By Stephanie Miller


5 Min. To Read

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Once upon a time, pulling plastic out of your wallet at the register was reserved for big-ticket items. Maybe you used a credit card to purchase new living room furniture, or for that big screen tv. Stores often offered zero percent financing for a period of time, too, really sweetening the deal and encouraging you to swipe that card.

The idea of using credit for everyday purchases was unheard of, and perhaps even downright irresponsible. That is, of course, until the arrival of cash back rewards.

According to one of the latest surveys from, consumers are using credit cards more and more for small, insignificant purchases. Are the days of cash slowly fading and what does this uptick mean for our finances?

In a telephone poll of almost 700 credit card holders, found that 17 percent of them were regularly using plastic to pay for items that were $5 or less. This was a significant increase from the previous year’s response to the same question, where only 11 percent of respondents admitted to doing such.

While a fifth of those surveyed isn’t some astronomical number, it does signify a growing trend and a shifting attitude toward credit cards… one that I don’t see reversing anytime soon.

The younger generation is one that relies on convenience. Whether pre-ordering Starbucks to avoid a line, using Siri to figure out today’s forecast, or shopping exclusively via Amazon Prime, speed and ease are big factors. It’s no big surprise, then, that using a credit card for daily expenditures has followed closely behind.

Credit cards are easier, admittedly. In fact, do you remember the Visa commercials from a few years back? You know, where everything is running just smoothly until someone tries to pay with (gasp!) something as antiquated as cash?

Well, sometimes it can feel that way, especially to the young, instant gratification generation. Cash is bulky. Credit cards are easy and often, you can even use your phone to pay with them. Bam, done.

It’s easy to see how plastic has gained a foothold.

Probably the biggest perk to buying everyday items on a credit card – even better than the convenience factor – is the fact that you can earn cash back rewards on every dollar you spend.

Some credit cards offer revolving rewards of up to 5 – 6%. Those daily lattes don’t seem so terrible when they’re putting cash back in your pocket. Other cards offer anywhere from 1 – 3% back on every single purchase you make. If you use a credit card every time you fill up, buy groceries, or pay your electric bill, you could end up with hundreds of dollars back over the course of the year.

Had you paid for those things in cash, you’d have missed out on some serious savings!

I’ve found that one of my favorite aspects of paying with my credit card is that I’m offered extra, complimentary protection on everything I buy. Most credit cards these days offer some form of extended warranty, damage and loss coverage, or even price matching service. Be sure to check and see what benefits your favorite credit card might offer.

If I use my daily go-to card (the Citi Double Cash) to book flights or hotels, I know that my travel is protected against unexpected cancellations or delays. Even if bad weather strikes -- like last week, when I was in Florida for hurricane Irma-- my travel companions and I are covered.

I once bought a fancy new blender at a high-end home goods store, only to have it break a mere week past the store’s warranty period. No worries, though! Since I had purchased it with plastic, my credit card company offered me an additional six months of coverage. The blender was replaced free of charge, and I was quickly back to smoothie-making. Had I paid in cash or with my debit card, I would be missing out on some serious savings.

While Millennials and Gen-Xers are leading the credit-cards-for-everyday-spending movement, baby boomers and seniors aren’t entirely “hip” just yet. For the older generations, cash still reigns supreme. In fact, seventy percent of them said that they preferred to use cash for purchases of $5 or less. Whether this is due to a true preference for cash, a reluctance to rely on credit, or perhaps a failure to embrace everything “modern and tech savvy,” I don’t know. I don’t see my grandma giving up her checkbook for ApplePay anytime soon, though.

As technology advances and the idea of fast-and-easy takes greater hold, it’ll be interesting to see the future of purchasing trends. I suspect that credit cards will become the daily norm for the majority of the population. Between convenience and the potential for earning cash back, I personally don’t think this is a bad thing. As long as you can pay off your bill in full each month to avoid a revolving balance (and digging yourself into unnecessary debt), using an excellent credit card for everyday spending can be a really great idea.

Does the potential perks of making even the most insignificant purchases on - namely credit card reward points and convenience - outweigh the risks of debilitating debt?

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