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February 20, 2014 8:33 am

AMEND CORNER: At a crosswords on credit

Written by Don Amend

A number of factors currently have me preoccupied with dollar signs.

Among those factors are the arrival of W2s and related forms as well as health insurance deductibles and co-payments. In addition, I have arrived at the age when I must begin drawing from an IRA, which I want to do without unduly affecting my tax bill.

I look upon this preoccupation with money as sinful, a violation of that commandment to refrain from putting other gods before the real one. Money, I realize, is the god most likely to occupy that unlawful position if not kept in the proper perspective.

Even so, my sensitivity to money issues is heightened right now, leading to an incident that prompts this column.

A couple of weeks ago, following a Sunday visit to a restaurant in Rochester, Minn., I had the urge to buy a copy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. As you might imagine, buying a big city newspaper is not an unusual urge for me, particularly on Sunday. Not only is there a lot of reading material in such a newspaper, there’s the possibility that it will contain The New York Times crossword puzzle or some reasonable alternative that will lubricate my brain cells and enhance my vocabulary.

So, as I approached the newspaper vending machine, both my wife and I dug through our change to see if we had the eight quarters required for the $2 purchase, a sum which seems rather large given that it was about what two months of the Northern Wyoming Daily News cost back in 1956 when I began delivering it in my hometown.

What really gave me pause, though, was the fact that this vending machine was equipped with something I had never seen before, a slot to swipe your credit card. I could actually charge the $2 on my credit card.

Now, I suppose this credit card capability isn’t a surprise to anybody but a small-town hick such as I, but it caught me by surprise. It surprised me even more that, although I could have gone back in the restaurant and changed a couple of bills for eight quarters, I got out my MasterCard and swiped it.

Today, in the age of debit cards, some people never carry any cash. In fact, some people don’t even carry debit cards, preferring to use their iPhones to pay for everything. But while I’m not averse to using modern technology, I am a bit leery of debit cards and reluctant to spend the money for an iPhone and the services necessary to use it in place of my wallet.

I am however, somewhat of a sucker for novelty, so the urge to take advantage of something new to me was irresistible, and I charged for the paper.

I did this in spite of my long-standing reluctance to use plastic for small charges. I am reluctant to carry a lot of cash around for a variety of reasons, so I used to head off to teach school carrying only a dime for a lunchtime visit to the teachers’ lounge pop machine.

I usually have no more than $20 in my pockets when around home to take care of cups of coffee and such. For anything much over $10, I stubbornly cling to 20th century technology, a ball-point pen and a check blank.

On the road, as I was last week, it’s a different story, if only because, as previously indicated, I have a weakness for purchasing large, and even not-so-large, newspapers, and I’m apt to use a credit card more frequently rather than carry a lot of cash, not to mention the impossibility of passing a Wyoming check in Minnesota.

Online shopping has changed that, though, especially given my taste for recorded music and online shopping. Such commerce has, on at least one occasion, led me to a whimsical purchase  of a single song from iTunes, for which I charged $1.03, 4 cents of which iTunes remitted to Wyoming to help pay for my state services.

Even so, I am acutely aware that small purchases can add up to surprising totals when the monthly bill comes around, and there have been occasions when purchases of coffee, newspapers and ice cream cones have inflated the size of the check I have to write.

I also realize that using a credit card has risks. A lot of Target customers discovered this recently, and if Target credit card scanners can be raided for my vital information, think how easy it would be to tap into the reader on a newspaper vending machine sitting in front of a restaurant.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist the urge to swipe that card and buy the newspaper.

I still feel a bit silly about doing it, especially since between my wife and I, we found eight quarters. Next time, I’ll probably scrounge up the change or find a convenience store to make the purchase. In the meantime, just to be safe, I’ll watch my credit card account carefully for a couple months. I guess it’s all a part of modern life.

As for the crossword puzzles, the paper carried not only The New York Times puzzle, but another equally challenging crossword. Due to grandchildren distractions, I ended up cheating on The Times puzzle, and I don’t remember finishing the other one. Still, I guess they were worth a buck apiece.

Unless somebody stole my card number from the machine, that is.

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