I’m fifty-six years old and tend to think about things – even financial things – from a perspective not based on facts and figures but rather actions, feelings and opinions. I buy stocks based on a company’s ads, and how I think they will be perceived by consumers. It drives my Wall Street friends nuts. I vote from the gut. And those whose opinions I value usually mirror my own. I was lying in bed pondering how it was that I have to bail out individuals who took on more debt that their entire life’s income potential, and it came to me.
When I was a kid, my mother paid for everything by either writing a check or paying with cash. My mother’s wallet was a small thing; mine has no less than fifteen slots for credit cards. I do not have any idea how much money my pay check brings to my bank account with direct deposit. My father used to give my mother his pay check for deposit; and he handed it to her carefully, with pride and care.
I remember the advent of VISA and Master Card and American Express. I think my mother’s generation, who grew up with cash and checks, handled the credit card better than my generation. On some level they realized that it was still money going out. I do not think of credit cards that way, and my daughter’s generation surely doesn’t. When you arrive on a college campus, you get a Citibank credit card. Need I say more? It’s not real money. When I pay with a credit card (and I don’t carry credit card debt), I don’t really think about the money going out. When the card statements arrive for payment, I often shake my head at my depth of spending, most of which I never really think about. An American Express bill’s balance always feels like a surprise. If I had to write a check or pay cash for that ridiculously priced handbag, I would at least pause before laying it on the shelf at the cash register.
So, I got up out of bed, and I cut up all my credit cards except my American Express (which I have sworn I will only keep on hand in case I need to flee the country). I even cut up my debit card. My deal with myself is that I have to go into the bank and cash a check, or pay by check. My accountant might say I don’t need to do this, but inside me I know I do.
The new credit card free me went shopping over the weekend. I was on my way to the counter with a pair of pants for my daughter when I glanced at the price tag to see if I needed to pay with cash or a check. The pants were $250. Wow, thought I, making a U-Turn in the store. Wow. Another pair of black pants? I don’t think so.
So, I headed to another store and was paying for something (on sale) with a check. The woman at the counter looked at me strangely and said, “A check. We don’t see many of these.” I explained my new philosophy, and she actually looked as if a light bulb had gone off and said she was going to do the same thing.
I went into the bank last week to cash a check. I’m picking an amount each week as a budget of cash. Since I cut up my debit card, cashing my check meant I had to go home and get my passport to provide the two picture ID’s needed. This setback notwithstanding, I liked walking out of the bank with my cash, and I actually thought I would say hello to the teller next week when I go back and she might remember me. After all, we had a moment with me explaining that I don’t want another debit card; and that I didn’t lose it, I cut it up.
They say that Barack Obama is arriving in Washington owing no one anything. They say the average contribution to his campaign was under $100. Because I signed on to give an amount a month on one credit card or another, I have no idea what my contribution turned out to be. Whatever. The bottom line is it’s a new world; some just don’t get it yet. Owing is no longer cool, and we are all going to be the better for it.
I actually like this new lighter me. I like the mental energy I have to expend mental energy now figuring out my money things. I’m sure it’s assisting my efforts to ward off Alzheimers. I feel freer. Ok, yes, it’s only been a few weeks, but they say after twenty-one days you can imprint new behavior. I should be firm just in time for Christmas shopping.