A few weeks ago, I had an embarrassing money moment. I was in a checkout lane. The cashier had just scanned several heavy boxes that held my to-be-assembled bookshelf, and my debit card was declined.
Being declined while in the checkout line is one of those little anxieties that I can't seem to shake, even though it's only happened to me twice and both times were issues with the card-scanning machine. Almost every time I swipe my card, I hold my breath for half a second until the machine says that the payment is accepted.
But that day, the day I was trying to buy a bookshelf for my office, my debit card was declined.
Normally, I use a credit card (for the airline miles). But when I opened my wallet, it wasn't there. I remembered that I left it by my laptop when I bought a gift online the night before.
“That's OK. I have my debit card,” I thought.
After it was declined, I swiped it again. Still declined. There were people in line behind me, and I felt my ears getting hot.
What was going on? I was certain that I had more than enough money in my account, so that couldn't be the problem. I looked at my debit card and saw the expiration date. It had expired the day before. For some reason, I thought it was set to expire next month.
To make matters worse, I had no other credit cards with me! A few weeks ago, I took my own advice and “spring-cleaned” my wallet. Normally, due to my fear of credit-machine rejection, I carry another credit card. But since the advice I espoused was to remove extra credit cards from your wallet, I decided to be responsible and lock the extra cards up in a fireproof box.
So I did what any fiscally responsible and independent adult would do — I turned to my mom, who was standing right next to me.
“I'll pay you back as soon as we get back to my house!” I said.
Of course, my mom thought nothing of it, and she paid for me. And I got out of the store as quickly as I could, considering I was pushing a cart with a bookshelf that weighs more than I do.
What must people think of me?!
I know that a card can get declined for any number of reasons, such as fraudulent activity on your account, international purchases, purchases of an unusual amount, a problem with the card machine, an error at your bank, or, like my situation, an expired card.
But when my card was declined, I just knew that everyone around me was thinking, “She didn't pay her credit card bill,” or “She doesn't have the money in her bank account.” It implies that you aren't responsible and that you're spending beyond your means.
And it's not totally paranoid to assume that that's what others are thinking. Check out the mixed reactions in this segment of What Would You Do, where a young guy goes on a first date and is unable to pay for the meal because his card is declined.
It's almost painful for me to watch! A few people offer to help him out, but others tell the girl to get out now, to grab her stuff and literally walk out the door. Those people weren't thinking about all of the reasons his card might have been declined; they only thought, “What a loser!”
A little more careful
I can't say this experience taught me anything new. I mean, “check your expiration date” and “don't leave your card next to the computer” are pretty basic money rules to live by. I just experienced a perfect storm, caused by my oversights.
But it will make me more careful in the future. After all, I don't always go shopping with my mom!
What about you? What's your embarrassing money moment? What money situations make you anxious?
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.