It was one of the lowest money moments of my adult life. I was standing in line at Walmart with a cart full of groceries and a ton of people behind me.
My first card got declined, and I was embarrassed. Then, the second card got declined, too.(I can’t even convey my feelings at that point. It was awful.) That day, my husband and I happened to be shopping with my mother, and I had to ask to use her credit card. As a grown, married adult, this was the last thing I wanted to do.
I don't know what was worse: having two cards declined, or having my mom bail me out.
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As I rode home with my head buried in my hands I wondered how I ever got to that point.
Just a year or so before this episode, my husband and I both had decent jobs. We weren’t great with money, but we weren’t reckless either. Still, we had a little bit of credit card debt. We probably went out to eat too much, but we always paid our bills on time, and generally always had money in the bank.
Then, my husband applied to medical school and got accepted to one outside of the country. We made the tough decision to quit both of our jobs and move. We were living on student loans, and I had just started freelance writing.
I remember very specifically that, at the time of the “Walmart Incident,” I had received a payment for a writing job I did. The day I was at the checkout line, the money was still in the middle of being transferred from PayPal to my checking account.
The great thing about this experience, as mortifying as it was, is that it was the catalyst for me to really improve our financial situation.
I immediately got motivated to hustle and get more freelance writing jobs, and I quickly increased my income. A few years ago, when I started freelance writing, I got paid $10 per post for my first writing job. These days, I support a family of four on my writing income, so I’ve come a long way.
I also used my freelance writing income at the time to chip away at my credit card debt.
By watching what I spent and budgeting with cash envelopes, I was able to pay off $6,000 of credit card debt in 18 months. Then my husband and I were able to build our first emergency fund, and things got a lot better after that.
I don’t wish having a credit card declined on anyone. But if it does happen, here are some steps you can take if it ever happens to you:
Before you get upset, stop and think. Did you hit the limit on your card? Are you on vacation and shopping in a different location, which might trigger a fraud alert on your credit cards? Are you spending a higher amount than usual?
Try not to just stand there. Don't ask them to run the card again and again. It can make the situation worse, and make the people behind you impatient. There are really three ways this step can go.
If you have a feeling that you’re over your card limit, take out a different payment method, whether it’s your debit card or another credit card. I also always keep a basic check in my wallet for those rare occasions when I need one.
However, if you’re positive that your card should work, and you have no other payment method, you can always quickly call the number on the back of the credit card. Try to see what happened, and ask if they can unlock your card.
Lastly, in a worst-case scenario, if you know for a fact that none of your payment methods will work and you have no backup, confidently smile and apologize to the teller and let them know you’ve brought the wrong card, and that unfortunately the one you need is at home.
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Ask them if they’d like you to put the products back where you got them (99 percent of the time, this will be a no). Then go ahead and leave your items there and walk to your car. Had my mom not been in Walmart that day, this is the route I would have had to take.
Ultimately, I’m actually glad that this embarrassing moment happened to me.
Horrible as it was, that was the day when I decided to take control of my finances. I knew that I would never, ever have to feel that embarrassed again.
It really has been a long road. But I’m proud to say that I’ve never had a card declined at a store since then, and I doubt I ever will again.