Rich Dlin – Reader Beware

Husband, Father, Math Teacher, Weightlifter

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Les Miserables Movie … My Thoughts

First off, I must tell you I am a Les Mis purist, though not necessarily a fanatic. I’ve read the book. I’ve seen the play on stage three times and performed in it for two separate productions (though neither time a lead … curse you, more talented people!). I’ve been listening to the soundtrack since the late 1980’s, and can literally sing every word from beginning to end, thanks to the release of the Complete Symphonic Recording album in 1989. I am a fan of live theatre, a bigger fan of musical theatre and to me Les Mis is the pinnacle. It’s hard to imagine a musical production that could even come close.

What drew me in at first was the score, shortly followed by the story. I know I’m not alone. So when the movie was announced I was extremely excited about it, but also a little reserved – what if they blew it? It wouldn’t be the first time Hollywood let me down. Clan of the Cave Bear comes to mind. Then the cast was announced, and I was pretty happy. I asked the same question everyone asks:

“Can Russell Crowe sing?” And received the answer everyone seems to give:

“Well, he has a band.”

As if being in a band automatically qualifies a person to sing. Perhaps these folks never heard Keith Richards croon?

In any event, I wasn’t really worried about Russell Crowe. I’m a big fan and could easily imagine Maximus as Javert. As for Wolverine … I mean Hugh Jackman, I was quite pleased. He’s one of those actors you just love to watch in different roles. From X-Men to hosting the Oscars, I figured he’d do just fine. No, for me the only person I was legitimately worried about was Sacha Baron Cohen, who I can only see as Borat, a movie I despised from about 10 minutes in, owing largely to the gigantically unfunny ego of Cohen. People told me not to worry though, and assured me that if I had seen Hugo (I have not) I would reconsider.

All in all though, I couldn’t wait. And when the trailers were released I watched and rewatched them, getting chills each time. When the long trailer with the actors talking about how it was to do a movie that was sung live was released I watched it and I got chills again, and when the 5 clips were released it was Chillzville once more.

Because all my friends know I am such a fan, they all kept asking me if I’d seen the movie yet. Today was finally the day. Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth. I won’t comment at all on the story. It needs no comment since the story and the score are the reasons for the huge success of the play.

To begin, I call it a success. The 2.5 hours or so seemed to fly by and if it weren’t for the old dude hacking up a lung next to me I would for the most part not have known I was in a theatre full of people. I was completely absorbed. It is well worth the watch and I will be seeing it again for sure. It had all the things I thought it would have, and more. When you consider that I know the story and the score so well, it was not like watching a normal movie for me. It was more like watching a best friend trying something new and exciting and rooting them on. And them kicking ass. But was it perfect? Not really. Then again, perfection is an ideal impossible to achieve by definition. Here are some detailed observations.

First off, if you’re a Les Mis purist like me, I advise you to do what I realized I had to do about 15 minutes in. Don’t expect a recycled version of the play. This is not Les Miserables, the play. It’s a movie. So forgive the inverted lyrics, the parts they removed, and the added songs. And don’t expect big belting Broadway voices in every song. You won’t get them. That’s not a bad thing, because you can still get those by watching the play, or the concert DVD’s or by listening to the soundtrack. It is what it is. A new movie about an old story. It does what movies can do that stage can’t. Like close-ups for example. Lots and lots of close-ups.

The director clearly made a decision that we should become deeply familiar with the complexion of each of the actors. There were so many close close-ups I think they must have saved money on sets in a lot of scenes because all they needed was about 25% of the screen since the rest was taken up by face. We get lots of great shots of Valjean’s drool and Marius’ freckles, not to mention lots and lots of yellow teeth. Except for the leads that is – they all had nice white teeth. Which leads to my next observation:

Beyond yellowed teeth, if there was makeup used I couldn’t see it. Well that’s not exactly true. There was lots of makeup used to make people look in character, dirty or bloody (or shitty – literally), but none to make people look better. And with all those close-ups this was clearly a choice made to lend realism and honesty to the film, which it did. It added to the emotion and also was refreshing.

