Kali Hawlk

Financial Writer & Marketing Manager

Tag: millennial generation (page 1 of 2)

NPR’s Pledge Drive Teaches Us About Increasing Income

Happy Halloween! Hope everyone has a great time – have fun and be safe! Be sure to check out my guest post at Young Adult Money today, too, on how you can not only eat healthier but also save money on your grocery bill while you’re at it.

Earlier this year, I started listening to NPR in the mornings as I drove into work. The morning news was just what I needed to get my day started, and the fact that there weren’t the usual radio commercials made it that much more appealing.

Of course, if you are a regular listener of NPR, you’ll immediately know why there are none of the usual radio commercials. As public radio, a huge portion of the funding for the organization and its programs comes from viewers – or listeners – like you. Since I had only begun tuning in earlier this year, I had yet to sit through one of their two-week-long pledge drives. Until this month, that is.

pledge drive

If you’ve never been exposed to an NPR pledge drive, just imagine someone is incessantly pleading with you, cajoling you, guilting you into giving money because you glanced in the direction of their pet project. An NPR pledge drive is two solid weeks of various people attempting to convince you that becoming a sustaining member by giving $50 per month for a year (or a one-time contribution of $600!) is well worth the privilege you have of tuning into their station for 10 minutes on weekday mornings. Of course, they’re also quick to remind you that you could always give double that, or become a member of their super secret circle by donating your limbs or first-born children.

I know, I know – NPR would not exist if it were not for donations and contributions from the people that listen to it. And I do think the money they collect is put to good use; I’d much rather listen to their news programs for information about what’s happening in the world than flip to CNN or Fox News. It still makes for an annoying two weeks’ worth of commuting to work.

But it works. I was amazed at how many pledges they consistently received every single hour of every single day for an entire two weeks. And this got me thinking: is there a lesson to be learned here? I concluded there are indeed things NPR’s pledge drive could teach those of us pursuing a side hustle or side gig for the additional income.

Ask

You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t make the first move. If you want an opportunity to earn more money, it may be as simple as asking. NPR spends two weeks on the air periodically asking listeners to make a pledge. They don’t sit back, fingers crossed, and hope someone will one day wake up and say, “you know what? I think I’ll contribute a little something to NPR today.” The proactively ask their audience for donations. This doesn’t mean you approach a person or a business with your hand held out, of course – it means that you have to take the initiative to make the first contact. Reach out to those who may need the services you’re offering. If that source doesn’t have a need for your work, they may know someone who will hire you. But you’ll never know unless you ask.

Clearly Express Yourself

During the pledge drive, NPR often gives hard, concise numbers for everything: how much certain types of memberships cost, or how much they need in donations in the next hour. They also explain to listeners why they need the funds they are requesting. Donations fund programs on the air, reporter’s expenses, and events at the station, just to name a few. Most people are more willing to pledge when they know exactly what they’re donating to and why – and most prospective clients will be more willing to pay for your work if you’re concise and clear, too. Clearly express what it is you do and why you’re the best candidate to get their business. Cut the fluff and tell them what matters.

Be Persistent

Anyone could learn a thing or two about not letting up on getting a mission accomplished from NPR during a pledge drive. Every fifteen minutes or so, they have an update on how they’re doing for the hour, how many more pledges they need to meet their goals, and they have a new spiel on why listeners like you should be contributing to keep the programs you love alive. They don’t give up – and neither should you. Starting a side hustle or trying to get a freelance career off the ground takes a lot of time and dedication; there’s a lot of work involved up front before you ever see a payout. Don’t let that discourage you. Keep at it and be persistent.

Set Goals

Every time I tuned in to NPR during those two weeks, I heard the folks on the air talking about the station’s goals. They were specific, well-defined, and it was easy to measure whether or not they were ultimately achieved. If you’re seeking to increase your monthly income, you need to do the same thing. Set clear goals for yourself and fully understand what it is you’re working toward, and how you’ll measure if you’ve been successful or not. Being able to judge where you’re at or how far you’ve come is a helpful tool; if you’re not meeting the goals you want, you’ll be able to reevaluate and determine if you need to take a different approach to get there.

When I realized that I could learn a thing or two from NPR during their pledge drive, I stopped being so annoyed that they were interrupting my morning commute. Instead, I starting paying closer attention to what they did, and how I could make those tactics work for me. If you’re looking to start a side gig in order to increase your income, taking a look at successful operations like NPR isn’t a bad way to learn some fundamentals about putting yourself out there and making it known you have a good or service you’d like to exchange for a bit of cash.

