What’s your embarrassing money moment?

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.

ABC US News | ABC Business News

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?

More about...Psychology

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Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

I always get that “hold your breath” moment right after they swipe my card. I’ve never missed a payment in my life, but like you said, I don’t want to be “that” girl who comes across as unable to pay her bills to those around me.

Similarly irrational, I get a little anxious when I’m trying to pay with change. It’s time consuming and it looks like I don’t have enough “real” money.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

For a few months there, I had a debit card with a worn down metal strip so I had a lot of those holding-my-breath moments.

When I worked in retail, card or machine glitches weren’t unusual. People used to get so flustered when it happened to them, but most clerks shrug it off. (No, we don’t go into the back room and gossip about it!)

Marie
Marie
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

She’s right, we don’t! Cards are so fragile, the strips wear down all the time. I’ve even had a few snap in half as I swipe them. I always assume it’s a mix-up or technical difficulty, rather than a customer shortfall.

I really like the new super-thick credit cards. They’re usually hotel rewards cards with a chip embedded in them. Those suckers are sturdy!

Jon
Jon
6 years ago

I had a credit card declined in a restaurant which I knew was good because I had just gotten the credit limit increased (a LOT) that week. Fortunately, I had a backup card with me. When I called the credit card company, they realized that they had mis-entered the credit limit in their system and that my limit was showing as only $22.

I have occasionally gotten all the way to the checkout line and realized I left my wallet at home. That one really makes you feel foolish.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

If it makes you feel any better, my first thought when this happens to someone in front of me is “the card isn’t working or the machine isn’t working.” I worked in retail – it happened a lot! The thing about embarrassing money moments is they seem like a big deal to us, but other people really don’t care. My embarrassing money moment was underpaying my rent by a dollar. (I made an error making out the check). The management company sent me a nasty letter demanding I pay the shortfall immediately. I felt like a crook — until I… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

A similar thing happened to me! My rental company aggregates our water and gas, so we pay it directly to the office. I mistranscribed the amount in my notes so I paid them 60.72 instead of 67.02 and I got what my fiancee has termed a “nastygram” demanding the difference.

Don @ Breath of Optimism
Don @ Breath of Optimism
6 years ago

I thought I left my wallet at home once at the grocery store. Luckily the store wasn’t busy. When I ran out to my car, my wallet was sitting in the driver seat.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and the exact same thing happened. It turned out that it was the windpants I was wearing. My wallet would slide out of the pocket when I would sit down in my car or get out.

KSK
KSK
6 years ago

Many years ago, before I had a credit card or an ATM card, I traveled solo to visit my parents. After the visit on my way home, I stopped at a gas station and filled my gas tank. When I walked inside to pay, I realized my wallet was EMPTY. No cash, or any other form of payment. The gas was already in the tank. I must have a trust-worthy face, because the owner told me to mail him a check when I returned home. Which I promptly did the second I walked in the door.

marie
marie
6 years ago
Reply to  KSK

I actually have 3 $20s hidden in a mint box in the compartment where my spare tire is just in case this happens to me!

Rosa
Rosa
6 years ago
Reply to  marie

I habitually keep $20 hidden in the car, because that habit dates back to when $20 filled the tank. I should probably make it $50 but I haven’t had to use it in years.

JenniferGwennifer
JenniferGwennifer
6 years ago

My debit card was declined in college once at the grocery store. It was so embarrassing to leave my full bags at the end of the checkout counter and just walk out. (thankfully, I was able to run home and get my credit card and they rang them up again) Thankfully it was the bank’s fault! I had done a phone transfer earlier that day to cover my rent check and while the money left my savings account the woman at the bank transposed the last 2 numbers of the checking account so my money went to someone else’s account.… Read more »

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

Years ago, I bounced a check to my mortgage broker for our first home. I had recently change the allocation of my direct deposit and forgot to update it my check book ledger. Embarrassing!

