Don’t know how to live without a card? Just call Mom.

by Min Lin

When I first discovered I would have to go cardless for a week, I thought, “I have to call mom, she’ll know what to do.” Except for some change in my wallet, I never carry cash. My mother, on the other hand, rarely uses her credit card and is wary of online money transactions.* She has managed to get by on her own system for the last 30 years so I knew I, too, could do it.

It turns out her advice and tactics haven’t changed much since she first started teaching me money management skills in my teenage years.

1) Send in a check immediately when you bills arrive in the mail to avoid late payments.

2) Decide how much you want to spend on gas and pay the cashier BEFORE trying to use the pump.

3) Make cash withdrawals for the week at the bank counter.** Going once a week limits your spending. Consider this a bonus.

Tip #2 was helpful. I had forgotten about that and liked the idea of giving myself a “gas allowance” for the week. Tips #1 and #3 just sounded silly, so I did all that that ahead of time. Maybe she wasn’t going to be so helpful after all. Over the week, every time I left the house, I struggled to decide how much of my wallet I should bring (“I’m cash-only for the week…but I should bring my cards out just in case.”) Despite all good intentions, transportation was what really got me. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to factor in additional time at each T station to figure out how to pay without credit. My CharlieCard is just too handy. And then there was this parking meter in Harvard Square where two hours of parking cost $6 – credit card or QUARTERS only!! Who carries around $6 in quarters?! Not even the girl giving up plastic for the week was able to anticipate that one.

Despite these few exceptions, cash-only turned out to be a good lesson in savings for me. Putting off all online shopping until the end of this exercise gave me time to rethink what otherwise would have been unnecessary impulse purchases. The absence of credit card rewards meant I could no longer justify spending with mileage rewards (as if 10 extra miles is really going to make a difference when you need 80,000 for a flight to Asia). Lastly, the simple act of removing cash from a limited allowance for the week put price and necessity into perspective. “If I spend this much on  this Starbucks latte, this is how much I’ll have left for 4 days.” I had always wondered how my mother is able to keep such tight control over her spending and still live comfortably. Cash may be gross, clumsy, and inefficient, but for those who have time to visit the ATM once a week, good ol’ weekly spending allowances might just be enough of a savings tool to make a difference.

*Beware of identity or credit card theft…

**Did you know that passbook savings account still exist??

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