I received two different notifications from my credit card providers this week. One made me happy. The other made me a bit frustrated.
The one that made me happy indicated that my Visa card provider was sending me a new card because my existing card was a part of the Home Depot data breach. So why does this make me happy? Because I knew I had used my Visa at Home Depot during the affected time period. I wasn’t exactly sure what my next step should be. And lo and behold….my card provider was proactive and took care of it for me. That’s a sign that my credit card company is a good one. And that makes me happy.
The notification that frustrated me was in regard to my Subaru Rewards Mastercard. I rarely use this card. I have it for exactly one reason: Sam’s Club doesn’t accept Visa. So most of the time I use the Visa card I talked about earlier. But at Sam’s Club I needed to have either a Discover or a Mastercard. I did a little research about what card would give me the best rewards deal, and decided on the Subaru Mastercard. 3% of all of my purchases goes into a rewards account, and when that account reaches $100, I get a $100 gift certificate good for sales or service at any Subaru dealership. Since I own an aging Subaru Forester, this seemed like a good choice. But the frustrating communication I received recently said that my card provider is ending their partnership with Subaru and I should expect this card to be replaced by a cash back rewards Visa. The exact same Visa that I use already. And that won’t be accepted by the one store where I use the Mastercard. Frustrating. And to top it off, I was at $82 on my rewards total, leaving me a small window of time in which to either charge $600 worth of stuff or just give up and lose the rewards I’ve been accumulating. Frustrating!
As fate would have it, I needed to buy new tires for my car, which turned out to be a $500 expense at Sam’s Club. So I think I’ll use the Mastercard for groceries this week and meet my required spending to actually receive my gift certificate. But I still needed to address the issue of future shopping. I need a new Mastercard.
I use credit cards for convenience, not for credit. I pay these cards off in full at the end of every month. But to get the most “bang” for my card usage, I like to make sure I’m earning some kind of rewards with my credit cards. Luckily there are websites designed exactly for the purpose of finding your best rewards fit. NerdWallet, CreditCards.com, and CardHub are all decent sites to help you find the best card for you, and they helped me find the new card that I needed.
Now I’m not saying that everyone should go out and apply for a credit card. But it is nice knowing that there are resources available to help you find the one that’s the best fit for you.
I love to shop. Going to the stores. Browsing online. Comparing prices. Reading reviews. Deciding exactly which item is the right one. Finding exactly the best deal on the thing that I need or want. I love the whole process. Unfortunately I’m not independently wealthy, so while shopping is a great hobby, I can’t purchase everything I’d like to.
You likely already know that I’m a big fan of shopping at thrift stores and other resale shops. When I can get a great piece of clothing from the 49 cent rack, I’m beside myself with joy. And if I pick up something that turns out to be less than perfect from Goodwill, then I’ve got so little invested that it’s no great loss.
But thrift stores are generally only good if you’re not shopping for something in particular. You go in, see what’s there, and buy what you think fits your life. But when I actually need something in particular, I turn to Amazon.com. The online superstore has absolutely everything. Generally complete with multitudes of reviews to help you compare quality of different products. I’m pretty quick to find something that I’d like to have and put it into my Amazon cart. But most times, it will stay in my cart for a good long time. I’ll keep it there, knowing I can find it quickly if it turns out I need the item in short order. Maybe I’ll have three or four different versions of the same thing hanging out in my cart while I try to make a decision. And many times, after I wait for a day or two, the urge to actually purchase the item will pass. I figure out how I can live without it. I find something similar at Goodwill or on Freecycle or on Craigslist. Or maybe it turns out I didn’t really need the thing at all. Many is the time that something will go into my Amazon cart, it will stay there for days or weeks or even months, and then I will discard it. It was clearly something I didn’t need.
By giving myself this cooling down time after putting something into my online cart, I’ve managed to save a lot of money by avoiding the impulse purchase. Whether you’re shopping online or in physical stores, it’s always a good idea to give yourself a waiting period before you make the actual purchase. This helps you to take the time to make sure you really need to make the purchase. Once you bring an item home, it’s hard to bring yourself to return it. But by waiting to make the initial purchase, you establish some certainty in the decision.
Maybe I don’t get instant gratification by following this plan. But I avoid a lot of buyer’s remorse.
I really haven’t paid attention to the idea of scammers for a while. Phishing. Smishing. Phone scams. Everybody knows about that, right? Do we have to still think about it? Apparently the answer is yes.
I have elderly parents. And last week they received a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. The man on the phone said he knew that my folks had been having trouble with their computer and he wanted to help. My father, who always struggles with his computer (I blame Windows 8), was ready to listen. Luckily my father never gave out his credit card information (which is how this scam usually ends), but he did direct his computer to several websites. I haven’t been able to get to their house to examine the damage yet, but I’m fairly certain that viruses and malware have been released. I have my folks carefully checking their credit card activity every day to watch for fraudulent charges, as I know they have used their card for online purchases and that number is likely stored in their computer’s memory somewhere.
So fraud is out there. I guess it always will be. How do you protect yourself against it?
Here are some things you SHOULD do:
- Check your banking/credit card statements regularly to make sure every transaction is one you remember making.
- Check your credit report at least once a year (http://www.annualcreditreport.com).
- Change your online passwords regularly—to something complicated that includes letters, numbers, and symbols.
Here are some things you SHOULD NEVER do:
- Give your credit card number out on a telephone call that you did not initiate
- Click on a link in an email or text from someone you don’t know/trust
- Email sensitive information such as your Social Security number
- Call back the number of a missed call from someone you don’t know who did not leave a message identifying themselves
- Wire money to a stranger (yes….people still do this!!!)
I could probably go on and on. But instead I’ll leave you with this helpful information from the Federal Trade Commission.
Watch yourself! Scammers are still out there, and likely always will be.
And now for something completely different…
When I was a kid, a family vacation always meant camping. A pop-up camper on the back of a giant station wagon, and we were off. And I hated it. Muddy campgrounds. Long walks to public washrooms. Trapped in the stuffy camper when it rains. Long drives stuck in the back seat of the family truckster in the middle between my older siblings. So I asked my mom why we always had to camp when we went on vacation. Why couldn’t we stay in hotels or motels like normal people? Her answer was simple. We just couldn’t afford to take these trips if we had to pay for lodging. But my parents wanted to give us experiences and make sure we could see places beyond our home in TheMiddleofNowhere Pennsylvania. So we camped.
At the time I didn’t really understand or appreciate what my parents were doing for me. And when I was a Yuppie in Chicago in my twenties and early thirties, I made it my mission to vacation like a “normal” person. In cities. In hotels. Eating in restaurants. I didn’t have a mortgage or a car payment (or even a car) or any other significant financial responsibilities. It seemed reasonable to spend my money this way.
Fast forward another ten years, and how do I vacation? I camp. I have embraced the tent. I look forward to fully removing myself from the hustle and bustle of a busy life and disappearing into the woods. The way I do it, it’s not quite glamping, but it’s pretty comfortable. A big tent with a double high air mattress. A shade canopy. A folding table where I can cook on my propane grill and my propane stove. Comfortable folding chairs where I can sit and read or play my guitar or toast marshmallows over a camp fire. It’s relaxing. It’s fun. And it’s a really nice break from normal life. And it’s cheap. Now that I do have the financial burdens of mortgage and car payments, camping makes it possible for me to get away from home without spending more money than necessary. Less expensive trips means more frequent trips. And that’s a plus.
Think camping isn’t for you? Give it some time. You may change your mind.