plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

June 19, 2008

credit cards are like alcohol

Filed under: credit and debt — Tags: , — plonkee @ 12:00 pm

A while ago, Patrick @ Cash Money Life wrote about how credit cards are like guns. Well, this English person doesn’t like guns in the slightest and willfully and deliberately fails to think of a good reason to have them around. You might think that’s a touch irrational if you’re not British, so just remember that I come from a different culture with a very different attitude to gun control than some of the rest of the English speaking world.

On the other hand, one of the things that is widely available in the UK is alcohol. Not only is it widely available, it is also used and misused by all sorts of people. Really, quite a lot like credit cards. I use both.

Alcohol is a dangerous substance. Lots of people misuse it, by binge drinking to excess, and cluttering up A&E departments in hospitals with alcohol poisoning and drunken accidents, or by drinking and driving (IMHO an almost completely inexcusable crime), or by becoming addicted to alcohol.

Credit cards are dangerous. Lots of people misuse them by, making payments late and getting fees, or running up debts that cost them a fortune to clear.

On the other hand, a small glass of red wine a few times a week is good for your health. And a cashback credit card, with the balance always paid off in full, is good for your wealth.

You can, of course, go without one or the other relatively easily. You don’t need to drink alcohol to celebrate momentous occasions, to relax with friends – even in the pub, or to enjoy gourmet food. You don’t need a credit card to make purchases online, rent a car, or build a credit history.

But, just like there’s no replacement for the sensation of champagne bubbles on the tongue, or savouring a pint of excellent beer, it’s harder to replace a credit card for some transactions – particularly those where it represents trust.

If you don’t drink alcohol, whether because you have been physically addicted to it, or some other reason that’s fine. If you don’t use credit cards, whether because you have previously had a problem with them, or you just don’t want to, that’s also fine. You’re a grown up, I respect your ability to make your own decisions.

What’s not fine is projecting on to everyone else. Your fear that you will be unable to use credit cards sensibly (which may well be perfectly justified) shouldn’t be applied to everyone else. They may know that they can use them sensibly. Just like your dislike or fear of alcohol (which is generally a reasonable one) shouldn’t be applied more widely than yourself. Other people are grown ups who can make their own decisions too, and those decisions can be different from yours.

For me, I use credit cards all the time and have never run up major debts, don’t carry a balance, and only spend money that I already have. I strongly suspect that I’m not the only person in the world able to do so without a problem.

Image by Gaetan Lee

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