Holly
Holly
6 years ago

I was dropping off my children to school and on the way home I realized that I was going to run out of gas. Unfortunately, I was in my pj’s and slippers (which I never did before but I had a newborn and was chronically exhausted). So I was extremely embarrassed when I had to ask the attendant to spot me some gas, but I left him my driver’s license. My husband (who was a policeman at the time) dropped off the cash later that day and picked up my license.

adult student
adult student
6 years ago

I’m sure people just thought it was a glitch! And I’ve tried to pay with expired cards before, too – I carried around an expired card AND its replacement in my wallet for a couple months this year before I remembered to take out and shred the old one. No big deal! My stupid money story: when I had just graduated from college, I went on a work-study program in Europe for a summer (free travel! whoooo!)…and found out when I was there that my American credit card didn’t work for some reason having to do with the PIN. I… Read more »

Hoping to Adopt
Hoping to Adopt
6 years ago
Reply to  adult student

One of my money stories is similar. I went to Thailand for two months while I was in college. Before I left, I talked to my bank to make sure that my debit card would work over there. They suggested switching to a different card that would have fewer fees. I assumed that they would be just reassigning my existing card to a different program. What I didn’t realize was that they were going to be literally issuing me a new card and cancelling my existing card. So, in the middle of my trip, my card was cancelled. The card… Read more »

freebird
freebird
6 years ago

During a business trip to Tokyo, and after standing in line for an hour at an exchange booth in Narita, I tried to convert a couple of benjamins into yen, and the agent loudly said “sorry these bills are fake”! I have no idea how he came to that conclusion, so I had to spend more time hunting down an ATM that recognized US-issued cards. Almost missed my train into the city. Since the suspect bills were a birthday present from my mother, I asked about where she got them, and she explained they were a cash withdrawal from her… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
6 years ago
Reply to  freebird

I have had American $100 bank notes that started with an A number refused by a bank in Australia…. that I easily deposited when I got home. Apparently the A number ones are the most likely to be counterfiet. So I never take A bills with me on trips any more……also most countries do not accept US bills that are ripped on written on…..so no bills that are tracking where George has gone!

Retired by 40
Retired by 40
6 years ago

This happened to me at the grocery store and it was super embarassing! Turns out, our bank had been scamming us! Seriously, there was a class-action lawsuit and we got a settlement from it! I too have a huge fear of my card being declined – it is super embarassing!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

In a coversation with the landlord, some years ago. The economy, blah blah, etc…

“Do you invest in the stock market?”

“Not really…”

I felt like I belonged in a kindergarten.

Aldo @ MDN
Aldo @ MDN
6 years ago

I had a lot of embarrassing moments, mostly with declined credit cards, where I had to pretend that the card was bad for some reason (I knew I just didn’t have the funds), but my worst moment was when I booked a vacation to Majorca, Spain with my then girlfriend and found out that I didn’t have enough money to pay for the hotel room. I had only reserved the room but had to pay when I arrived. My now ex-girlfriend had to pay for the hotel when we had decided that the hotel was my contribution to the vacation.… Read more »

Becky @ Runfundone
Becky @ Runfundone
6 years ago

I’m pretty sure that a declined credit card is the most embarrassing thing. Though, in high school when I worked retail, having to tell people that their card was declined was actually worse than being the declinee!

Lis
Lis
6 years ago

I agree! I had my debit card declined once (it was a large purchase – passport I think – and I was about $10 short in my account), and that was embarrassing, but when you’re young and working in retail, you get blamed pretty often when your card is declined. I used to work at a video game store in a decently affluent town, so every once in a while, especially around the holidays, we would have someone come in and drop well over $500 in a single purchase. One time, a woman was buying around $800 worth of games… Read more »

Zee
Zee
6 years ago

Mine wasn’t exactly a money related moment but it was a job interview moment (which leads to money so that counts right?) I got to the building where my interview was supposed to take place and looked on the board in the lobby and saw that yes indeed I was in the right place and that the company I was looking for was at #1200 within the building. So I get into the elevator thinking that I knew where I was going but after I got in the full elevator I looked at the buttons and realized, I have no… Read more »

Amy
Amy
6 years ago

My husband and I were on a cruise and we went fishing at one of the ports we stopped at. We were told we could go to one of the local restaurants and have the fish we’d caught cooked. Well, after we’d eaten, we went to pay and realized that they did not accept credit cards and we’d left the majority of our cash on the boat and couldn’t pay for lunch! Luckily, we found another couple we’d made friends with on the boat and asked them to spot us some cash – talk about really embarrassing…and the looks they… Read more »

Meredith
Meredith
6 years ago

I only carry my debit card around and put a specific amount of money on it every 2 weeks. It was a day before pay day and I knew I only had like $3 on the card but I knew I had a $5 bill in my wallet. My kids wanted pizza after a class they take near a pizza shop and this place sold a medium cheese pizza for $6. I found all the change in the car and in my wallet and it was over a dollar so I knew I had it covered. At the cash register,… Read more »

Tina
Tina
6 years ago

Our really embarrassing thing happen 15 years ago was having our car reposessed. I was a stay at home mom and couldn’t afford daycare and my husband mismanaged the money at the time. Young and in our 20s.

