By Timothy Siburg
You have seen the numbers and the data. Marcia Shetler did a nice job of summarizing the reality about millennials and credit. I think it would be fair to say that millennials are apprehensive and anxious when it comes to credit cards. As a millennial myself, I get the sentiment, I do. It can be easy to be afraid, and caught by those fears of money, scarcity, security, and the feeling of not having enough. But as time has gone on, my wife Allison and I have found ways to deal with credit cards effectively for our finances and needs.
Like most millennials, we have debit cards. But perhaps surprisingly unlike many, we have a credit card too. We didn’t take this on without some serious thought, though. My parents’ advice has always been, “A credit card is a tool. Don’t misuse it, and pay it off every month, and you’ll be fine.” I have found that advice to be sound and helpful.
To translate, make sure you don’t carry a balance on a credit card, because if you do, that’s when the interest and the amount you owe can spiral. I think that’s where the fears of many millennials come in. We already have plenty of big interest payments we make each month on student loans, so the last thing we want to do is to create another such financial burden or challenge to overcome.
You might remember that Allison and I often budget over pancake breakfasts. We still do this, though perhaps it’s been a bit more sporadic lately. But when we do this, we include an update on all of our accounts, what it will take to pay off any credit card balance that month, and our plan of action.
I’ll admit, there have been months when those credit card payments are a bit higher than I might like. Just because you have the card doesn’t mean you get to put off budgeting, spending within your means, and saving responsibly. I view a credit card as a tool to make the most of the spending that my wife and I already need to do.
One of the biggest things that we enjoy from our credit card are airline miles. Being half a country away from most of our extended families means we travel a lot. Having air miles to use towards those flights and trips can be a big help in bringing down airline ticket costs. Besides, if we were going to spend that money anyway, we might as well get some additional benefits from those purchases.
In terms of what we purchase with our credit card, we usually use it towards big expenses and online purchases. This might mean a recent car repair bill I had to pay, or as new parents very soon, we have been stocking up on baby essentials, and ordering all of the fun baby furniture online. Using a credit card for online purchases can potentially help give a little extra security.
Friends we know use their credit card faithfully on regular purchases like filling up their gas tank, or buying groceries. They do so because they have developed a system with their family budget, of paying off that credit card weekly while receiving some extra benefits from those purchases. That system hasn’t quite worked for us, but I have seen it work for them.
If credit cards are used wisely as a tool, they can help build up your credit score over time by proving that you are reliable with your finances, and making timely payments. This might prove helpful down the road, when considering a bigger purchase like a new home or car, or when stepping into a new chapter of life like moving to a new state and/or growing as a family.
In terms of faith, one of the things that I enjoy most about having a credit card, is that it gives me a little piece of mind when giving to my church and other causes that matter to me—online. It’s quick and easy to use. These are offerings and donations that we would make anyway, and there’s a little bit of freedom to be able to do these from the comfort of our own home, and see the transaction credited within moments.
These have been things that we have found to be helpful. This advice might not work for you, and I am certainly not a financial expert. For us, having one primary credit card, and debit cards has been the right approach for living faithfully with our finances, and stewarding them. We’ll see how this approach might change once Baby Siburg arrives.
About the Author: Timothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area and are expecting their first child. Timothy attended college at Pacific Lutheran University, and graduate school at the Claremont Graduate University and Luther Seminary. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.