The True Cost for Convenience

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According to the news, thieves have the ability to steal your credit or debit card number without actually stealing your card. Somehow, I've managed to allow this to happen to me twice.  This last incident comes not long after my post Save for the Inevitable Rainy Day so, while I'm inconvenienced, I'm not distraught. In fact, I consider this the cherry on top of my financial sundae.

Grasping for ways to prevent this from happening in the future, I asked the bank rep for suggestions.  With the calmness of a cucumber, she said "Be careful where you swipe your card."  Well, she may as well have told me simply not to use my card because A) I use it everywhere and B) I thought I was being careful.

Putting more thought into our conversation, however, I've come up with some not so smart places to swipe and, as an added bonus, a few ways to save money were revealed.

gas station

Credit Image: Kansas Poetry (Patrick) on Flickr

Free Standing ATM Machines

For convenience sake, I've used the free-standing ATMs to withdraw cash. These little machines are everywhere. I've personally seen them in gas stations, night clubs, liquor stores, restaurants and hotels.  Since I've yet to see one with a security camera attached, like at my bank, my guess is these would pretty easy targets for those in the business of stealing card numbers.

To add to these machines vulnerability are the fees associated with using them. These fees vary from one place to the next.  Including what your bank charges for not using one of their ATM machines, you could easily pay $5 or more in fees to withdraw cash. Using your home bank's ATM instead of a free-standing ATM could not only lessen the chance your card number would be stolen but, if you withdraw cash once a week, it could save you $260 or more a year in fees.

Pay at the Pump

When my card number was stolen the first time, a male friend cautioned me against using my card at the gas pump.  Another version of the free-standing ATM, anyone could tamper with these machines as well. If I had to put money on it, my guess would be this is how I got got.  My strong dislike for having to fill up often times results in my stopping at any station. I have no loyalty to any one gas station chain.

Trying to find a happy medium between caution and convenience, I've thought of several ways to handle purchasing gas.  My most obvious option is to go inside to pay for gas.  While inside, I can use either my card or cash and, if I use my card, I'm able request a receipt. Obtaining a receipt at the pump seems to be hit or miss.  Of course, I'll need to fight through the forest of soda and chips but that's a story for another day.

Another solution is to purchase gas from companies that offer gift cards or gas cards. A grocery store that also has a gas station would be an example of this.  A friend of mine recently shared how she loads her gas money on a Wal-Mart gift card every few weeks. In addition to Wal-Mart, stores like Kroger, Sam's Club, BJ's Wholesale Club and Ingles have gas stations onsite and, most times, their gas is a little cheaper. Along with the safety of getting gas from a trusted source, putting money on a card would be a great way to keep track of my gas spending.

Celebrations, A Night on the Town and Spontaneity

While I've been blessed with some pretty awesome friends, my friends have been blessed with...well, me.  I'm horrible at remembering special occasions.  In an effort to offset my forgetfulness, I'm often doing last-minute shopping for gifts, picking up the tab or spending money in some other way that I hadn't budgeted for. Not only does this bad habit wreak havoc on my finances but using my card in so many different places isn't a good idea.

With previous experience as both a waitress and hostess, I hate to mention that there are people who pay wait staff quite nicely to steal card numbers.  In one night out on the town you could easily use your card at  a restaurant, a night spot and then, on your way home, grab breakfast. That's a lot of people with access to your card number. Not everyone in the service industry is untrustworthy but being more mindful of using your card can't hurt.

Convenience reconsidered

Due to their vulnerability, using ATM machines and pay at the pump options aren't wise choices. If you add the cost for using an ATM machine that isn't affiliated with your bank, there's an additional cost associated with using. Where to get gas and how much cash I'll need are decisions I can make in advance that will lessen the chance that I'll pay more for convenience than it's worth.

I could be better prepared for birthdays and special occasions if I budgeted for them. I wouldn't want any of my friends to blow their budget for me and I know my friends feel the same.  A card filled with heartfelt thoughts, a gift card or both are very acceptable gifts and I could purchase these items well in advance.

When using my card to pay for dinner, I'm more apt to order an appetizer, main course, several drinks and possibly dessert.  However, with only cash in hand, I've been known to be happy as a lark with whatever soup or salad comes with the meal.

We've come a long way in the terms of convenience but sometimes it seems tried and true would be our best bet.  When it comes to cash versus plastic, I think each has its place. Regardless of your preference, however, a little advance thought and planning can't hurt.



SabrinaBlogs at Much Needed Advice for Women.

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