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Jeremy Simon

Credit card 'sleeves' encase plastic in a reminder to think before swiping

When engaging in risky activities, you need an added layer of protection. So to curb impulse shopping, encase your credit card in a reminder to think before you spend.

Several organizations and at least one personal finance guru offer paper sleeves that hold a credit or debit card and feature sayings or questions designed to make you consider the impact your swipes will have on your finances -- and the world around you.

It's a popular time to cut back on spending. Recently released Federal Reserve data showed that in February, credit card balances plunged by the largest percentage in more than 30 years as consumers scaled back their card use in response to the recession.

Social organizations are happy to help. The boldy-named Center for a New American Dream's "wallet buddy" reminds the cardholder that "every dollar I spend is a statement about the kind of world I want and the quality of life I value." The wallet buddy also raises some thought-provoking questions about potential purchases:

  • Do I need this and do I need it now?
  • Was it made sustainably?
  • Were the workers who made it treated well?
  • Does it have too much packaging?
  • Is it worth the money?

wallet tallis.png

I recently received a credit card sleeve produced by Washington, D.C., activist group Jews United for Justice. Their "wallet tallis" card sleeve is "designed to fold around your credit or debit card like a tallis or tallit/Jewish prayer shawl." It's one of the tools JUFJ offers to help shoppers "make purchasing decisions that are more in line with the Jewish values of righteous giving and repairing the world."

The wallet tallis encourages cardholders to consider the following kavannah, or "sacred intention" for a particular act, before making a purchase:

  • Is this something I need?
  • Can I borrow one, find one used or make one instead of buying new?
  • Was it made with fair labor practices?
  • Was it made with environmentally preferable materials?
  • Was it made well enough to last?
  • Will using it require excessive energy?
  • Will this purchase enhance the meaning and joy in my life?

"The best thing we can do is give people tools to help them think about how they spend their money," says Robin Metalitz, JUFJ's development and communications manager. For your own card sleeve, send them an e-mail.

Separately, personal money management expert Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University packet includes a card sleeve that exclaims "Warning: Using this card may be hazardous to your financial health!" The point is clear: Paying recklessly with plastic can be deadly for your bank account. The card sleeve and additional contents of Ramsey's packet are nicely shown in a post on the Bible Money Matters blog.

While this may be a particularly good time to think before buying, credit card sleeves aren't an entirely new concept. Rockford, Ill.-based Family Credit Counseling Service offered free card sleeves for New Years 2008 that gave voice to overworked plastic with the saying, "Put me back. Your goals are more important than this!"

"When making impulse purchases, many use credit cards so the immediate pinch isn't felt in the monthly budget," FCCS explains. "These few moments give your inner voice the opportunity to talk you out of that impulse buy."

See related: Get smart about credit: Stop. Think. Save!, Consumer credit card use suffers biggest drop in 31 years, Clueless about credit? Enroll in Financial Peace University

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