Have you learned anything about improving your hustle or picked up some tips on how to increase income from an unexpected source?

How to Have a Fun and Frugal Wedding: Part II

Two weeks ago I wrote a post on how to have a fun and frugal wedding. I got some great reader responses; folks made suggestions for more ideas on how to save, and just about everyone agreed that simple, low-key, and laid back were the ways to go when it came to weddings.

NCReaderGirl had her ceremony at a local park, and afterward put her bouquet to good use by having it double as added decor for the cake table. Rebecca from Stapler Confessions said some of her priorities for her wedding included having a meaningful ceremony and ensuring guests had fun. When it came to spending, the purchase had to fulfill those goals.

And Ashley from The Passion Hunt made another great point: everything bridal and wedding-related has evolved into a huge industry with an enormous influence over brides and grooms alike (not to mention their various family members). With that in mind, I wanted to share even more tips on how to keep your wedding budget low and reasonable so you can start out happily wed, not unhappily indebted.

Skimp on the Save the Dates and the Invites

Yes, invitations make excellent wedding mementos, and I don’t think you have to skip them completely. But you can save money. You don’t need to go to a specialty stationary shop or have a calligrapher address your envelopes. Instead, use a site like WeddingPaperDivas.com to create your own announcements and invites. That’s what I used when I got married – and I absolutely loved how all my paper products turned out. And the price ended up being hundreds of dollars cheaper than what a paper goods store had quoted me. Definite win-win.

Buy Used

Most things people have at their wedding are used that day and that day only. The wedding dress itself is a biggie, but think about it: what do people do with all that decor once the big day is over? Often, people turn to consignment stores to sell used wedding items. Be sure to at least check out a wedding consignment shop to see what you can purchased used – no one will ever know you didn’t buy it new for twice the price. You can also search on eBay or Craigslist for wedding-related items, or design pieces and materials that you want to turn into decor.

Or Repurpose Your Old Stuff

frugal wedding ringIf you can’t stand the thought of buying used for your wedding, get creative with the items you do have on hand. Do friends or family members have home decor pieces they’d be willing to lend to the wedding? Do you have items in your own home – tables or chairs, for example – that could be put to work for the ceremony or reception so you don’t have to rent these things? My big “repurposed” piece was actually my engagement ring. The diamond is from my husband’s great-great grandmother; with so much history and meaning behind it, it is worth more to me than the biggest rock in any old jewelry store. I feel honored that I get to wear it.

Like & Follow

If you know of a vendor you want to use for your wedding – like a photographer, caterer, or DJ – be sure to like their pages on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Sign up for mailing lists if they have them. By doing this, you’ll see special offers, sales, and even coupons easily. Keeping up with businesses you’re interested in for covering some aspect of your wedding, be it the dress or the venue or anything in between, is a great way to get a cheaper rate via a business’s own special promotions.

Enter Giveaways

You heard correctly. The best way to keep costs low is to score free stuff, and there are multitudes of giveaways out there that can help you do just that. Just about every vendor or business in the wedding industry gets involved with contests with prizes or offers a giveaway, so take advantage and enter. If you’re already following a vendor on their social media accounts to snag coupons and discounts, you should be able to see when they provide a giveaway or contest, too. And who doesn’t love a good freebie?

Giveaways may seem like a stretch as a money-saving device, but the fact is you can’t win if you don’t enter. David from Young Adult Money wrote an entire post explaining how you can benefit from entering contests like these, and that post is what inspired me to start entering some recently – and I’ve already won a $10 Amazon gift card!

If you can combine some tips from Part I with the ones listed here in Part II, I think you’ll be well on your way to having a great wedding that will be both meaningful and low budget. You can have the best of both worlds! It all starts with remembering why you’re getting married in the first place: to start a new life with the one you love.

How to Save Money on a Wedding (and Still Have Fun)

Earlier this month, I celebrated my first wedding anniversary with my spouse. It’s hard to comprehend that it has been a year since our wedding day; it seems both like it’s been ages since we got married and feels like it was yesterday, all at once.

Needless to say, our anniversary and the recent engagements of a few friends have gotten me thinking about weddings. Between reliving our own and thinking about the upcoming ceremonies of others, I’ve also been thinking about how we managed to save money on the big day – and how we could have done better and gotten even more frugal.