Then there were the sets and backdrops. They were, to use a seriously overused word these days, Epic. I mean, the movie starts with the convicts hauling a freaking ship into drydock. Are you kidding me! Extremely powerful and sweeping. I did notice that the director has a slight love affair with the Dutch Angle, which to me is unnecessary and injects a bit of cheese into an otherwise visual home run — when Valjean confesses who he is to Marius the Dutch Angle is so severe I couldn’t help but be reminded of the scene in My Cousin Vinny when Ralph Macchio is being interrogated by the sheriff. That aside though the choices for setting were amazing. Javert’s suicide is actually breathtaking. Both majestic and violent. As it should be.

The big scenes were almost all beyond what I expected. Special nod goes to Lovely Ladies and Do You Hear the People Sing, as well as to One Day More (although One Day More kind of makes itself good). I was not as happy with Master of the House as I hoped I would be. I actually thought the best part of that scene was the young Eponine, who is very cute and funny in all the right places.

All in all from a production standpoint it is almost perfect. Take away the Dutch Angles and you’re there, in my opinion. Not that anyone asked me! Nor are they likely to any time soon …

So how about the performances? Well, I’ll take a look one by one, starting with the strongest, and then in no particular order because I can’t really rank them after that. Everyone is so good.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine. My goodness she is brilliant. Her voice, her acting, her presence. I could find no flaw. I’ve heard better versions of I Dreamed a Dream maybe (Idina Menzel comes to mind), but I can’t imagine seeing a better version. She doesn’t just sing it, she becomes it. It is riveting. I would watch it again and again, if only just to take notes on how to take an audience in using more than just your voice in a song.

Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne. He’s Colm Wilkinson for heaven’s sake! He’s perfect just by being him. I smiled all the way through his performance and when he showed up at the end for the harmonies after Valjean dies (nice touch by the way), I was struck through with chills. Colm is my homie. If he ever met me, I’m sure he’d agree. Maybe he’d recognize me from the 4 times I’ve seen him in concert? Or maybe not …

Hugh Jackman as Valjean. I totally love Hugh. He’s like the perfect dude (and there was only one time when I thought I saw some adamantium poking out). That said, he is not perfect. He is really, really good, but there are parts where I was disappointed. Only a few, and maybe they are minor, but they are there. For example, he has a habit of throwing words away while singing as though he can’t bear to say them. It works once or twice, but he does it way too often. As for his singing, it is very good, but he makes some choices, especially in Bring Him Home, which don’t need to be made. I get that he is acting first, singing second, but honestly some of those songs are the acting, and Bring Him Home is one of them. I would have loved to hear a more pure falsetto, which I began to suspect maybe he didn’t have, until I did hear him use it at the end of the movie when Valjean is dying.

Russell Crowe as Javert. Poor Russell. He had a lot to live up to. Javert is my favourite role and the one I would most like to play (damn you, more talented people!). Did he live all the way up? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that he definitely commands attention, as Javert should. Maximus didn’t win the hearts of Rome by accident. No, in that while he does have a pretty pleasant voice, and most certainly can carry a tune, he either lacks the power or someone told him not to use it. Javert is not supposed to be tender. I actually laughed a bit because at the end of Stars and again at the end of Soliloquiy (Javert’s Suicide) when he’s meant to hit the most powerful notes, the camera pulls up and away at dramatic speed so that his voice trails off when it is supposed to crescendo. It’s like the director thought he could trick us into thinking that since we could still hear him from far away that he must have been singing pretty powerfully. Still, I rank the performance very high. It just would have been nice if Crowe sounded a bit more Javerty (which is officially a new adjective).

Sacha Baron Cohen as Thenardier. Okay. I’m sure many will disagree with me (my wife and son, to name two), but I was really let down with this one. Perhaps it is my prejudice, but I really think that while he has his moments, he is far too egotistical for the role. Thenardier is supposed to be over the top it’s true. But he’s supposed to be part of the story, not above it. There are times when I definitely feel like Cohen is grinning at the camera, if only with his eyes. I also wonder why, in a movie set in France, Thenardier is the only one with a French accent? We all know that in the play everyone strangely has British accents, and so it is in the movie (a Scot or two for good measure) … except for Thenardier. What’s up with that? It’s weird.

Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thenardier. So, as much as Cohen let me down Carter delivered. Holy smokes is she good! She is subtle when needed, and crass when she should be. My only small criticism is that there are times I find her too pretty to be a Thenardier. They do what they can with the makeup for her to make her look bad, but it is hopeless. Every Mme Thenardier I’ve seen on stage (except my good friend Deena! Who also suffers from being too pretty …) has been made out to be awful. Carter is amazing but not awful. If that makes sense?

Eddie Redmayne as Marius. My wife said he sounds like Kermit the Frog when he sings. I hear what she means but I don’t mind. He does have a tendency to get a bit nasal but he can sing the hell out of me so who am I to criticize? He is very well cast and there are two moments where he is exceptional. One is Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, which to me is almost as gripping as I Dreamed a Dream. The other is when he says/sings “I’m doing everything all wrong” in A Heart Full of Love, which, although brief, to me fully captures Marius and Cosette.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. Not many people can play the role. The vocals are ridiculous. She handles them with perfect grace and on top of that delivers a great performance. One standout moment is when Marius tells her that Valjean is the one who saved Marius at the barricade. Her reaction mid song, especially on her face, is one of many “chills” moments.

Aaron Tveit as Enjolras. Again I refer you to my wife, who said “That Enjolras is very pretty.” It’s true. He is. But don’t hold that against him. He is a very effective Enjolras. Perhaps his voice could use more power, but really many songs are undersung in the movie so that may be a directive not of his choosing.

Samantha Barks as Eponine. This woman is unbelievable. She is the Eponine in the 25th anniversary Les Mis concert (opposite Nick Jonas’ Marius and she still is willing to associate herself with Les Mis so that says a lot), and she is possibly my favourite Eponine, though it’s an admittedly tough pack to choose from! She’s beautiful and tortured, as she should be. Her voice is perfect and she made the transition to the screen perfectly, holding her own with seasoned screen vets like Jackman and Crowe. She also has an impossibly narrow waist. In one scene I was sure I could touch my thumb and forefinger around her belt. Her On My Own is probably the most true to Broadway piece in the movie, but does not suffer at all in it’s being well acted for all that. And when she gets shot and dies in Little Fall of Rain … I may have teared up. But only a little.

Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche. Oh my god how cute is this kid! I loved him. He is the best Gavroche I’ve seen (apologies to my friends Michelle and Lisa). I only wish they’d let him sing Little People – even the reduced version. But alas that probably lies somewhere on the cutting floor. Too bad. He’d have killed it.

As for the rest of the cast, they are fantastic. Special nod to the foreman, who is deliciously slimy, and to the lady in the factory who ratted Fantine out, who is spectacularly vile.

So to sum it up I’ll say that it’s going to be a classic. Multiple nods at the Oscars no doubt, and a win for Anne Hathaway for sure. If you love the play, have no fear. If you’ve never seen the play, enjoy, and bring kleenex!

I welcome your comments. I am sure people disagree with some of my thoughts.

Thanks for reading,

Rich

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Parenting From the Bow

I have two kids, and it is definitely true that along with my wife, there is nothing in this world more important to me than them. At the time of writing, my son is 15 and my daughter is 11. So between my wife and I we have a total of 26 child-years of parenting experience (plus 4 dog-years and 9 budgie-years). This hardly qualifies me as an authority on the subject, but I do think about the responsibilities of parenthood in general and fatherhood specifically quite often, and I thought I’d put some of my thoughts into pixels today. I will borrow a little from the speech I made at my son’s Bar Mitzvah, and I will also use some quotes from an early twentieth-century philosopher named Kahlil Gibran as the springboard for my take on things. As it turns out, Gibran and I agree on very many things when it comes to kids.

Children are the mirror to your soul.
~ Kahlil Gibran

That sentiment is the simplest way I can express what my children mean to me. When I look in a mirror, I see my face. When I look at my children, I see my soul.

When my wife Marla and I discovered we were going to have our first child, we started doing what I imagine just about every couple does at that time. We started planning how we were going to make our child into the most perfect human the world has seen. We were going to make sure he was the smartest, most charismatic, most athletic, and most well-rounded person imaginable. We were going to mold him into a superstar. We read all the books, watched all the videos, and attended all the seminars. We bought all the best stuff. We were ready.

Then he was born. And then we learned how it really works.

