Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's In Your Wallet?

For the last five years - since the birth of my first child - I've religiously used my Toys R Us MasterCard, earning monthly rewards in the form of Toys R Us gift cards. After it dawned on me that (A) consuming copious amounts of lead-bearing plastic toys shipped from China might not be in the best interest of the planet and (B) my kids would be better off with infinitely fewer toys, I stopped cashing in my rewards. Instead, I donated the gift cards to my children's schools, where they were used for art supplies, wooden musical instruments, new scooters. It seemed a good compromise . . . except that every time I opened my wallet, there was something in there that didn't belong.

In thinking about living lighter, I tend to focus on active changes - hanging laundry, baking bread, shopping at the farmers' market, things that I can do physically. Inactive changes, like having my money work for the environment, often don't register with me even though they require less effort than, for instance, hauling buckets of bath water out to the ornamental plants.

The search for a greener credit card only involved a few clicks. Credit Card Watcher, GreenShopper, Co-Op America and Treehugger have all published articles rating different cards, their rewards and the banks who back them. Because we pay our balance off monthly, APR and finance charges were not a consideration. This left me with two factors to consider: the rewards earned and the lending bank.

Environmentally friendly credit cards offer a range of rewards. Some donate a percentage of your every purchase to organizations like World Wildlife Fund. Others, like GE's Earth Rewards MasterCard and Bank of America's Brighter Planet VISA Card, rack up money to be invested in renewable energy and carbon offset projects. The Working Assets Card offers its cardholders the ability to donate $.10 per purchase to one of 50 nonprofits.

Ultimately, I decided to go with the Salmon Nation VISA Card from a regional bank in Washington state dedicated to sustainable principles. First, I am trying to keep the endangered species of a small business alive. Moreover, the card will donate a percentage of my purchases to protect the watersheds between Alaska and California and, if you read the news these days, the salmon really need our help. Heck, using a card like this might even count in The Giving Challenge. Finally, it is a powerful feeling knowing that my money is living lighter too.

That's what's in my wallet. What's in yours?


Beany said...

Recently, there was discussion of a "green" credit card on a mailing list that I'm on. Many of the cards you mentioned were brought up and I couldn't decide if I thought they were a good idea or not. For one, the credit cards are usually backed by a large company like JP, Chase, etc...who tend to have questionable business practices. I wasn't sure Working Assets' card was worth it. I do tend to use my credit card often (and pay balance in full every month).

I think I will apply for the Salmon Nation card though...based on your reasons.

Chile said...

I guess I'm selfish. I still love my REI credit card. We used the store credit we earned last year to help stock our bug-out bags.

We do have Working Assets (now called Credo) for our wireless and long-distance phone service. I would be glad to have their credit card as well, except that it is offered through the bank where we used to have our credit card. We cancelled that puppy when we found out that particular bank was the single largest contributor to the political campaign of shrubbie (or his dad - can't remember now). Blech.

I really like getting to vote each year on where the donations go for the Working Assets card.

Jennifer said...

Hmmm... lots of plastic crap in there. There's a library card, a King Soopers Card (grocery), a Safeway card (grocery), a bank card, an insurance card, an Albertson's card (grocer), a driver's license...

oh, and one credit card, though... an emergency only dealy that we carry "just in case".

You have good reasoning for possibly going to a rewards based card for things, though... we make (and spend) very little, so I've always thought the personal gains were less than potential losses. But, my meager gains added to other's meager gains might actually make a difference.

Then again, I have a big anti-credit card thing... but that's just me.

katecontinued said...

No credit cards for 15 years. I do have a debit card from a California Bank. I believe credit is one of the most dangerous aspects of our modern lives. I also distrust credit ratings and the secret handshake way of allocated 'scores.'

I prefer this approach to the many years I felt I was juggling these accounts.

arduous said...

I have a Borders Rewards credit card that offers me cash back as an option. I used to exclusively get gift certs from Borders, but now that I only buy used books, I just go for the cash.

I'm always loathe to open up a new credit card because I hear it can affect your credit if you have too many cards... you do make a good point about the environmental cards though. Hmmm... food for thought.

Joyce said...

We operate like Jennifer- one card for emegencies only. We just use good ol' green money for our everyday household purchases. then when it's gone, it's gone.

CindyW said...

Ah, good reminder, GB. I used to have 3 credit cards, just because I was too lazy to cancel a couple. I ended up have annual fee and accidental balance on them. Now I have gone down to one. But I am using a card that increases my flight mileage - doubly bad I suppose. Have to rethink about my credit card strategy.

ruralaspirations said...

For your Canadian readers our credit union has the EnviroVisa (we're with VanCity but I'm sure other credit unions have a similar type of card on offer). I also have a Mastercard that contributes to the Canadian Equestrian Team (I've had it for years, since back when I was a rider, not for the CET, mind you, but hey - the card has a picture of horse on it!).

Sue in the Western Great Basin said...

I have an REI card too -- and I keep it mainly because I have a good long customer history with them. I don't particularly like US Bank, who issues the card, though (started out as SeaFirst, a Seattle bank, which makes sense since that's where REI HQ is, but over the years it got shuffled around to US Bank). I might just switch to Salmon Nation though.

A few years ago I left Federal Employment and wanted to roll my 401k into a regular IRA, but I didn't want anything that was AT ALL invested in the stock market, or bond market, or any of that junk. I ultimately chose Shorebank Pacific, coincidentally also located in Washington State. They do invest in some bonds, but NO stocks, and most of their investment is in community renewal and redevelopment. I don't know that they are exempt from any of the troubles banks are having lately, but I feel better about having my money there than any other place I've found. Been with them about 3.5 years, no complaints. http://www.eco-bank.com/ -- standard disclaimer applies -- invest at your own risk, blah blah. But I like 'em!

Sue in the Western Great Basin said...

Well, well, whaddaya know! I clicked on the Salmon Nation card application, only to discover that the "regional Washington bank" that issues it is none other than Shorebank Pacific! That just makes me like them even more -- think I'm gonna apply!

Western Great Basin

MamaBird said...

wealth of links and info, thanks - i will look into this.

kale for sale said...

It's amazing the places I keep discovering where I'm so asleep and continuing on the merry path of status quo - gathering points for big box retailers in this case. Thanks for waking me up!


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