Excerpt from “Zero Budget Christmas”

Here’s another bit from my internationally acclaimed literary triumph Zero-Budget Christmas: The Almost Entirely True Story of Our Quest to Do Our Christmas Shopping Without Spending Any Money. (Note: Descriptions of book may be exaggerated.) Enjoy! And remember: the whole thing can be yours for a scant 99 cents.

We had discussed credit card usage before, as all couples should when they have the big financial discussion before they get married. (You did have that discussion, right? If not, put down this book right now, step over the pile of late payment notices blocking your front door, and hie thee to a marriage counselor. I think that will help to resolve a lot of issues that you’ve been having.) Our basic rule of thumb was that the credit card was just for buying things from online merchants, as opposed to our checking account debit card, which was for buying things in the real world. This may make me paranoid, but I’ve always felt more comfortable with my credit card number floating around the Internet than my debit card number. The credit card is just a credit account, and no actual money leaves my possession until I agree to pay the credit card bill. My debit card, on the other hand, is an unlocked window straight into my bank and all of my hard-earned skrilla that resides therein. If a bad charge comes through on my credit card, I can take recourse to have it removed without having to pay it. If money gets taken out of my checking account, it’s on me to convince somebody that, no, no, I didn’t actually buy those six cases of fortified wine and the alligator skin sofa, and could I please have that money put back into my account?

But now we started brainstorming ways to use the card, within reason, to build up that Amazon points account and bankroll a Christmas shopping spree. (Note: any use of the phrase “within reason” refers to Rachel’s side of the conversation only.)

“I could start using it for groceries,” said Rachel. “You could start using it for gas. We spend a lot on that.”

“Even better,” I said. “I could start playing a lot of online poker. I think they take credit cards. And this way, even if I lose, we get Amazon points! It’s can’t-miss!”

“I don’t think that’s going to work out like you think it will,” said Rachel.

I then proceeded to show her a detailed regression analysis of poker odds and the per-hand value of Amazon points we could earn spread across a bell curve of likely outcomes. In my imagination. In real life, I pouted and ate two ice cream sandwiches.

But I soon got over it and started focusing on more sensible ways to rack up points. The danger with playing the rewards credit card game is that you get so excited about the rewards that you let your spending get out of control. Much like with my online poker idea, the rewards become another justification for purchasing decisions that were bad ideas to begin with, and that become that much worse when you put them on a credit card. Before you know it, you’re sitting on an enormous pile of rewards points, but you can’t spend them because you’ve had to change your name and flee to Togo to keep the bank from repossessing your calf implants.

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