The truth is, you don’t get to tell your children who they are going to be. That’s not at all what raising a child is. It turns out that what raising a child is really about is paying attention as they tell you who they already are. And if you’re wise, and lucky, you find out that who they are is the exact kind of person you love to know, and to be around. And that’s exactly who my children are. They are the best parts of myself, and of Marla, and a good dose of all those who came before us in the ancestral tree. They are the soul of all of us.

Before our son was born, Marla and I thought we could make him into the perfect person, but we were wrong. He’s not the perfect person. He’s better than that. He is the perfect him. And our daughter, who could not be more different than our son? You guessed it — she is the perfect her.

As a teacher I am fortunate to work with kids all the time. I spend a large part of my days with other people’s children, and it is absolutely the best part of my job. When people find out I teach high school they always ask me what I teach, and my response is always “kids”. They laugh as though it’s a joke but it’s really not. Because while I love math, and that is my subject area, teaching any subject in high school is really about helping kids grow into adults. So I really pay attention to my students, because I find I have so much to learn from them about who they are, and then I in turn can help them grow into the best version of themselves possible.

Of course I know that it is their parents who are primarily responsible for that, and a lot of what I have learned about parenting comes from looking at my students and then looking at their parents. And I can tell you this with 100% certainty: The students I have taught with the highest self-esteem and who are the most comfortable with who they are are the ones whose parents allow them to be who they are. Conversely the ones with the most issues regarding self-worth and academic performance are the ones whose parents are working extremely hard to turn them into something they are not. Imagine growing up in an environment where your most loved and trusted people — your parents — are constantly working to steer you away from who you are and what you want. As a math teacher, I see it most commonly in kids who are being forced to stay in the maths and sciences because their parents have decided that there is no future in the arts. However it goes beyond that. There are parents who seem determined to shape their kids into something different than what they are. It’s sad. As parents we need to see our children the way sculptors see their sculptures — as something that already exists in the rough, and our job is to help reveal that magic to the world.

Here’s another Gibran quote that I love:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
~ Kahlil Gibran

Even if you are not religious the quote is wise. What Gibran is saying is that once a child is born, they are their own person. Children do not belong to anyone but themselves, and the future is theirs to make. Parents are the stable bow. We are the home base and the place our children come from, but the journey they are on, where they go in life, belongs entirely to them. We can guide and encourage, but we can not, nor should we, change the flight of the arrow once it is loosed from the bow.

When it comes to my children, Gibran was right. I don’t seek to make them like me. I strive to be like them.

Thanks for reading,

Rich

My Champagne Anniversary

So today is my 19th anniversary. December 19th. I never knew this was called the Champagne Anniversary but my wife told me the other day. Pretty cool. I’ve been married to my best friend for 19 years and we’ve been together for 26. I am so blessed I can’t even begin to express it. But I thought in honour of my wife and our anniversary I’d do a blog about marriage. Here it is.

A lot of people these days ask me how we’ve stayed married for so long. I usually tell them they should ask someone who’s been married for 40-50 years, since we are just babies in the marriage department really, but the other day someone asked and I took the question seriously. I think it boils down to three things really, Compatibility, Commitment and Communication.

(Side note: I actually just this moment thought of a way to say it using three things that start with the same letter — gosh darn I’m clever. Of course now I’ll Google it and find out it’s the oldest thing ever and feel suitably humbled again. Then again, maybe I won’t Google it just yet, and live under the impression I’m all that for a just a little while longer …)

So where were we? Oh yeah, “The Three C’s of Success” … wait … success actually only has to c’s … ah crap. This needs work … oh but wait, I was talking about my marriage. Allow me to continue then.

My wife Marla and I met in high school. She was my first real girlfriend and so she is the only girlfriend I’ve ever had. I therefore don’t have a ton of experience with women or with relationships. For this reason I generally feel unqualified to give relationship advice or judge the relationships of others, and that’s probably why I usually have a hard time talking about what makes a relationship or marriage successful. But then again, maybe that makes me uniquely qualified. I’ll let you be the judge.

First, let me tell you about why I fell in love with Marla. It’s simple. She saved me. I was an awkward, quiet, socially invisible teen. Marla didn’t care. She saw something in me and she wanted to be my friend. We spent hours and days talking about anything and everything, getting to know each other and she was never put off by my nerdy awkwardness. To this day I am not entirely sure why she was interested in me or why she still is, but I am eternally grateful. We learned through that early friendship that we are compatible (check it out – that’s the first “C”!) and the friendship grew into love. I was 17 and she was 16.