Don’t get me wrong, our wedding went perfectly and it’s a day I’ll always remember. A lot of hard work and effort and even sweat and tears went into pulling it off, but at the end of the day, I was married to the most incredible person that I’m thrilled I get to spend the rest of my life with, and that was the only thing that mattered. The fact that our families, friends, and guests had a blast and enjoyed it too was an awesome bonus.

And that’s the first thing anyone planning a wedding, especially on a budget, needs to remember: if at the end of the day, two people who are in love and fully committed to each other walk away as a married couple, the wedding was a success. Of course, standing on the married side of that situation, I know it’s easier said than done. So don’t let me just try to throw some fluffy, warm-and-fuzzy words at those of you who are currently faced with the very overwhelming task that is wedding planning – I’m about to show you how you can save money on a wedding and pull off a totally fun and completely fabulous event.

First, The Facts

The average wedding in America costs $25,000. That’s the average! That’s also the full price of a new car, it could be all or most of a down payment on a home, and it might be what you’re carrying in student loan or credit card debt. While a wedding is absolutely a very big deal and an important day in your life, the fact is one day is not worth incurring debt you will be paying off for years. Let’s be realistic: the ceremony is where you are married and holds the true meaning of the day. The reception is the fun, celebratory part – and also the part where you start racking up the big costs. It’s essentially a big party, and while still important, no party is worth blowing tens of thousands of dollars on. Keep in mind why you’re celebrating in the first place: you just got married!  You may be tempted to spend big bucks in hopes of making everything perfect, but remember – no matter how perfect the day of the wedding is, you’re still going to wake up the next day and be asked to face reality.

save money on a wedding

Respect Your Families – But Stand Your Ground

Once you’re in the mindset that your day, while important, is still just the first step toward of what will hopefully be many more to come in your married life, you’ll be better prepared to be able to save money on a wedding by making good decisions to keep costs low. But there are still obstacles to overcome: namely, your own families.

While you and your future spouse may be in agreement to spend wisely and sparingly, your future in-laws or your own parents may not be on the same page. Your parents will probably be just as excited as you are about your upcoming wedding – and they very well could have certain expectations of how the big day should look and feel. Most of the time, your families only want what is best for you. But when we’re talking about a wedding, people tend to be a little unreasonable; it’s easy to get caught up in how things are traditionally done or how things are “supposed” to be. Your family may not be intentionally trying to sabotage your budget, but their wishes and wants for you can quickly have your costs spiraling out of control.

The biggest rule with weddings is that there are no rules anymore! You have the power to add, remove, or change any element to the ceremony and the reception so that the day doesn’t get too expensive. The only people who should have any say in what the wedding will be like are the two people getting married, and anyone whose financial contribution to the celebrations you’ve accepted. If you and your partner are footing the entire bill, you don’t need to invite 300 guests like your mother wants you to or have the ornate centerpieces your future sister-in-law insists are necessary. If you and your partner, however, have accepted financial help from your parents or other family member, they do deserve to make their voice heard – but ultimately, it is your day and that should be respected.

Plan Ahead

Simply planning ahead can save you significant amounts of money on your wedding. Plan to have the big day during the off-season; peak wedding season may vary depending on where you want to get married, but June is one of the most popular months. Venues will often charge a premium during their peak months, so consider moving your date away from those highly popular times to get a lower rate. Additionally, try to have the wedding on any day that’s not a Saturday – for most people, this will mean having the event on Sunday. This can save you a bit, as well, because just like peak seasons cost more, the peak day of the week will drive up costs, too. Once you’ve determined the best off-season month and booked your Sunday wedding, also consider having your reception at a specific time: during the day or early afternoon. Dinner will cost more to serve than lunch or even a 3pm-4pm meal; often with lunch/early dinner meals you can serve a bit less or get away with having more finger foods, and this can help you rack up the savings.

And while booking in the off season can save you on some costs, when it comes to flowers, in season and local will save you the most. Keep this in mind so you can plan accordingly for your centerpieces or other decor. You might even be able to skip the overabundance of floral arrangements entirely, and that’s where the next money-saving tip comes in..

Get Creative and Do It Yourself!

Who says you have to have floral centerpieces? If you don’t want flowers all over the place, don’t have them! Get creative, and switch out the more traditional elements in favor of things that feature your own unique twist – and things that are more cost effective.

