November 28, 2002

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if pocket change is a thing of the past? I remember as a youngster asking my dad for money. He would play a little game with me. He would jingle all the change in his pocket and tell me I could have all of it if I wanted. Or I could pass up pocket #1 and possibly cash in on pocket number two, which was not jingling but held the possibility of paper money. And if neither one of these options looked good, then I could try for the big jackpot and take the back pocket, where the wallet awaited behind door #3.

I guess when we are little, we realize the value of a sure thing, because most of the time I went for the pocket change. I knew there usually was a couple dollars there and that was more than enough for my major shopping needs, a pack of baseball cards or my favorite those old Marathon candy bars. (Geez, I'm getting old if I'm talking about going to the store and buying a candy bar, which is no longer made, while also noting how cheap it used to be.)

Well if I had that same option today, I would go for the wallet every time. While that wasn't always the wisest choice back in those days (I was eventually enticed into picking the wallet when Dad taunted me, pulling a $100 bill from the billfold after I settled for 37 cents in pocket #1.) in today's world even a cash-less wallet would still hold bounty.

I'm sure if I had snagged the debit card or a credit card or two after picking the wallet, our game would have terminated rather abruptly. Of course back then, no one had a debit card, and credit cards were not nearly as accessible as they are today. This morning a Wall Street Journal report announced that McDonald's will soon accept both credit cards and debit cards. That's right, we will now be able to pull out the American Express card to pay for our $4.50 Happy Meal.

Personally I enjoy being able to use my debit card at the grocery store instead of writing a check. Don't get me wrong, I use my credit cards (which anymore are a necessity if you want to order anything or make hotel reservations or rent a car) but the debit card is the way to go for me. I must not be the only one who thinks this way because credit cards have developed a plan to come after us. It never fails, I get at least half a dozen credit card applications in the mail a week. Before, I simply dumped them in the trash (now they are recycled) but I have to admit the most recent mailings have begun to catch my eye.

These new credit cards now are beginning to offer you prizes or other enticements to use them. It used to be you got a free toaster for starting a checking account at a bank. Now you get frequent flyer miles for signing up for a financial institution's credit card. But airline tickets are not the only bounty available for credit card users. Some are offering simple credit rewards, based on the amount of money you spend through your card. These reward points can then be refunded for household appliances, jewelry, audio and video equipment and much more. Reminds me of the old stamp books they used to have at the grocery store (there I go dating myself again) which you filled up based on your purchase amounts and then turned in for prizes.

Currently I don't get squat from my credit card except a bill every month. Needless to say I have begun to review these reward programs trying to find the best for me. It's funny, several of these cards list all these great prizes, like cruises and even new cars, but they won't tell you how many credits it takes to win one until after you sign up for their card (and the $50 annual fee).

Looks like I'm back to trying to choose between pocket #1, #2 or #3. Do you go with bigger prizes but pay an annual fee? I'll probably take the pocket change again. I'll likely stick with a card with no annual fee and a smaller prize list. Then I'll turn in my annual credit card reward points for something I really need, like a 9-inch TV that fits under the bathroom sink so you don't need to take any reading material with you if you know what I mean.

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