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Check your backward ways at the counter and get with plastic

Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM

A message to the woman in front of me at the grocery store this weekend: I didn't mind your whining child. In fact, I thought your baby was kind of cute. And I didn't mind your huge load of groceries; I thought it would be the fastest line, but I was wrong. And I applaud your use of coupons -- something that requires planning that typically escapes me.

But my nerves started screaming when you pulled out your checkbook and laboriously wrote out the check for your purchase, which caused the sales clerk to call a supervisor for approval, who required a look at your driver's license, before finding a pen to put her initials on the check, giving her approval. And I also resent that instead of moving along, you decided to responsibly subtract that check from the balance in your check register.

My mind screamed, "Use a debit card instead of a check!

I wanted to approach you and ask why on earth you don't move into the 21st century, and use your debit card, which would take one swipe in the handy machine, a second or two to insert your PIN, and leave you nothing to sign or subtract.Yes, you do have a debit card

Of course you have a debit card. You use it to get cash! It's not just for ATMs. In fact, two-thirds of Visa's transactions now come from debit cards.

Why keep all of us waiting, when your ATM card with the Visa or Mastercard logo is an instant debit card that you could easily use at the supermarket, or dozens of other places?

You'd never incur any finance charges. You could view your checking account balance online instantly at your bank or any ATM. And your bank's Web site could securely track exactly where you spent all your money -- at the grocery store, cleaners, gas station or even that grande latte at Starbucks.

Everyone in line behind you at every one of those stores would bless you for using this responsible, modern convenience called a debit card. Merchants would love you. They pay significantly less in processing when you use debit than when you use a credit card.

Your debit card is safer than cash, because you're 100 percent protected against fraud if you lose your card, and money is taken out of your account. Yes, credit cards give protection, but you're unlikely to dispute your purchase at the grocery store with the merchant.

Using a debit card is so much faster than writing a check. Plus (admit it), you can't subtract!

Yes, if you're collecting miles or rewards points, a traditional credit card might be a better deal. But if you don't pay off that credit card in full, then you're paying interest on the balance. What good is it to use coupons in the grocery store to save pennies, if you're losing dollars in interest on your credit card?

Save the credit card for large purchases, or for purchases that require you to stretch out payments over a couple of months. Or purchases where you need the protection of the card issuer in case of dispute.

You're trying to track your spending? So use that debit card instead of cash.

Every time you go online to see your balance, you'll be able to see exactly where you used that debit card and how much you spent. If you use Quicken or MicrosoftMoney, you can download that information into these helpful programs that will display your spending in categories with a bar chart or a pie-shaped chart.

That's far better than withdrawing cash at the ATM, and wondering where it all went!

I respect the fact that you were being conservative, careful and concerned about money when you used a personal check. But get that checkbook out of your purse. It takes up space. It's a dangerous key to your finances and your entire identity, if your purse is stolen. Environmentally responsible, too

Using digits instead of paper checks is environmentally responsible. Your debit card will save millions of trees that would otherwise be made into paper checks. And millions of gallons of gas used to transport those checks from merchant to bank to clearing center and back to your bank.

As Dustin Hoffman learned in "The Graduate" decades ago: Plastic is the way of the future!

And the future is now. You know that.

I watched the bag boy ask you the usual question: Paper or Plastic? You chose plastic for your grocery bags. Good move.

Now think of all the energy -- emotional and otherwise -- you'd save yourself and those in line behind you, if you would only choose plastic at the checkout line.

And that's The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser. Check out Terry's answers to reader questions at, and click on Business. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.

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