From parental mouths to my childhood ears: “If you can’t pay cash, then you don’t need it.”
It took me a few years until I realized that that parental conversation had direct connection to how one went about financing desirable purchases. For vehicles, there was a payment plan with the monthly amount based on the size of the cash down payment. There was celebration when the balance was paid in full, and then it was time for a new car or truck.
But except for vehicles, never ever did the parents buy “on credit.”
And in all the years they lived, they never applied to have a charge card that in their opinion simply allowed people to build up a debt they would have trouble paying.
Nope: “pay cash or go without.”
When we set up housekeeping 53 years ago, we didn’t get a credit card until 1977 when the bank manager convinced us we needed that piece of plastic to establish a credit rating. Before that we paid cash money or wrote cheques to pay our bills.
Since then lifestyles have changed and credit cards are required to rent a car, book a motel room, and often even to buy a tank of gas. Thus we have customized our finances in such a way that that card is now a vital part of our everyday lives.
But recently an issue with our card provider made me think about how our parents would have smirked and said “we told you so.”
I have always lived in fear of having a card “declined” while trying to make a purchase in a store where others would overhear the clerk telling us the card didn’t go through and asking with disdain in his/her voice if we had another card to use. I knew I would hide my head in shame if it happened to me in public.
Thankfully it happened in the safety of our home while I was attempting to purchase a program that would protect our computer network from creeps, perverts and foreign governments. “Transaction declined” said the notification on my computer screen. The kindly technician on the portable landline immediately gave me the number of the credit card’s fraud line and I waited for a real person to come on the line to explain why I was declined, when my best-before-date was eons away.
While waiting I wondered if the card refusal had anything to do with the letter from February that indicated we would be receiving upgraded cards. No new cards had arrived since that February notification.
The credit card employee, upon hearing the problem, indicated our cards had been disabled that day because we were getting new cards. She could not explain why the old cards had been disabled before the new cards arrived.
Upon my inquisition, she discovered the new cards had been mailed that very day and should arrive “soon.” She had no explanation for the timing of these transactions, nor could she explain how we would be able to pay for gas and rent hotel rooms on the coming long weekend. She promised to leave a note on our account. She did not specify what the note would say but I suspect it would not have been in our favour.
The computer technician, who had heard our exchange, could not believe the thought process of the credit card company. Ditto on my part.
We made it through the long weekend and well into the days of the following week, living frugally while anticipating the arrival of new cards. Friends and relatives kindly offered us the use of their cards. We declined, with thanks, although in retrospect, it might have been fun to buy a few non-essentials on someone else’s dime.
The onus is now on Canada Post to deliver our much anticipated and new cards.
The lesson in all of this is to have a bit of cash on hand, maybe squirrel away another credit card for similar situations, maintain friendly relations with the folks who offered their cards, and remember the parental advice: “pay with cash or go without.”
Joyce Walter can be reached at email@example.com
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.