On carrying cash only.

One of the most common things I hear when I tell people that I carry cash instead of credit cards is that they are afraid. They don’t say the words that they are afraid, but the next sentence does. They say “It is dangerous to carry around large amounts of money all the time.”

I think to myself – why would you need to carry around large amounts of money all the time? Do you have a sudden need to spend large amounts of money? That alone should be something to look into. That indicates deeper problems – ones that can be addressed by taking on the discipline of carrying cash.

For everyday occurrences, simply carrying at least a 20 on you will do. Even before I started carrying only cash, I would have a 20 under my ID as an emergency backup, and a 20, a 10, a 5, and some ones. That meant I had whatever change I needed for whatever circumstance. It also meant that I had enough to pay for my meal when the credit card machine reader was broken.

I have experienced enough times with myself and with observing others that not every place takes credit cards, and not every credit card reader works all the time. It is safer to have some cash on you.

I know a guy who was ‘running on fumes’. He just barely managed to get to a gas station before his car ran out of gas. Ideally, he would have filled up long before the gauge hit E, but that is another story. He gets to the gas station and pulled out his credit card. The card reader did not work. He knew that he did not have enough gas to start the car and drive to the next gas station. He did not have any cash on him. He was stuck. Fortunately someone nearby, (someone older), had cash and lent it to him.

You don’t need to carry large amounts of money on you at all times. You know when you’re going to go to grocery store or the hardware store. You have an idea how much you’re going to spend. Bring that amount. Otherwise keep it at home or at the bank.

I think that all of this anxiety about carrying large amounts of cash is a disease that has been spread to us to make us afraid and controlled.

Think of the stories you’ve heard in the news of people who have been robbed. Then start going backwards. How many people do you personally know who have been robbed? If you know anyone who was robbed, how often where they robbed?

Have they been robbed every week?
Have they been robbed once a year?

How big is this problem, really? More importantly – how small is it?

Then think about the numbers of times you’ve heard about thousands of people experiencing credit card fraud. Their wallet doesn’t even have to be stolen. They won’t even know they have had their information taken from them until it is too late. It is less traumatic at the beginning, sure, but way more expensive at the end. Lots of time has gone by, and lots of money has been spent. Lots of money that isn’t even there to be spent – it is all on credit.

I believe that all the stories we hear of people being robbed are exactly that – stories. I believe that we have been told these stories to keep us afraid, and in line. I believe that the world is exactly as safe as we choose it to be. But also – it is exactly as dangerous as we will let it be.

I would rather have cash on me than credit cards with huge limits. Not only is it dangerous to have the ability to mindlessly spend up to $15000, it is also dangerous that someone could steal my purse and could swipe my card and max it out all the way up to the limit of my credit. These days, if someone steals my wallet, the only thing they’ll steal is the amount of cash that is inside it. That is at most 50. On grocery days it is 100. I’d much rather have $100 stolen than $5000.

But what about unforeseen accidents and problems? My car might break down? What then? What did we do before credit cards? Think. We have created our own monster.

I can live in fear that I’m going to be robbed, or I can live in fear that I’m suddenly going to have to spend lots of money because my car is going to break down.

I chose to not live in fear.

Food and money

This makes absolutely no sense. I’m strictly budgeting my money by buying everything with cash. I’m cooking more, so I’m buying the groceries for the household now. We have fresh produce, most of it organic. Somehow, we are saving a lot of money and eating a lot better at the same time. It doesn’t make any sense but I’m grateful.

I’ve always been told that it was cheaper to buy prepackaged and conventional, but healthier to eat fresh and organic. I decided to start small and build up. It started with a box of organic oatmeal. Then I got some organic apples. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Every little bit counts in health. But then I started buying organic as much as possible. I didn’t see that much difference in price. Somehow I was able to justify it even while living on a strict budget. Perhaps I eat less food. Perhaps I’m just more mindful about what I eat. I don’t know, but it seems to be balancing out. Better food and saving money – win/win.

I think part of it is that we aren’t eating out nearly as often. We have fresh food that needs to be eaten. If we don’t eat it, it goes to waste. If you are saving money, wasting food is tops on the list of dumb things to do. Somehow I’ve realized that it is just as fast to cook our own food at home rather than go out and wait for food at a restaurant. And I’ve realized that when I cook, I know what went into the food. I know the amount of butter and salt. I know if the vegetables are organic. I know that all the ingredients are the best they can be.