Since that incident our cars are paid in full and put money in an auto savings acct, and have very little debt other than our home.

Toni
Toni
6 years ago
Reply to  Tina

That happened to my brother except he had no idea my dad hadn’t made payments on the vehicle he was driving. He was 16 and working at the mall. He came out and the car was nowhere to be found. He was frantic (as you can imagine a poor 16-yo would be). They waited till after closing when most the cars were gone, and still no truck. They finally figured out the situation, but it was awful for him. Our cars were also always past their inspection date, so we learned how to avoid cops or pile the snow up… Read more »

Chris
Chris
6 years ago

This happens to everyone for a variety of reasons. For those of you who are not scarred from the days of living paycheck to paycheck this might not be a big deal and it shouldn’t be. Please remember credit cards can get turned down for any reason, including a fraud alert on your card you may not be aware of yet. I would always recommend carrying around a backup card if you do not have a checkbook or other form of payment when you head out to shop. For those of you who may be like my husband, who constantly… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
6 years ago
Reply to  Chris

Yes, this. Late last year I had FOUR credit cards compromised in the space of about a month. Argh.
http://donnafreedman.com/2013/12/21/got-a-credit-card-get-another-one/

Norman
Norman
6 years ago

Back in the day, before electronic deposits and payments, I would write out checks for all my bills and have them ready for when my paycheck came in the mail. On payday I decided to go ahead and put the checks in the mail bacause my check had always arrived on payday. Well, guess what, the paycheck didn’t arrive in the mail and I had already mailed the payments. I was sweating it for a day or so….I didn’t know checks could bounce that high. After fees from the bank and everybody else, I never did that again! Lesson learned… Read more »

Sasha
Sasha
6 years ago

I had a moment like this on a first date once. We met for lunch, and really hit it off. A couple hours later, the waiter brought over the check, and my date reached into his back pocket for his wallet to pay. The look of horror and then embarrassment that crossed his face I can still see clearly to this day. Though he didn’t know it at the time, his wallet had fallen out of his pants pocket between his doorstep and car and was currently sitting in the parking lot at his apartment complex. I could tell he… Read more »

Neel V Kumar
Neel V Kumar
6 years ago
Reply to  Sasha

Wow! That is some payback. 🙂 Mazel Tov!

Rose
Rose
6 years ago

I asked to get a new card (main one I use) sent to me because I had used mine at Target during the time their servers were accessed. So, I was down to one card with no back-up like you. Went grocery shopping and later that day headed out to a nice dinner with my kids as it was my 40th birthday. It was one of the japanese steakhouses where you sit with strangers together at a table while they cook in front of you (not my typical birthday dinner – but one we had saved for and decided to… Read more »

spiralingsnails
spiralingsnails
6 years ago

One of the first times I ventured out grocery shopping with my newest baby (our third kid) I was feeling rather relieved as I approached the check-out line. Despite being desperately short on sleep, I had found everything on the list, gotten it loaded on the conveyer belt, and was holding my credit card in my hand like a good little girl all ready to pay. The cashier announced the total and I went to swipe except – the card was no longer in my hand! Did I drop it? No. Had I put it on the check-writing counter? No.… Read more »

Ely
Ely
6 years ago

Why do you care what people think? It’s not like they’re all perfect, and in my experience 80% of the time it’s either the bank or the machine at fault. Many times problems are resolved with a quick phone call; all you have to do is step out of line and let them ring up a few other people while you take care of it. I did have a card declined at a drug store back in the days before cell phones… fortunately the store had pay phones back by the restrooms. I don’t remember what the problem was, I… Read more »

Even Steven
Even Steven
6 years ago

I don’t consider anything I have done to be an embarassing money moment, I believe that every mistake I have made with money has made me more knowledgeable about money and personal finance. For that the list is pretty long, buy a Mercedes, borrowing money from my parent, student loans, credit cards.

David @ Simple Money Concept
David @ Simple Money Concept
6 years ago

Going to the casino without my wallet!

