Haines: Cashing in on new habits

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Sometimes an event happens that shakes you up out of your regular routine. You are forced to do something differently, often something that you wouldn’t have tried on your own. And yet it ends up being beneficial. Then this becomes your new habit and you wonder why you were ever stuck doing things the old way.

This happened to me many years ago at my apartment in Bloomington. My microwave stopped working, and after being without it for a few days I realized I didn’t need one. I was glad to not have to buy something new as well as gain some counter space. I heated stuff up on the stovetop like we did back in the 70s.

So when I say that being the victim of fraud on my debit card ended up being a good thing, I hope you’ll stay with me on this and allow me to explain. (I should jump to the end for a moment and explain that I worked with the fraud department for my debit card and the charges—which were less than $20—were taken off.)

It started when I got a fraud alert. I checked my account online and noticed unfamiliar charges. I started the dispute process, which included canceling my debit card and ordering a new one. Until the new card came, I had to go old school and use cash.

This took some preparation on my part because I had to go to the financial institution in person and withdraw cash. This means I had to plan around their business hours, as I couldn’t very well use an ATM—remember, I no longer had a debit card.

At this point in the story, you might be wondering why I haven’t been using cash all along. For one thing, if you have enough of it to last for several different transactions with different denominations of bills, then the wad of bills gets bulky really quickly.

And what do I do with coins? If I don’t have my purse then I could at least slide dollar bills into my sock, but have you ever walked around on nickels and dimes? Not much fun. Plus you can clean a card when it gets nasty. And some places don’t even take cash any more. Also, I had my debit card memorized so I could purchase things online more easily.

So then I had to anticipate purchases before they happened. Like, actually planning ahead for my spending—the kind of thing I feel like I talk about more than I actually do. I had to decide if something was worth it to go through the hassle of getting money before even starting the process of buying something. I was adding up expenses on the front end rather than after the fact.

I learned that I spend more money than I thought I did. I’d go to an event with an amount of cash, thinking I couldn’t possibly spend that much—yet it wasn’t enough. I wonder how much I would have gone out the door if I’d had a card to swipe. I also gained time that I might have spent cruising around the internet—I didn’t have a way to buy stuff online, so why bother looking?

Sure, some tasks took more time, like putting gas in my car. I’d have to go inside and maybe wait in line before I could even start the pump. On the other hand, I now know that when I’m down to a quarter of a tank then $20 will get it almost full (I have a very small car). I seemed to be more aware of how much items cost, and everything seemed more expensive when I would have to peel off bills to pay for it.

I see now why those financial gurus are so adamant about using all cash, all the time. Or the other trick I’ve heard suggested is to freeze your credit card in a bowl of water so that when you want to make a purchase you have to thaw it out first, which gives you time to think about the wisdom and necessity of the purchase.

It would be great if I could wrap up this story by avowing that I have stuck with paper money and haven’t made any impulse, unnecessary, or overpriced purchases since this incident. But once I got that new card I went back to the old method of payment. This new card even has that cool tap-to-pay mechanism!

Besides, it’s nice to be able to purchase something at the cashless campus of the art museum. I’m thinking of when I had to chat up people in line and ask them to buy me something while I handed them cash. It’s probably not the best way to make a good impression on potential new friends.

But I can learn from my experience and give a bit more thought before spending. I also acknowledge the practicality of having a backup plan, which means having a small stash of emergency money just in case something like this happens again in the future. I guess I should store it in a sock so it will feel right at home.

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