Laugh now, because what couple that age can have any clue about compatibility? And yet we were never presented with any reason to think we weren’t right for each other. It never occurred to either of us that there might be something better out there, or that we needed to play the field, even though I will say many of my friends believed their adolescence and early twenties were designed for nothing else, and never entered into any relationship believing it would last. I never understood that. What’s the point of starting a relationship you are convinced will end? Never got it, never will. So Marla and I were always committed to our relationship (the second “C” — are you keeping count?). Another thing that Marla taught me was that things need to be discussed. I grew up keeping quiet about feelings. I learned to deal with my emotions internally, and developed very strong rationalization skills. I wouldn’t say I swallowed my feelings, just that I always found ways to resolve issues by myself without really talking too much about it. Marla taught me to talk. It was like she opened a floodgate. I couldn’t believe there would be someone interested and caring enough to listen and absorb and respond. We talked about everything, and still do. Communication. The third “C”.

But so far all I’ve talked about is the beginning of our relationship, and that was 26 years ago. A lot has happened since then (2 kids and a mortgage to name a couple) and we are still together. How is that? Well … it’s the three “C”‘s. We never forget them.

Compatibility. We are immensely compatible. It doesn’t mean we like all the same things, or have similar personalities. In fact we are very different. But we fill the spaces for each other. I’m a big picture thinker – she’s a detail specialist. I am introverted – she loves to socialize at parties. When I go to the fridge to get milk for my cereal, I open the door and then forget why I’m standing there – she remembers every single person’s birthday. I love to make speeches in front of a large group – she hates presenting to more than one person at a time. The list goes on. At our core though, we share the same values about family, friendship and finances (Hey! The three “F”‘s … and don’t you go telling me there’s a fourth “F” … this is a family blog). Some people believe that there is one special person out there for you. Marla and I have never thought so. For me, the mathematics just don’t pan out. If there is only one right person out there, what are the chances you would meet them? What if the right person for you is a Nepalese goat herder? Nah. What I DO believe is that you have to be the right person. Find someone you are compatible with, someone you fall in love with, and then make yourself right — not by changing who you are but by being committed to the relationship. And there it is, the second “C”.

Commitment. Be committed to the relationship. There will be hard times. Some extremely so. Marla and I have had some fights let me tell you. But never … never during any one of those fights, has either of us considered that the fight wouldn’t end. We always know that we will work it out. It’s very hard sometimes to get there, and I won’t lie and say we always make up before the day is done, but I will say that we always make up. We know that we will even when the fight is at its worst. We are committed. And we know that even though it’s not always the best, as long as we are arguing we are communicating. See how I did that? The third “C”, and maybe the most important one.

Communication. Communicate always. I have learned that when one of us is feeling that there is something to keep to ourselves then that is probably the most important thing to talk about. Sometimes the reason you don’t want to bring something up is because you know there will be huge backlash. But I feel as though there is already backlash when you swallow what you want to say, because resentment builds. And then what happens is your partner senses the resentment but can’t pinpoint the cause, and the resentment is returned in a spiral of unproductive silence. So we always talk, even when it seems hard, and even when we know it will lead to an argument, because the argument can be resolved but only when both sides know there is an issue. Now of course communicating problems is not the only kind of communication, nor is it the most common. Not by a long shot. Marla and I spend a lot of time just talking. She tells me about her day and I tell her about mine. We listen actively — not just waiting until the other finishes talking so you can have a turn but respecting them by listening to what they are saying and digesting it. At any given moment Marla is the person I most want to be around, and she feels the same way. So we spend a lot of time just being together, enjoying each other’s company. And we communicate our love too. I tell her at least 70 times a day (OK, maybe less than 70 … but not much!) and so does she. I know some people feel they don’t have to say it because they show it, but it’s not true. You have to say it and show it. Say it when it occurs to you. I often just look at her, get happy because she exists, and then tell her that just happened. Communication. It’s the key “C”.

So that’s it. A blog dedicated to my wife, the love of my life, on our 19th anniversary. She is my best friend, she is my love, and she is my partner. I love her.

