Spend less by traveling with a debit card vs a credit card

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Betterment debit card

Do you struggle with overspending?

Why do trips always cost more than we expect?

Over the years, credit cards have become synonymous with travel. They allow you to buy now, pay later, have zero foreign transaction fees, are backed by fraud protection, and offer incentivizing rewards. It’s obvious why they’ve become the preferred payment method for many travelers.

But what if they’re also the problem? What if credit cards are actually causing us to spend more on vacation?

In this Lessification Lesson, you’ll learn how switching payment methods from credit to debit will psychologically cause you to spend less, actually saving you money traveling.

The money-saving plan


Simplify spending

Learn why traveling with a debit card is the preferred payment method by minimalist travelers


Make the switch

Switch to debit card-only and spend less when you travel


Travel more for less

More money in the bank means more money for your trips!

What is a debit card?

A debit card is basically an electronic check. It takes money directly out of your checking account, limiting spending to the amount in your account — it’s the perfect blend between a credit card and cash.

Payment pain

“When you feel pain spending money you spend less”

Dave Ramsey, Author of "The Total Money Makeover"

More pain

Less pain

More pain = Less spending


According to MIT, paying with cash triggers the brain’s pain receptors, making a purchase physically hurt — resulting in less spending.

Debit Card

While a debit card is not exactly the same as cash, it’s as close as it gets. Money is still leaving your wallet (or bank account) as soon as a purchase is made.

Credit Card

Purchases made with plastic don’t activate the brain’s pain receptors as cash does, and when you don’t feel the purchase pain, you spend more.

Apple Pay

Apple pay is insanely convenient. As if you’re waving a magic wand. It’s easy and painless, maybe even borderline fun.

Less pain = More spending

Less spending

More spending

"Unless you pay back a credit card purchase immediately, you won't feel the pain of the bill for basically a month.”

Michele Cagan, Author of "Debt 101"

7 reasons travelers should use a debit card

Credit cards vs debit cards

1. Spend less, way less


According to Dave Ramsey, on average purchases, people spend 12-20% more with credit cards than cash.


McDonald’s reported in 2004, customers’ average receipt was $4.50 when paying with cash VS $7 when using credit cards.


According to Dave Ramsey, compared to cash, in a fast-food setting, people will spend 70% more with credit cards and 170% more on vending machine purchases.


According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, in 2016, the average value of a cash transaction was $22, compared with $112 for a non-cash transaction, a 409% increase.

Debit card = cash(ish)

While a debit card is not exactly the same as cash, it’s as close as it gets in the modern world. Money is still leaving your wallet (or bank account) as soon as a purchase is made.

2. Safe as a credit card, if not safer

protection from fraud shield

Both Visa® and Mastercard® back their credit + debit cards with a $0 zero liability protection. This guarantees you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized transactions if your card is lost or stolen.

Protect yourself from fraud

To protect against fraud, be sure to monitor your purchases. An easy way is to turn on purchase notifications through your banking app — giving you real-time alerts for all purchases made with your debit card.

Protect yourself from overspending

Debit cards don’t let you overspend as credit cards do. With a credit card, you borrow limitless amounts of money to be paid back, ONE DAY. Whereas with a debit card, you are only allowed the amount of money you have in your checking account, TODAY. If you don’t have enough to cover a purchase, it won’t work.

3. Rewards, purchase justifiers

If you pay off your credit card bill in full every month (only 22% do), rewards are very enticing. They feel like free money.

But what if you were actually losing money?

Why credit card rewards are not gifts from heaven

Typically, rewards range from 1-5%; however, as we are learning, credit cards cause you to spend 12-20% more than you would with cash (Dave Ramsey, 2019). Therefore, in actuality, you’re spending more money to get the “rewards.” This false sense of profit is fortified with the effect of purchase justification. Rewards make you feel better about purchases, like you’re getting something in return, whether it’s cash, points, or miles.

Consider this

If you think you’re immune to the credit card companies’ psychological tricks, remember…nobody ever got rich from credit card rewards.

4. "No" never sounded so good

No debt.
No interest.
No late fees.
No ATM fees.
No annual fees.
No hidden fees.
No monthly bills.
No overspending.
No conversion fees.
No maintenance fees.
No complicated rewards.
No foreign transaction fees.

5. Pay today, not tomorrow

An “advantage” to credit cards is their buy now, pay later ability. Unfortunately, this has the adverse effect of delaying purchase pain, causing your future self to suffer the consequences. With debit cards, there is no end-of-the-month bill to worry about. Everything you buy is paid for in real-time—no more pain delays.

6. Doubles as an ATM card

Debit cards help you bring less. Instead of bringing an ATM card and a credit card, a debit card functions as both. For the times you need to pay with cash, find an ATM, pop in your debit card, and if you have the right kind (suggestions below), you can enjoy a cash withdrawal without any foreign-transaction fees, ATM fees, or conversion fees.

7. Simplify your spending

One underrated aspect of debit cards is the fact that they simplify your spending. Just swipe, and your purchase is complete.

However, with credit cards, it’s a little more complicated. Swipe, buy, wait 30 days, remember to pay the bill, decide whether to pay the full or minimum payment, send payment, purchase complete and repeat.

What to look for in a travel debit card

  1. Issued by Visa® or MasterCard®
  2. No monthly account fees
  3. No foreign transactions fees
  4. No ATM fees

Best debit cards for travelers

I’ve combed through the internet to bring you what I believe are the best international travel debit cards that I can find. I’ve done all the hard work, so you don’t have to — check them out below.

Travel debit cards

Travel debit card


  • Free
  • No ATM fees
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Cashback rewards
  • FDIC-insured
  • Visa® Debit Card
  • Tap to pay
  • Apple Pay (says it doesn't, but it works)

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Before Lessification

After Lessification

Betterment. (n.d.). Hassle-free, NO-fee checking. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://www.betterment.com/check…

Crislip, K. (2019, March 30). Why You Should Always Travel With a Debit Card. TripSavvy. https://www.tripsavvy.com/dont…

Hurd, E., & Konsko, L. (2020, July 27). Does Using a Credit Card Make You Spend More Money? NerdWallet. https://www.nerdwallet.com/article…

Lewis, M. (2019, September 19). How To Make A Purchase Using A Debit Card. WikiHow. https://www.wikihow.com/Make…

Mastercard. (n.d.). Zero Liability Protection. Mastercard. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://www.mastercard.us/en…

Raisin. (2019, December 2). The Pain Of Paying And The Perfection Of Consumption. Raisin. https://www.raisin.com/blog…

Ramsey Solutions. (2018, April 19). How Cash Changes The Way You Look At Money – Dave Ramsey Rant. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch…

Ramsey Solutions. (2019, August 19). What Your Credit Cards Are Actually Costing You – Dave Ramsey Rant. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch…

Ramsey Solutions. (2020a, February 20). What Is a Debit Card? Daveramsey. https://www.daveramsey.com/blog…

Ramsey Solutions. (2020b, July 30). Credit Vs. Debit. Daveramsey. https://www.daveramsey.com/blog…

Ramsey Solutions. (2020c, December 28). How To Rent A Car Without A Credit Card. Daveramsey. https://www.daveramsey.com/blog…

Visa. (n.d.). Visa’s Zero Liability Policy. Visa. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://usa.visa.com/pay…