The sky is really the limit on this one, and everyone is going to have a different idea of what their own wedding should be like. I’ll offer a few examples of what we did to get creative and do things ourselves to keep costs low to get you thinking about ways you can change it up, forgo the traditional, and save some money in the process:

  • We chose an outdoor venue – the scenery made up the majority of the decor.
  • The decor we did have, we made. Banners and signs were all handmade; we searched for items we already had to use as additional decor. When we had to buy supplies, we went to craft stores and Walmart to get things as cheap as possible (instead of buying things from wedding-specific retailers or places like Etsy). We tried to borrow as much as possible, too. We were able to borrow some burlap for table runners, blue mason jars to use as part of the centerpieces, and even borrowed the vintage truck that was used to drive me to the ceremony.
  • The flowers were kept to a minimum. Again, this was made easier by the fact it was an outdoor wedding.
  • We incorporated a fun activity for guests into their wedding favors. We rented a photobooth and the pictures that guests took and printed became their favors. It saved us a lot of time (not having to make favors) and money as the photobooth did some multitasking for us. It provided entertainment and fun things for guests to take home.
  • We kept everything casual. We went into it thinking this was really just a big party for everyone; nothing had to be too serious or formal. Bridesmaid dresses cost $50, the guys didn’t wear suits, and the wedding party was small. We used a buffet instead of a plated dinner and we stuck to beer and wine and skipped hard liquor or cocktails.

Enlist Friends and Family

You don’t have to hire a vendor or a professional for every single element of your wedding. Need a wedding planner and have an overexcited aunt? Consider giving her the job of helping organize everything and making sure everyone in where they’re supposed to be and things run on time on the big day. Don’t have an officiant, but have a well-spoken relation? Have them ordained – it’s simple and easy to do online (this is what we did, and it was so awesome having one of our best friends be the one to marry us using the ceremony script we wrote). Know anyone who loves to bake? See if they would be willing to make your wedding cake, or perhaps appetizers to serve during a cocktail hour. Trying to pull off all the food for an entire wedding may be difficult, but having family or friends cover some of it will help keep catering costs down. Planning on DIYing all your decor, and have an army of crafty and creative friends? Enlist their help to get everything accomplished. Also consider looking around for acquaintances or friends of friends who are attempting to get a business off the ground. They’re looking for experience, recommendations, and good reviews to help grow their fledgling business – by hiring them, you’re doing them a favor by allowing them the opportunity to earn these things they need to continue to grow. Oftentimes they’ll offer you a low rate, reduced price, or some sort of discount in exchange for the opportunity to grow that business.

Of course, you don’t want to take advantage of your loved ones by making them slave away on a wedding for zero compensation. Consider giving everyone who played a major role a small gift. You can take them out for dinner, or give them a gift card to their favorite store. Make sure they know how much they and their hard work was appreciated.

..but Not Every Single Person You’ve Ever Said Hello To

It’s important to involve your loved ones in your big, special day. Once you’ve invited those family members and friends that you feel closest to, think long and hard about who else to include on the guest list. One of the easiest ways to cut wedding expenses is to keep your guest list small. In most cases, you are probably safe to leave off coworkers (if you invite one, you need to invite everyone – it’s a can of worms. If anyone at work gives you grief, say that you’re having a small, intimate event and are only inviting a handful of people), friends from high school you haven’t seen since high school, and your dad’s third cousin. Remember, it’s a wedding, not a show. Invite the people you truly care about, not just people you want to impress.

save money on a weddingThese are a few of the ways we managed to save money on our wedding. There are countless more ways you can save, because there are countless ways to customize your day to make it completely yours. The best guidelines to follow when planning a frugal wedding are to keep it simple, remember the importance of the day, get creative, plan ahead, and involve your friends and family who are eager to help (but don’t feel the need to invite the entire town to the celebrations).

How are you planning on saving money on your wedding ceremony and reception? Or, if you’re already married, do you have any frugal tips and money-saving tricks of your own to share?

The Common Sense Roundup

I talk a lot about personal finance because, obviously, this is first and foremost a personal finance blog. But what inspired me to create this blog – and what inspired its name – was the fact that I prefer everything in my life, including my money, to be as simple, straightforward, and rational as possible. Common sense is something that our society as a whole seems to have a little less of every year, but being sensible is in my nature to begin with and I’m not going to let all common sense go without a fight. So I thought it was time to share a few ideas about how you can bring common sense practices back to all kinds of different areas of your life.