Thanks for reading,

Rich

A Short Lesson on Credit Cards

Many people who use credit cards understand how they work, but many don’t. I was teaching a class on this the other day and a student of mine pointed out that she thinks her parents don’t know about what I was teaching, and suggested I write an article. So I thought, why not? The math can get a little confusing, so I’ll avoid most of it and just give the answers. Keep in mind this is a lesson I do with high school students, so I ask your forgiveness in advance if you read the whole article and never encounter anything you didn’t already know.

First things first. If you pay your credit card balance in full before the due date each month, you win. You are not paying any interest at all. So for example if you bought something at the beginning of your credit card cycle for $1000, the bank actually lent you the money to buy it without charging any interest, meaning you have owned something for a month before you had to pay for it, and it was at the complete and total expense of the bank. Not bad. In fact, if you really want to be clever, you can buy a $5000 television, charge it to your credit card, go from the store to the bank and deposit $5000 into a one-month GIC, and when the credit card statement comes withdraw the $5000 from the GIC to pay the bill. The GIC will have earned interest for a month so in effect that bank will have paid you to watch their television for a month. Nobody does this really, but in theory there’s no reason why you could not. Pretty cool.

So for people paying their balance in full each month, more power to you! Especially if you have some sort of points earning system on your card, which I’ll get to shortly.

Now for those who do not pay the balance in full, a short lesson on what happens. First, I’ll explain what the banks do about the interest.

As I said before, when people pay the balance in full, interest is never charged. But that doesn’t mean it’s not calculated — it really means it’s forgiven. So a purchase made 20 days before the statement date does accrue 20 days of interest (accrue means interest is added on), but it’s forgiven if the balance is paid in full. On the other hand, if the balance is not paid, that 20 days of interest kicks in.

I’ll use an example showing a just a few purchases. Here goes.

Assumptions:

  • No balance at beginning of cycle
  • Credit card interest rate is 20% (most are slightly below this as I type, but not significantly so — contrast that with current prime lending rate in Canada which is 1%!)
  • Cycle runs from January 1st to February 1st
  • Minimum payment due to credit card company is 3% of the outstanding balance (this is normal).

Purchases:

  • January 1: $2500 on a 54-inch LCD 3D TV. Great deal post holiday.
  • January 5: $400 on 3D DVD’s. Turns out watching regular TV on a 3D TV is a tad boring.
  • January 7: $200 in snacks from Costco for the Avatar party you’re hosting at your place.
  • January 10: $50 for a new pair of 3D glasses — turns out you can’t drop them in a punch bowl and expect them to still work.
  • January 18: $300 for a new XBox 360 gaming system because you ran out of 3D movies to watch.
  • January 25: $200 for new games because it turns out the one your XBox came with kind of sucks.
  • January 31: $150 for cool Halo controller, with helmet.

For the record, you spent $3800 using your credit card. Now suppose the minimum payment is $114, which is 3% of your outstanding balance (this is normal), and that’s all you pay. The credit card company requires that you make this minimum payment to avoid penalties, but they don’t really explain about how you’ll be penalized anyway with interest.

Here’s what happens. Your balance the moment the $114 is received by the bank will not be reduced to $3800 — $114 = $3686 as you might expect. In fact what will happen is your balance will immediately have $66.49 in interest added to it.

So your actual new balance will be $3752.49.

But it gets worse. You see what happens is that all your purchases starting with the very first one were interest-forgiven until the moment you didn’t pay the full amount. At that point what the bank does is they subtract your payment from the earliest purchases (in this case from the $2500 TV purchase), then they convert the 20% interest to a daily rate, which works out to about 0.07% per day, and calculate interest on each purchase using the number of days since the purchase was made. And the clock keeps ticking, so that by the end of the next statement period, which would be March 1, another 28 days of interest accrues on the balances. That would be another $71.03 bringing your balance up to $3823.51, not including any purchases you make in February. And in case you didn’t notice, your $114 payment has been completely eaten up by interest after only 28 days, plus you now owe $23.51 more than you spent. That’s after only 1 month and having made a payment of $114!

