Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Going cashless

I grew up in a financially dysfunctional family and had to teach myself to save and budget as an adult. One of the key ways I did that was to force myself to use cash rather than credit cards, waiting until I'd saved up for things I wanted. Using cash is a great way to learn discipline around spending. If I looked in my wallet and there wasn't enough money there, I simply couldn't buy whatever I had my eye on. Until recently I continued using cash as a budgeting tool, despite becoming financially secure and no longer living hand-to-mouth.

Cards have become ubiquitous now though. Psychological studies (such as this one) have shown that using cards or vouchers can lead people to spend more than if they're using cash, as paying with cash feels more 'painful' than using a card. By taking a weekly sum from an ATM and forcing myself to live within this (things like groceries, meals out, movies and day to day small expenses all had to come out of the same allocation) I kept to a firm budget and remained conscious of my spending.

About a year ago everything changed. My local organic store  a fabulous place where they sell things like fruit, vegetables, milk, bread, tofu and olive oil – announced that from now on they 'strongly preferred' cards only. It turned out they'd been burgled a couple of times and wanted to go cashless. Not wanting to stop shopping at my favourite place I decided it was time to try going cashless myself. Rather than taking a lump sum out of an ATM each week, I'd pay for almost everything using my debit card. It has been an interesting experience. What have I found?

  • While some businesses welcome and indeed prefer cards, others prefer cash and impose a penalty (a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction) if I use a card
  • Many retail staff assume I don't want a receipt for my transaction. I always track my spending  and this seems even more vital now it is coming straight out of my bank account  so I surprise them by requesting one
  • My bank charges a monthly fee if I have 'too many' transactions, so it's another thing I need to be conscious of
  • I use a debit card (I don't have any credit cards) so whatever I spend comes from my bank account. This means I need to keep a mental note of how much I have in my bank account  ensuring the balance is sufficient that I won't be embarrassed by running out of money, yet not so high that I'm tempted to impulse buy (or at risk from fraudsters).

I should mention that I live in Australia, so people in other countries may have different experiences. It would be interesting to hear how others have tackled going cashless. Do you find you spend more, or spend more recklessly? Is it as easy to budget as when you used cash? Are you, like me, finding that the younger generation (sorry to sound like an old fart) are increasingly hopeless with mental arithmetic and often short-change you in cafes if you do use cash?

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