Write Thank You Notes

I’m amazed that something so simple is so rarely done. Writing a thank you note is so incredibly easy and it only takes five minutes of your time, and yet I don’t know hardly anyone who bothers to do it. Writethank you notes. Always. Write handwritten notes and send them to relatives, friends, or coworkers who gave you a birthday or Christmas gift (even your siblings or your parents – actually, especially your parents and immediate family). Make sure any person who interviews you for a job receives a brief note thanking them for their time (yes, you can email this one). If anyone goes out of their way to do something just for you – if someone came over to check on your dog or get your mail while you were away, for example – yup, you guessed it; they get a brief, friendly thank you note.

And Make Politeness a Habit

Just like writing thank you notes leaves a positive impression of you in the minds of others, everyday politeness and thoughtfulness does too. Supervisors remember those who are polite and gracious. Customer service professionals are more likely to work harder to solve your issue if you’re patient and courteous. Saying please and thank you where it applies not only makes the people you’re working with feel respected and appreciated, it’s also likely to be reciprocated in your direction. Not to mention, extending basic courtesies to others can make you feel good – you can know that being friendly brightens the days of those around you, and smiling is contagious.

Know How to Write a Check

I had to throw in one big, important, finance-related tip. I’m constantly amazed at how many twentysomethings (and even thirtysomethings!) don’t know how to write a check. Believe it or not, there are plenty of establishments out there that don’t take cash or credit cards – like a county tax and tag office, for example – and there may be a situation where you need to send someone a check via old-fashioned snail mail instead of sending money via PayPal. So know how to write checks, and know how to spell 40 (it’s forty, not fourty). Essentially, you need to be prepared and be able to move money around in various ways.

On the subject of financial preparedness, make it a habit to carry a bit of cash on you at all times. Yes, I know, it’s not as secure as using only a credit card. But you never know when you’ll unexpectedly find yourself in a cash-only situation (and I doubt you’ll remember to run by an ATM every single time when you actually know beforehand you’ll need cash). You don’t need to carry around hundreds, but a twenty and a few ones is always a smart idea.

Eat Real Food

You wouldn’t put pure ethanol in your gasoline or diesel engine, would you? So why on earth do we insist on eating stuff that isn’t actually food, but just a bunch of processed chemicals designed to look like food? Food is fuel, and if you’re putting the wrong fuel in your tank, your body nor your brain are going to be able to function properly. If you’re constantly complaining of being stressed out, bloated, feeling “icky” or off, or sluggish, take a good hard look at your diet. And then throw out anything that’s not a whole food or contains more than 5 ingredients. Processed food products make you sick, feel awful, and can even stress your grocery budget (not buying Oreos and Cheetos provides you more money to purchase fresh produce). Eat real food.

Be Open-Minded

You never know where your next learning opportunity is going to come from – so don’t shut one down before it has a chance to teach you something new. Keep an open mind, especially when it comes to new ideas and different ways of looking at things. Ignorance is a tragic disease with an easy cure: educate yourself, think for yourself, and never stop trying to learn. This doesn’t mean you have to change your worldview or abandon the philosophies, financial or otherwise, that you hold dear or that have always worked well for you. But you shouldn’t completely ignore different thoughts and ideas that come your way. Check them out, try to fairly consider them, do your own research, and come to your own conclusions.

Dress Appropriately at Work

Most of us have heard the old adage, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” For the most part, forget that. If you work in a corporate office, follow the dress code. If you don’t work in a creative industry or in the fashion world, the office is not the place to experiment with your look. The general rules are as follows: Guys, tuck your shirts in and wear shoes without holes or scuffs. Ladies, no skirts or dresses that hit above the thigh and if you’re wearing something sleeveless, throw on a blazer or cardigan. And no one should ever show up in shorts or flip-flops.

Whether we like it or not, people form opinions and judgments about us at first sight – so as superficial as it may seem, your clothes do matter. You don’t have to wear the highest end apparel or have designer anything, and in fact, overdressing is a potential pitfall, too (if you work at a super casual office, but you show up to work in suits every day, you may be sending a negative message to your coworkers). You need to be aware of the culture at your place of work, what employees are expected to wear, and how something you see as fun/interesting/comfortable may send a totally different vibe to visitors, clients, or management.