It gets even worse, if you can believe it. The purchases you make in February will be interest forgiven until March 1, however because you have old purchases from January on your account now, any payments you make on March 1 are applied to those purchases first, starting with the oldest, and that means that your February purchases are that much harder to repay in full, which in turn means that they will start accruing interest the same way your January purchases did the moment they are not paid in full.

When you consider that on March 1 you have to pay for all your January purchases, plus an extra $23.51 before you even have a chance at paying for your February purchases, you can see how difficult this gets, and how quickly it can spiral out of control.

OK. So lesson number one is always pay your balance in full. It’s the most important lesson about credit cards. So important that if you can’t do it, you should not be using your credit card at all. You will quickly max out your credit limit and then lose the ability to use it for purchases, and simultaneously be saddled with huge interest charges that you’ll have to manage.

At this point many people say that credit cards are evil and they should not be used. “If you don’t have the money to pay for something don’t buy it” they say. “Always use cash” is the motto for these people. They make a lot of sense, but they are wrong. Further, not only are they wrong, they are for the most part overpaying for their purchases!

You’ll have to allow me to explain that part. It seems to make no sense at all.

So here’s the deal. When a merchant decides they want to accept credit cards as a form of payment, they need to get a merchant account. They’ll generally rent a terminal from the bank to process the transactions. They also pay a merchant fee to the bank for every transaction, generally 2%-4% of the sale price, which means that they earn less on purchases paid for by credit card than they do on purchases paid for in cash. At the end of a day of business the bank will deposit the total for the credit card transactions less the merchant fees into the account of the merchant. So it costs the merchant money to accept your credit card, which is money they will do their best to build in to the price of the goods and services they provide, to the extent that they can without overpricing.

For most merchants this is a cost of doing business and though they may not like it they accept it for what it is because many customers will shop elsewhere if they can’t pay by credit card. It’s also part of the reason why some stores offer a discount if you pay in cash. Sure cash is harder to trace, but beyond that a merchant can afford to sell a product for cash at a lower price and still make the same profit or even slightly more if the offered discount is less than the merchant fee. So there’s a slight over-payment when you pay full price in cash for something that you could have used a credit card for, but it’s not really fair to categorize it that way since if you pay with a credit card that over-payment disappears and in either case you have received a good or service for the same price. So that’s actually not what I mean when I say people who pay in cash are overpaying.

The over-payment I’m referring to actually has nothing to do with the merchant. It’s really the points on the credit card that you miss out on when you pay in cash. Most credit cards today have some sort of points system attached to them whereby you accumulate points through purchases and then redeem them for merchandise or travel. For example earlier this year I paid for a return flight to Kelowna, BC and 4 nights in a hotel all with points.

Stop and think about that. The airline didn’t give the trip away. They can’t afford to. The hotel didn’t rent the room for free for the same reason. Both the airline and the hotel were paid by Visa. But where did Visa get the money? Not from me — I pay my statement in full so I never pay interest, which means Visa pays for my stuff then I give them the money back at the end of the month so they break even. Aside from my annual fee of $60, Visa is not making profit directly from me. The answer to where they get the money is the interest of other credit card holders mostly, merchant fees and annual cardholder fees. That’s $60 annually from me.

So what? Well let’s say in a year I spend $100,000 on Visa on some list of goods and services, and someone else spends $100,000 in cash on the same list. At the end of the year my wife and I go to Vegas and stay at The Venetian, all on points, a trip which would cost around $3000 in airfare and hotel. Mr. Cash does the same, but pays cash. They have now spent about $103,000 or so, but I’m at $100,060 (remember to add my annual fee) and we’ve gotten the exact same stuff. If you think a little more about it, if I spent $100,000 on Visa then the merchants where I shopped paid 3%, or $3000 of that in merchant fees. There’s the money for the trip. But the important part is Mr. Cash spent $103,000, and I spent $100,060

See? The cash payer overpaid.

Of course, if you don’t pay your balance in full each month all bets are off. In that case you would be paying for my trip to Vegas. And nice as that is, I don’t expect you to do it.

The moral is, put everything you possibly can on a credit card with a points system. Pay all your bills with it. Buy a car with it! But always always always pay your balance in full (if you can’t pay your balance don’t buy the stuff). You’ll be surprised at the “free” things you get and none of those things would come to you if you pay in cash.

Thanks for reading,

Rich

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