Money money money
It's Lent, the season in the Christian calendar leading up to Easter, where traditionally people are supposed give up luxuries, fast, do penance, all that fun stuff. Often today even non-religious people will try to give up a bad habit, or take up a good one during the 40 days of Lent (not counting Sundays).
For the third year now, I am giving up plastic. Not straws or take-out containers, although that would be a good idea as well, but credit and debit cards. I'm on a cash-only basis.
It's an enlightening exercise, and one that I should probably do for more than seven weeks. For starters, only using cash makes you very aware of everything you're buying. The first day out, I went to Safeway and mindlessly threw two chocolate bars into my cart. A couple of aisles over, I was mentally adding up my purchases when I realized what I had done. I had to go back and see what the chocolate cost and calculate how much money I had in my wallet. Fortunately, that day I had enough for a splurge.
Sometimes I'll be in between meetings or appointments in Santa Rosa, and where normally I'd wander through a shop, maybe pick up something I don't really need, now I sit in my car and read a book. No more unnecessary purchases for me; all I spend money on is the parking meter.
Another thing about being on a cash-only basis is that you can't buy anything online. No plane tickets, nothing from Amazon, no books for my e-reader, which is one area where I have almost no self-control. If I hear about a new book that sounds interesting, I just buy it straight from my Nook. It's too easy, really.
It got me thinking about the way spending is divorced from money in the modern world. There's automatic paycheck deposit, automatic bill paying, Apple Pay. You never have to think about how much you're spending, or even what you're spending your money on. With Apple Pay you just wave your phone over the machine and it completes the transaction. That's just weird. It's like everything is free! Imagine how much more we'll spend when we have Amazon stores without cashiers. Each item in your cart is automatically tallied up and charged on your credit card, which is linked to your phone.
Maybe there are people who check their balances all the time and are aware of how much money is in what account, but I bet more people just assume everything is fine unless they get a notice from their bank, or a transaction is denied, and then it's too late, isn't it?
But the real benefit of this intellectual exercise is to make me understand what it's like to not have enough and still try to make it all work out. It's a little embarrassing to be counting my money at the cash register, and fishing change out of my coin purse. It's distressing to worry whether you have enough money for gas to get yourself where you need to go. Not that I can fully understand how it feels to be that poor, because in the back of my mind, I know that in an emergency I can pull out the plastic, and like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, get myself home, which not everyone can. But I'm going to try really hard not to do that. Instead I'm catching up on my backlog of books, and I do appreciate my mid-afternoon chocolate break more than ever.