Literally Unplug and Head Outside Every Once in a While

Technology has always grown exponentially, and it will continue to do so. Millennials grew up if not on then at least around computers and the internet (even if it was dial-up). And if we weren’t completely immersed in electronics as kids, then as teenagers and college students we definitely were as more and more things went from off to online. Now, as adults, we have more ways than ever to be connected and rarely do we even need wires or cables to get an internet signal from somewhere onto some device. While I think this is a great thing most of the time, as it allows for more world wide connectivity and provides the ability for us to get stuff done remotely, the fact is we were never made to sit and stare at a brightly lit screen day in and day out. We were made to be outdoors. Looking for an instant happiness and an effective mood-booster? Leave the smartphone and the iPad behind and make some sort of outdoor activity part of your daily routine. Go for a walk to clear your head, meet up with friends in the park, or head out for a run or bike ride. Whatever it is that you enjoy, make it a habit to engage it in often.

If You Drive, Know Your Way Around a Car

Know how to check your oil and other fluids. Keep up with regular maintenance, and if you’re unsure of what needs to be done, check your owner’s manual. It should include a schedule of normal maintenance. Understanding the basics of how your car functions and the basic life expectancy of major parts is the best way of protecting yourself against dealerships or mechanics who would otherwise take advantage of your ignorance.

Always carry a set of jumper cables. Know how to change your own tire and how to do it safely (if at all possible, do not change you tire close to the side of an interstate; you can always call for help if you don’t feel safe being outside your vehicle). Bonus points if you know how to drive a car with a manual transmission – and if you don’t, go out and learn as soon as possible.

And for goodness sake, if you drive a massive, over-sized vehicle, know how to park it.

Ask for Directions When You’re Lost..

..and readily admit when you don’t know something. The smartest people are those who know exactly what they don’t know.

And finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite common sense inspired expressions to keep in mind. I say this, probably too often, but it’s something that serves as a good reminder for me when I start getting anxious, stressed, or worried about things out of my control or things that haven’t even happened yet (not, obviously, a very sensible thing to do!):

If A Frog Had Wings, He Wouldn’t Bump His Butt

if a frog had wings

Okay, this one probably needs a little bit more explanation. I’ve been told this is a bit of a Southern expression (sorta like “more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs – my Dad’s full of them. I need to ask him for some more to share..), but it applies to all walks of life. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that you can’t dwell on things outside of your control. You have to work with what you have and make the best of your situation. Sometimes, things is what they is! So don’t waste time thinking of ifs and buts - instead, focus your energy on finding a solution that is within your power to implement to overcome the challenge or problem you’re facing.

Have any common sense tips of  your own to add to the list? (Or have any favorite expressions of your own that you like to use?) Please share them in the comments!

My New Credit Card Nearly Gave Me a Heart Attack

I got my first credit card in college, when I was about 18. At the time, I banked at Wells Fargo, and so got the most basic, no-frills credit card they offered. When I first got my card, I would check the balance online obsessively, at least once a week if not more (keep in mind the only thing I charged initially was gas, and I filled up my teeny, 400-miles-to-the-tank car about twice a month). I was terrified of letting anything sit on the card too long, because then I’d have to pay – say it ain’t so! – interest. That was probably my biggest fear at the time, the thought of having to pay more for something than the retail price just because I forgot to make my credit card payment.

Looking back, if you’re going to have an extreme mindset about credit cards, this is probably the best one to have. Because I was afraid to pay any interest, it didn’t occur to me that I could charge something to the card as an alternative to paying cash or using my debit card; I used a credit card because I knew I had to start building credit. I never used my credit card unless I had the money sitting in my checking account to pay for whatever it was I was buying, and keeping track of the balance on the card as well as paying the bill at least once a month quickly became a habit.

Eventually, Wells Fargo bumped the credit limit on that card up – something I didn’t realize credit card companies did, and as any naive teenager does in a panic, I called my mom for answers. After being nice enough not to laugh at me, she explained that some credit card companies and financial institutions that issue credit cards will bump up the limit over time, automatically and without the cardholder requesting it, on accounts that have a fairly positive history. I was immediately suspicious and interpreted this as the bank trying to get me to spend more money. HA! I thought, Fooled them. Little do they know I have no money..

When you’re using a credit card as tool to build positive credit and earn yourself an excellent credit score, it can be a very positive thing when financial institutions increase your credit limit. If you continue to use the card as you had been before the limit was raised, you will have improved your debt-to-limit ratio, a factor that makes up a whopping 30% of your credit score. If your usage remains the same but your limit has been increased, this means you’re using less of your available credit – a very good thing for that ratio.

