Thursday, June 23, 2011

Living On Plastic

I rely a lot on my debit card. I seldom carry cash around, for two reasons: coins are heavy and banknotes get lost easily. And of course, because most shops in France accept debit/credit cards.

I love it that I can just go out anywhere carrying just a piece of plastic. It's like having a very, very thin wallet, only thinner. Aha. If I'm carrying cash and it gets stolen, it's real money I'll never see again. On the other hand, if my card gets stolen, I can just call my bank and cancel it without a cent of my money budging from my account. That's the beauty of having the Carte Bleue system in France. All debit/credit cards are smart cards with PIN codes, so if they get stolen, the only way they can be used is using the Internet. Even then, they can trace where the Internet purchase was being made and might catch the thief. Either way, the cardholder will not be charged.

When I go back to Malaysia for good, I'll insist on having a debit card, not a credit card. With a debit card, the money is taken from your bank account right away after payment, and payment is refused if you don't have enough funds. This way, I'll be prudent with my money and only buy things I can afford. Using a credit card is basically just borrowing money from the bank and repaying the debts at the end of every month, which can be very, very dangerous because swiping your credit card at the cashier really feels like you're creating money out of thin air.

Now I have another reason to be prudent: my banker just called me and offered me a Visa Premier (you know, that shiny gold card) due to my "unwavering loyalty and trust in our services". Translation: We see you as a big spender and we'd like you to spend even more. I told him I thought I was too young to carry such a fancy card ('being too young' is my excuse for everything). But he pointed out that in the past 4 years I've called him many, many times to ask for an override in weekly payment limit, because sometimes I needed to pay for things like flight tickets and hotel bookings and stuff, and the payment limit of my current card doesn't allow me to. He told me with Visa Premier I would have a much higher payment limit, so this very irritating problem can be avoided.

I was still on the fence, until he told me the other advantages I would get with a Premier card which include travel insurance (flight cancellations for any reason and lost luggage), and 25-30% discount on car rentals. On top of that, since I'm not yet 25 years old, the exorbitant monthly fee for Visa Premier is waived. And in certain airports I might be able to enjoy the airport lounges as a card holder. That was when I got sold hook, line and sinker. It's a win-win.

But I told him I still needed him to call me every few months to advice me on my spending, or every time there's an anomaly in my Visa activities. That's why I love my banker. I don't know if it's me being naive, but he always seems like he has my best interest at heart. Our relationship might be platonic, but it's one of the most meaningful relationships I've had in recent years. He even called me when I was on a cruise in Turkey 2 years ago to remind me about the Euro-Turkish Lira currency conversion rate and to tell me how much I've spent up to that point of my travel and that I should be careful not to splurge on unnecessary stuff. It's kind of like having your parents breathing on your neck all the time, but I feel like I needed it otherwise I'd spend beyond my means without realizing it.

I know I'm contributing to the capitalist system, but I've never thought of capitalism as a bad thing. So the guilty conscience just doesn't exist. Some people regard the use of payment cards as evil, I see it as a practical way of spending. I can be a big spender, but I'm never reckless with my spending. As long as I don't feel the urges to live beyond my means and abuse my credit cards, I think I'll be fine.


WP said...

Wow...your banker tells you not to splurge? That's the first time I've heard of such a thing.

And yay for debit cards...I prefer them to credit cards too. It's like cash...just not the kind that gets stolen (easily).

Kahuna said...

well, it's very convenient for him to call me AFTER I'm done splurging and when my money is already running low, so it's not like he's telling me not to splurge, it's more like he's telling me I was going to have a brush with bankruptcy if I continued.

i guess that's better than not warning me at all right? haha.

WP said...

Oh, I see...then I guess he was afraid of losing a good customer :P