04/08/2011 06:55 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2011

Giving Back With Credit

With sacrifice comes great discovery and breakthrough. I've been living by the previous statement for the majority of my life. I learned sacrifice when my family lost their home in Hurricane Charley in Port Charlotte, Florida, when a gunman robbed me for $300, and when my uncle fell with the Twin Towers.

From these experiences and others, I've learned the importance of making a difference anywhere I can, because tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Recently, I've been trying my own social experiment to understand what it's like to live on $3 a day, as many children in African nations do. The excitement of a new project carried me through the first week. The second week, it began requiring serious thought and concentration to only spend $3 a day. By the third week, I was so frustrated and malnourished that I went on an eating binge -- scarfing down sushi and bento boxes until my heart was content. The fourth week, I was ashamed of myself for not pulling through.

I am no Gandhi, and at this point, I cannot sustain myself on merely $3 a day. My lavish lifestyle requires me to spend at least $10 a day, and on the weekend my purchases are off the charts. So, I thought of a new, somewhat clever way to help. I have no issue spending money; I actually enjoy doing it. So I decided to switch over from a traditional credit card to an affinity credit card, and see what a difference I could make. Sure, it sounds like an easy way out, but it's a formula that I, in my consumerist ways, can live with -- the more money I charge, the more money I donate!

An affinity card gives consumers a way to give back to charities through their everyday purchases. These credit cards are available from MasterCard, Visa and American Express. Other credit card companies have options where you can redeem your rewards points to benefit a charity of your choice. The beauty of the affinity card is that it is automatic, and somewhat subconscious. Examples of affinity cards and their accompanying charities, are the Platinum Plus Visa Card for the Humane Society, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Visa card for the Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the ACE Elite Visa prepaid card, the ASPCA credit and debit card, the Scout Association Credit Card and the Pacific West Association of Realtors Charity Foundation Visa Platinum Rewards card, according to

I signed up for the most high profile affinity card, the American Express RED credit card. When I use my RED card, a portion of the money I spend goes towards fighting AIDS and HIV in Africa. RED pays 1 percent of my annual spending to the Global Fund.

"Affinity credit cards really give the thoughtful consumer an added benefit," said Roman Shteyn, CEO of Credit Land.

"Instead of just paying for groceries or buying new speakers, the active consumer can contribute to finding a cure for cancer or building a homeless shelter. Humanitarian and philanthropic consumers can really use this type of credit to their advantage."

Using the credit market for a good cause has proven beneficial to some restaurants and charities in Bellevue, Washington, where eight diners got together to establish a program called Celebrated Chefs that raises money specifically for Seattle-area causes. The program connects diners and local nonprofits with a program that donates 5 percent of participants' dining bills to a designated charity.

Consumers with a Visa, MasterCard or American Express can sign up to be a part of this program, and begin donating to charities that focus on education, senior services, animal welfare and other causes. In the two years since the program started, it has grown to more than 20,000 supporters and has expanded to Washington D.C., San Francisco and Chicago. The program has raised $170,000 for Seattle-area causes.

A nonprofit called Hopelink that serves homeless and low-income clients in Washington has received almost $5,000 from the program. "Our goal is to continue to help our nonprofits raise money by encouraging their dining members to visit Celebrated Chefs restaurants whenever they are planning a night out," said Katherine Kehril, Celebrated Chefs' vice-president of marketing and operations. "Dining at participating restaurants that in turn support our partner causes creates a win-win scenario for both."

Celebrated Chefs adds new restaurants and nonprofit partnerships throughout the year. Restaurants are only required to pay a small upfront fee to participate, as well as a donation to their chosen cause.

The credit market, while it's filled with disaster and misfortune, isn't just a necessary evil. Good can come out of desolation, and good can come by just living your consumerist life. If we act as conscious citizens and think before we leap, we realize that helping can in fact be easy. We don't have, so we use credit cards -- when the less fortunate don't have, they starve. We should share our small blessing and give back, without lifting an extra finger, with affinity credit cards.