I’m not cooking gourmet meals, but they are tasty. I’m not following recipes really. I’m following general guidelines. I think all the time I spent watching cooking shows has helped me to understand the general idea of cooking.

I’m coming to realize that I’m grateful that I didn’t learn how to cook from my Mom. I remember one year writing in my diary that all I wanted for my birthday was food that wasn’t brown. Everything was cooked to within an inch of its life. Everything was mushy and dull. Nothing was colorful and crisp. She was from England, and her Mom had cooked all the meals to suit a man who had ulcers. Everything was thick gravies and no fresh vegetables. She even had a special rectangular steamer pot for the frozen vegetables that came in a block. The only time she cooked from scratch was when guests came over, and that wasn’t very often.

Now, I know that some of this was because of the fact that we didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. She had to make do with what she had. I also know that some of it comes from the time period. I remember reading a recipe from that era that said for green beans almandine, you should boil the green beans for 20 to 30 minutes, or until tender. By that time they’d be limp and grey and all the goodness would have been cooked right out of them. That was normal for our house. That was normal for a lot of people.

I remember when Mom got sick with cancer and I started cooking. I went to the grocery store and got fresh, colorful veggies for a stir fry. I remember her looking at what I was cooking in amazement. I cooked it all for just a few minutes. She looked at it and asked “Don’t you want to cook that a little longer?” I told her that no, that we could eat the vegetables raw. We were just cooking them for fun. She was unbelieving, but tried anyway. After that meal she was sold on the idea and bought me an electric wok to use to make her more.

I remember seeing a documentary about a family that said they could only afford to eat from the McDonald’s value meal. They spent so much money on diabetes and cholesterol and blood pressure medicine that they couldn’t afford to eat real food. This, sadly, is the norm for America. If we eat better, we don’t get sick. Prevention rather than cure, you know. Food has to be seen as the ultimate medicine.

It is easy to cook and eat right, and it is cheap. I didn’t believe it, but I’m doing it. If I can do it, anybody can. They just have to get started. Little steps at first. Part of it is knowing that you can. Part of it is knowing that the desire to do it is the seed. Nurture that seed and you are on your way.

Money, cash, and addiction

I’m really getting into this idea of saving money by using cash. It has only been two weeks into this experiment and the results are pretty amazing.

Before, I’d really get a rise out of spending money. Now I’m getting excited about not spending it.

When I first started I felt like I should carry my whole week’s allowance with me. I thought I might need money on hand, more than I normally did. You know, just in case I had to buy something. Like there would be a random need to buy, like an itch that needed to be scratched.

It is weird. I realize now that money was like a drug for me. I got a high out of using it. I started to get nervous if I didn’t have enough on me.

Now, I hadn’t gone totally cash free in all these years. I normally carried some cash on me even when I used credit cards all the time. It made me feel better to have it. Every now and then the credit card machine wasn’t working. Some places don’t take cards at all. Sometimes it was faster to pay in cash. Sometimes there would be a collection being taken up at work for a gift for a coworker who was leaving or having a baby or both. It is better to tip in cash.

I was always grateful to have it when I needed it. I just didn’t get that I’d be better off using it.

Now I carry a credit card as the backup instead of the default. I’m not quite comfortable going without it yet. Last week I needed it because I went to the dentist for a filling. I’d forgotten that dental insurance isn’t like medical insurance. The bill I got upon leaving was a lot bigger than my usual twenty dollar co-pay. Even with that, I still spent less than I had been spending when I used the credit card all the time.

I don’t know how I’ve been doing it. For the past few years I was spending $300 to $500 a week on my credit card. I paid it off every week. This is a lot of money, especially for a government employee. We get paid in benefits, not in actual money. I didn’t get toys. I bought things that were needed, or so I thought.

The first week I pulled out $300 in cash. I overspent by $40 because of the dentist. So still, pretty good. Far better than $500. This week I pulled out $200 and I’ve only spent half of that. This includes buying groceries. A lot of my money was going to eating out. Now that I’m cooking fresh food I’m not only eating better I’m saving money.

I’d not planned on this additional part to my New Year’s resolution, but I’ll take it.