A tribunal has begun to decide whether the credit card companies or retailers are to blame for high prices in Canadian stores. You probably heard about it. And your eyes probably glossed while you tuned out. So let me give me a rundown.

Retailers say credit card company fees violate competition rules, resulting in $5 billion annually in the credit card companies' coffers.  

But the credit card companies say they aren't to blame. They say retailers choose to pass this cost onto customers, and if credit card users paid fees for usage, it would be discrimination.  

'We treat credit cards like a necessity in life. They're not' —Heather Setka

This is like a bad divorce trial with the kids caught in the middle.  

So what about the kids? The kids don't know what's good for them, right. The kids need someone else to decide which one — retailers or credit card companies — is looking out for them the most.

The kids are, of course, us the consumers. And the answer to who is looking out for us should be easy to answer: No one but ourselves.  

Rather than seeing ourselves as a bunch of helpless, clueless brats caught in the middle, we should recognize our role in this fight.

We treat credit cards like a necessity in life. They're not. There are certainly other ways to build credit. And while I was sold my first credit card contract on the basis of one day needing it for an emergency, this fictitious emergency has never materialized.


Heather Setka says credit cards are not a necessity of modern life. (CBC)

I use my credit card for convenience or to spend money I don't really have. Meanwhile, the healthiest financial people I know live a cash-based — or at least an electronic cash-based — existence. Not even retailers can make the claim that credit cards are an inevitability of business. They can simply say they don't offer that service, and lower their prices accordingly.   Here's an example.

The cheap movie theatre near my house takes cash or debit only. The cost of a movie is never more than $5. Of course, the theatre plays movies well after the big guys, but I still wonder how much its credit card policy plays into keeping their prices so low. The theatre's business isn't hurting as a result.

Every weekend, it's lined up outside the theatre and down the sidewalk. I often find myself happily standing in this line-up on lazy weekends with my little girl. I just make sure there's cash in my pocket. If I don't have money for it, we simply don't go.

It's one of the reasons I come back. Well, that and the popcorn. No matter what happens with this tribunal — it's expected to wrap up at the end of June — a financial life that doesn't rely on credit cards is something we should all shoot for.  

After all, isn't that what's truly best for the kids.