That’s where I found myself with the Wells Fargo card when they raised the limit. The initial limit was around $1000; the new limit was a little over $2,000. My income hadn’t changed, so my spending remained the same, yet because my credit limit was higher I was suddenly using less of the credit that had been made available to me. Between that time and today, I picked up a second credit card for the specific purpose of helping to improve and diversify my credit report. I chose a Target Redcard, which is a credit card that can only be used at Target stores. This was a good move for me because A. I still didn’t spend enough to justify a decent rewards card and B. we did the majority of our shopping for necessities at Target (and still do), so it made sense to take advantage of the 5% off on every purchase made with the card/free shipping with any online purchase. We saved a bit of money on toiletries and household items, it was easy to keep track of because the card was only used at the store, and it had no fees.

Fast forward a few more years, to today. I’ve maintained those two credit cards by using them regularly and I’ve also since taken out a mortgage. I’ve never had a late payment and my debt-to-limit ratio has always been low. Happily, since college, my income has steadily increased (along with our total household income), and last month I decided I was finally at the point where I could properly utilize some sort of rewards card. We selected a card with no fees, that provided various percentages back on all purchases, and with rewards that we would be sure to use. I applied for the card and was approved. The plan was that I would stop using the good ol’ Wells Fargo card when I received the new card – I’m not going to close the account, as that could negatively affect my credit score, but I also don’t want to attempt to juggle multiple cards (and besides, switching between the two credit cards would diminish the rewards I could earn on the new card, as I would be charging less to it).

I eagerly awaited my new card in the mail. I felt like having a rewards credit card was something only real adults had, so I was excited (of course I still don’t feel like a real adult – I doubt I ever will). Yesterday, my shiny new card finally came – and I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the limit on it.

Twenty thousand dollars.

WHAT.

I stared at the number (it was $20,100, to be exact), thinking that surely had to be a typo. I mean, only people who get really ballin’ have this sort of limit, right?! Our idea of indulging and spending too much is going out for breakfast at J Christopher’s – wasn’t a $20k limit for people who went around giving hundred dollar bills to strangers around Christmas? People who were country club members and took in polo games on Sunday afternoons? People who are distant relations of a small country’s royal family?!

I had to call the customer service line to verify there was no mistake. There wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it, and still can’t believe that regardless of how good my credit score is or how good my credit report looks, a financial institution would issue someone my age with my income a credit card with a $20,000 limit. That’s ridiculous, insane, and completely unnecessary.

Of course, I’ll still use this card as I would had it a more reasonable limit. And after I stopped freaking out yesterday, I started to realize such a high limit would come in handy – and not just when I wanted to take me and all my friends to Vegas or something. Starting next year, we plan to travel at least once a year overseas. With this card, I’ll easily be able to buy us round-trip plane tickets that cost about $2000 without maxing out a card (even for a few days, as of course I’d want to pay that balance back down immediately). Instead of paying for big-ticket items with a debit card, they can now be put on the new credit card so we can get the reward points before paying off the card. In a short-term emergency – say, if our car broke down in the middle of no where on vacation – it will be nice to have a card that we can charge unexpected expenses to, knowing that there’s still plenty of room on the card for those sorts of things along with our normal purchases.

ballin kittens

Sadly, I will not be using my new card for cash advances/to buy armloads of adorable kittens.

The more I thought about it, the more I was glad to have received such a high limit. It doesn’t have to be impractical – and with us, it won’t be. Our financial habits, especially how we handle our credit cards, will remain the same. That twenty-thousand dollar limit isn’t tempting me to spend more money at all.. if anything, I’m even more terrified than I ever was before of the thought of paying interest on this monster and I feel less inclined to spend money. The only thing that will really change will be the fact that we’re now getting rewards for purchases we would have made anyway, which is nice.

But I’m still slightly amazed that it was so easy to get hold of a card with this kind of limit, and it really opened my eyes to how easy credit card companies make it for folks to get into trouble and fall into debt. I can see how tempting it would be to go on major spending sprees, or to start thinking about major purchases that you otherwise would never consider. It’s a little scary, and to me, it underlines just how important it is to have a good understanding of personal finance and how money works in general.

Have you ever been surprised by the limit on your credit card? Has a large limit ever surprised you by coming in handy when you least expected it – or have you ever been tripped up by spending too much on a card that allowed you to charge really large purchases?

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