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10 creative -- or desperate -- uses for credit cards

They don't just buy stuff. They scrape ice! They pick guitars! And more!

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If you have used your credit card thus far only for financial transactions, you've barely scratched the functional surface of the little devil.

Of course, your credit card is first and foremost a payment instrument, designed to make purchases and withdraw cash from ATMs. Few of us will ever ask more of it. But in a pinch, when other, more suitable tools are nowhere to be found, this 3-3/8ths-by-2-1/8ths-inch wafer of rigid yet flexible PVC laminate can prove a pretty handy substitute.

Credit cards have a number of physical characteristics that make them unusually well suited to a handful of alternative tasks: they are lightweight, thin, compact, waterproof, machine "true" and impervious to heat and cold. Physically, they perform well in the midrange where hard materials such as metal and stone are too hard and soft materials such as wood and cardboard are too soft for the given job.

You may never have occasion to put your credit card to any of these 10 creative uses, but isn't it nice to know it will serve you admirably in a pinch?

Ice scraper
I am absolutely convinced that ice scrapers disappear into the same parallel universe that swallows dryer socks. Fortunately, any credit card in your wallet, though lacking a handle to keep your fingers from freezing, can prove a handy substitute scraper. As a scraper, it features a choice of dual firm (wide) or flexible (narrow) blades that won't scratch your windshield, and embossed numerals for a firmer grip.

This improvised friend has proven so useful that it spawned a whole industry of wallet-sized scrapers, now with serrated edges (are you listening, Visa?). This may not be the fastest way to get the job done, but it sure beats driving with your head out the window.

Cheese grater credit card
Images by:
Brandy Kesl, ABK Design
(Click for larger image.)
Italian cheese grater
Although we must blame a certain amount of Chianti for this inspiration, it turns out that in a fix -- say, an Italian dinner party to which a cheese grater was not invited -- the embossed numerals and lettering on a credit card serve as the perfect tool to render wedges of hard cheeses like Romano and parmesan into fine if somewhat funky cheese dust. I know; I couldn't believe it either. Try it -- but be sure to wash the card first!

Paint masking
Paint masking tools have the uncanny ability to always come in the wrong size, usually much too long and/or awkwardly designed to do what you need them to do. Even pros have been known to resort to the handy credit card in tight spaces and close quarters for a nice clean trim line without need of a chiropractic adjustment.

Unlock doors
Firm yet flexible, credit cards seem particularly well designed to ease open doorknob wedge bolts and spring lever latches on sliding doors. They're also a handy way to determine if a deadbolt is in place, which will usually scotch any progress you might make on the knob or latch.

Credit card bookmark
Bookmark
Granted, true bookmark emergencies are pretty rare. But let's say for argument's sake you're poolside at a clothing-optional resort without a bar napkin in sight. Voila! Your credit card will hold your place nicely without drawing undue attention to itself.

Straightedge
What's with rulers, huh? These foot-long sticks are so ungainly they usually wind up in dust-bunny land behind the filing cabinet or printer stand. In a pinch, grab your credit card instead to create a nice straight, albeit short, line.

Grout/caulking tool
Do-it-yourselfers will attest to the versatility of a credit card for tight-space maneuvers in kitchen and bath tile projects. Not only is the credit card form factor nearly the perfect tool for extracting old grout in between thinly spaced tiles, its rounded edge also provides a smooth, uniform convex finish to new caulking around sinks, tubs and shower enclosures.

Cake knife credit card
Cake knife
Let's return to that hypothetical (I swear) Italian dinner party, shall we? Having completed the dinner course, our utensil-challenged hosts suddenly find themselves without a proper cake knife to cut and serve the hypothetical Mardi Gras King Cake with its lucky little plastic baby baked inside. This is a job for a well-scrubbed AmEx Gold Card, although one best accomplished in the privacy of the kitchen.

Guitar pick
If you're a guitar player, chances are you've found two emergency substitutes for a flat pick over the years: a credit card and a matchbook. The advantage to the former is, you're unlikely to set your ax on fire while recreating a Foo Fighters set.

Finger splint
No, this idea did not spring from a recent viewing of "Saw V." Finger in a jam? Immobilize it with your Discover card. Not only is a credit card the proper length to protect most adult flanges, it's wide enough to include an adjacent finger or two to further immobilize and protect the damaged digit. Plus, once you reach medical attention, you'll already have your credit card handy!

See related: Tinsel meets plastic: Top 10 Hollywood credit card movies, Licking, plastic bagging and other credit card secrets, The short, unhappy life of a credit card

Published: December 2, 2008



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