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.

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.

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.

Cut up your cards.

There is plenty of paranoia these days about the government getting all of our information. Let’s go over some of it. Some of the precautions actually are worthwhile, but for other reasons.

If you are afraid of the NSA tracking your every move, then delete your Facebook and email address. Keep in touch the old fashioned way – by phone and by mail. Oh, and as for mail, get a P.O. Box, that way nobody can steal your mail. It is always safe and clean and dry.

Don’t use any “loyalty” cards either. All those keychain cards are worse than the NSA. You don’t have to worry about “them” getting into your information. Those deals and savings you get are the rewards for giving your information away. You are letting them track you. It may not be the government, but it certainly is a bunch of strangers knowing your business.

Remember Santa Claus – “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake”? With loyalty cards it is more that they know when you are buying cat food and they know how often you eat out and where. With Facebook and email and it is the same – strangers know more about you than your friends. They can see the big picture.

How about this too? Dump your smart phone with the GPS. They know where you are that way too. Every picture you take is geotagged. Every time you look up an address they know what you are doing and where you are going.

But this alone will call attention to you. Suddenly stopping doing all these things will create a sort of information void around you and that will look odd.

Then what about this – there are a lot of credit card scams these days. Target, Nordstrom’s and Michael’s just got hit by hackers. Thousands of credit cards essentially got stolen from their owners. All the information was quietly taken electronically.

The answer? Cut up your credit cards. Go back to using cash. Even checks can be tracked. Now, you can’t go in debt with not using credit cards. You can’t spend what you don’t have. So there is a legitimate reason for not using credit cards. It is a great way to stay on budget and be mindful of what you are buying. It also severely minimizes your exposure to identity theft.

So sure, you can live your life paranoid. Plenty of people do. But there are some really good reasons to stop using some of the modern conveniences we take for granted. Most of the reasons involve being mindful about what you spend and who you give your information to.

What is the point of having a security system on your house if you leave the front door wide open?