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Paper or Plastic?

If you want to be really mindful, go to the grocery store with cash.

I’ve started using cash for everything. I’ve created an allowance for myself. Every week I go to the bank to get cash. It is really weird.

I grew up this way of course. I’m old enough that credit cards weren’t a part of life during my formative years. When I first got a credit card it was just for emergencies. Then somehow it became a way of life. Somehow the credit card became the norm and cash became the thing I used for emergencies.

So many of us reach for plastic over paper these days.

I know a young guy who bought a wallet. It took him two weeks to realize that it didn’t have a place for cash. He didn’t even think to look for a place for cash when he was buying the wallet. He was constantly scoffing at me for carrying cash at all.

There are so many advantages to using a card. You can see online what you are spending your money on. Many companies give you money back or rebates for using their cards. If you pay your card off every month, you can actually make money doing this. I did, for many years.

But it is all a trick. I spend way more money when I use my credit cards. I don’t think about what I’m buying. I need it, so I get it. Or, I think I need it. Well, sometimes I just want it.

And then I have to make a place for it. Whether it is a new dress from Goodwill or a pint of ice cream, it has to go somewhere. With the ice cream the somewhere is my butt.

Shopping with cash at the grocery store means I have to really think about what I’m getting. Do I need it? I can’t justify buying snacks and other non-food items. I’ve not bought sodas in a while, but chips and cookies are still appealing. The more money I spend on those, the less money I have for actual food that I need. You know, food with vitamins and minerals. Actual nutrition is going to win in this debate. Having limited resources makes me mindful. Thus, it means I’m eating better.

Even with a bargain dress from Goodwill, I have to be mindful. I’ve got other dresses. I’m fine. It isn’t like I don’t have clothes that fit me and look acceptable. I justify buying the dress because it is a great price. But even then I’m not being mindful of my money. Ten dollars spent is still ten dollars spent, and it adds up. Too many trips to Goodwill means I’ve spent $100 before I even know it.

A bargain isn’t a bargain if you don’t need it.

I’ve always carried at least $40 in my wallet. I rarely used it, but when I needed it I was reminded of how useful that practice is. Sometimes the credit card machine isn’t working. Sometimes your card doesn’t work. Then how are you going to buy your gas or your meal? Cash always works, and cards don’t.

Some places don’t even take credit cards. We went on a trip to North Carolina and ate at a restaurant. It was a nice meal, but what happened at the end wasn’t very nice. We found out they only took cash or checks. There was no message about this on the door or on the menu. Fortunately I always kept a spare check in my wallet and used that. Otherwise we might have had to wash dishes to pay our bill. Or one of us would have to leave to find an ATM.

These days I’m turning this around. I’m carrying the credit card as the backup and carrying cash as the main thing. I’ve done this for a week and already I’ve noticed I’ve spent $200 less than normal, and I’m eating better. Instead of eating out as often, I’m making food at home.

It is interesting how this is dovetailing into my New Year’s resolution to cook more. I’ve wanted to get better at cooking for years, and the only way to get better at cooking is simply to cook. I’ve wanted to go to the store and get fresh vegetables and cook from scratch, and now I’m doing it. I’m feeling really empowered by learning how to feed myself well. But then I started deciding to use only cash, and that is going nicely with it. Both practices are keeping me mindful of how I spend my money, which ultimately represents my time and my energy.

I’m sometimes resentful of having to spend forty hours a week at work. I’m grateful for a job, but I’d like to have more time away from it to live my life. Thirty hours would be better but it isn’t an option. But how smart is it for me to waste that money on expensive, unhealthy food and trinkets and baubles? Using my money wisely will mean I have more money saved up for bigger things, like a trip overseas, or improvements to my house. In the meantime, I’m learning how to take better care of myself, and that is the best investment of all.

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