Laura
Laura
6 years ago

🙂 That doesn’t sound stupid, that sounds smart! 🙂

Hershey
Hershey
6 years ago

I don’t usually worry about what people think, however, one time I really had to laugh at myself. I drove through a McDonald’s one time (during lunch break while working on a rental property I own). A young guy from the neighborhood was helping me with painting and I suggested we make a quick McDonald’s run. He was sitting in the passenger’s seat. Needless to say, I pay for most items with a credit card and pay off the balance each month. I had left my credit card at home and didn’t have $4.24 in my wallet for the items… Read more »

Andy@artofbeingcheap
6 years ago

I had won a lottery ticket as some kind of a small prize, and the ticket won me $1. I was embarrassed to go cash the thing in because I didn’t want anybody to see me cashing it in and think I was the kind of guy that bought lottery tickets, but I also didn’t want to give up a dollar.

Eric
Eric
6 years ago

Simple, bought a timeshare for the dream of vacations anywhere, each year.

Fortunately, we took the state required 7 day period, sent a recision and got out of it!

It was 12K, would have a horrific nightmare had we stayed in.

Christina
Christina
6 years ago

Why do you guys care what the other people are thinking? I’ve had several instances where the card was declined: credit card company wondering if the number had been stolen and shut it off without calling, etc, etc, etc. There are so many reasons. I’m never embarrassed and wonder why other people find this situation so embarrassing. So what if total strangers see that we hit our credit limit? I’ve done this several times at Target and just think “I need to call them to ask for a higher limit” or “I should have paid the bill early, and now… Read more »

Reid K.
Reid K.
6 years ago

I live abroad and often have troubles with using bank cards in the U.S.. No matter how many times I tell my bank “I live in Thailand”, they don’t seem to get it and want to deny my transactions.

Because of this, I get the “hold my breath when using a debit card” a lot, and it’s not an irrational fear either.

SAHMama
SAHMama
6 years ago

I was in Washington, DC for work. Had to pay for all 5 nights of a $300/night plus tax bill on my personal card. They called my husband at home to verify the card had not been stolen because it was like an $1800 charge in a place I’d never been before.

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
6 years ago

Maybe 20 years ago, I got an oil change while visiting my parents for the weekend and my card was declined. The bank had upgraded my card without my knowing and cancelled the old one. The new card was sitting in my mailbox at home. You can’t put an oil change back on the shelf. About a week after Hurricane Sandy hit, my son drove to visit his girlfriend and get gas. The card he had was declined. They’d cancelled it because of fraud, but we had no phones and they couldn’t contact us. The gas station took another card… Read more »

harold
harold
6 years ago

Several years ago my wife, who never uses a credit card, took the one joint credit card we had because she had to take her “clients” out to lunch in the middle of a civil rights trial. She was defending several cops in federal court. When lunch time came she took them all to a high end restaurant and when she went to pay the bill her card was rejected – in front of her clients (which she had to spend the rest of the week with in court) and other attorneys from her office. She was mortified. What happened… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

LOL! This is why I have 2 credit cards and a debit card. I always carry all three around with me. As a kid I used to bring at least $5 with me to buy gum or candy (this was in the days before gum and candy cost $5). Though I don’t know if all that has to do more with being afraid of embarrassment or just not wanting to have to deal with having to go through the trouble to get the thing I want later. I just thought of an embarrassing moment (I was more sad than embarrassed)…my… Read more »

Nina
Nina
6 years ago

I pay nearly everything by debit card, however a few places still only take cash. My fear is that someday I will be at the doctor or hairdresser and not have enough cash on me. It wouldn’t be a problem as they’d be understanding about, but I’d still rather it not happen at all. As for something that happened, a few months ago I went to the bank to have a savings account closed and the money moved to an account at another bank with a higher interest. I knew I’d not get my loyalty bonus because that savings account… Read more »

Marie
Marie
6 years ago

My credit card was refused when I tried to buy a MacBook at the Apple store. When I called the company, they claimed they’d frozen the account because that purchase qualified as “suspicious activity”.

I was infuriated because I’d spent the week before on vacation, using that same credit card in five different states with no problems whatsoever. I asked the phone rep why shopping in my hometown was suspicious while shopping all up and down the west coast was not, and he spluttered a bunch of nonsense at me. I haven’t used that card since!

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