income is truly playing out?

Chances are, you’ve, at one time or another, had a budget and took the time to, line by line, take into consideration what your expenses are and adding your income to the mix to get an accurate idea of how much you’re spending and what you can potentially save.

The key word: potentially.

What typically derails a budget is what isn’t there in black and white. And no, you’re not talking about major repairs that show up unexpectedly but rather the propensity of the general public, even those with budgets, to not include line items for things we do daily sometimes, yet fail to mark it on our budgets.
Almost as if they don’t exist.

Think about how many times this past week you packed a lunch for work, versus eating out. Do the same thing with dinner, an at home meal versus one that you’re buying for the sake of convenience.

The average person spends nearly $10 per day on lunch and another $20 for oneself for dinner. Do that three times per week, and that’s $100 and another $400 for an entire month. Do you have anything on your budget adding $400 or so against your income? Probably not. The majority of budgeters aren’t putting aside $4,000 per year for eating out at restaurants for lunch and dinner.
But we should be.

In addition to food, the daily habits that help or hurt us depending on perspective can be quite costly. Think about having a cup of $3 coffee daily, five to seven days per week. A pack of cigarettes costs $5 and if you’re a pack a day smoker, you’re spending almost $2,000 per year. That coffee drinker isn’t doing much better, either. They’re about $1,000 on coffee and that’s if they can resist the urge to have just one cup.

The tendency of budgeters to take into consideration the major expenses, like rent, mortgages and car payments and leave off the little items isn’t anything new. That mentality has been making budgeting that much more difficult for quite some time.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. A budget needs to be all encompassing; include food, clothing, trips, vacations, work expenses or anything else you buy in bulk over the course of a month.

Doing that is going to be the difference between a realistic budget and a false sense of financial security.

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