(Background: Your humble blogger is a self-styled guru of “Zen and the art of cashless living”. With over 10,000 hours of practice in non-cash payments (Here’s one more data point for you Malcolm Gladwell!) in the last 12 years, this blogger has been relentless in capturing and optimizing the hidden value in all payments cashless, in stretching the digital dollar, and in making it work extra hard for him.

In the interest of full disclosure, your blogger was and is a crusader of cashless living. He helped spread the gospel truth of cashless payments to parts of Asia, Middle East and North Africa for nearly a decade before going to Fletcher.)

29th March, 3.52pm: The results of the group assignments are out, and to my utter horror, I see my name in the cardless group. This seems like some kind of “man-machine conspiracy” to make me suffer the purgatory of paper money and coins for a whole week.

29th March, 7pm: Desperately try to swap out of the “random” assignment to the cashless group. Nobody comes forward – I am now convinced that I am being conspired against.  Et tu classmates?

29th March 10pm: Amazing how quickly I cross the four stages of DABDA and accept my reality for the week ahead. Now, strategy time: All I need is a plan to survive this week. Even better if I can somehow turn this into a fun experience (grimy currency & clunky coins – fun? Yeah right! Note to self: buy a small bottle of Purell to sanitize my hands each time I touch cash)

29th March 11pm: A quick trip to the ATM – Draw US$240 – I haven’t carried around so much cash in my wallet in a long time (What a terrible waste of wallet space really! How horribly inefficient, and unsafe! God, how I hate carrying around a bulging wallet. I might as well be walking around wearing a placard “rob me, I am carrying cash” around my neck. About time even wallets became obsolete if you ask me!)

29th March Midnight: Rent payment transfer – check; purchases on amazon and online grocery for the week – check. Buy Bloomspot dinner vouchers at True Bistro – check. This doesn’t seem hard at all! I think I am all set to go cardless tomorrow afternoon.

Pull out all my cards from the wallet and leave them on the table. I won’t be needing them for a week. Besides, having them on me might tempt me to use them and break the rules.

30th March, 12 noon: Brainwave – I decide to use this week to eat out at all those amazing restaurants that I usually avoid because they are annoyingly “cash only”. I can still turn this around… Like the saying goes, “when life hands you lemons, ask for tequila” (only, I may have to pay for that tequila in cash this week).

30th March, 6.30pm: Dilemma – Where does using a paper voucher (True Bistro – face value $35 – paid for yesterday ago on Bloomspot) for dinner fall as per the rules? Cashless or cardless? A very interesting grey area… Technically, it is neither cash nor cashless – it is a voucher with no monetary value whatsoever (per the fine print on the voucher). In this moment of great dilemma, I chose to defer to the constitutional principle of English Law “everything which is not forbidden is allowed”. Take that organizers! You should have thought about this loophole. Haah!!

Great dinner, settled the tip and excess amount over the voucher in cash. Now that I blogged about this, my conscience is clean.

31st March, 7pm: Dinner with a Fletcher friend at that wonderful “cash only” Sapporo Ramen at Porter Square that I heard an awful lot about. Since said friend was in the cashless group, I gladly pick up the tab. Delightful meal. It’s a shame they don’t accept cards. (Note to self: This place is definitely worth the hassle of carrying $20 in my wallet the next time)

31st March, 10pm: MBTA charges you an awful lot more per ride if you use cash! Thanks to this week long smackdown, it did not make financial sense to purchase my monthly pass for April. Great! Now I have to shell out $0.25 extra per ride :-/
Wait, even settling cash isn’t that easy. That machine on #96 accepts only $1 bills. Now I have to go and get myself enough $1 bills to last me a week. Fatter wallet… What fun!

Interesting exchange at the convenience store:

Me to counter clerk: Can I get change for $20 please?
Clerk: Sure. Would 10s and 5s do?
Me: (sheepishly) Umm no.. can you please make it $1 bills
Clerk: (Gives me a grin as if he knows what I am up to). Here buddy. Enjoy your evening!
Me: (Embarrassed) This is not for what you think it is… I am supposed to be using only cash for a week (God, how do I even begin to explain this!)
Clerk: Grinning – Sure, whatever makes you happy buddy…
(I was NEVER this embarrassed!)

1st April, 2pm: Lunch with Jacque III group. One of the group mates who is in the cashless team merrily settles using Level Up and pockets a $2 discount on the meal. (I introduced all of them to Level Up!!) I grudgingly pay full tab using cash. This cash thing is beginning to hurt. (A complete summary of lost value below)

2nd April,12 noon: Mail from Boloco – “Your free burrito has arrived”. Ah! How I love free burritos… Yet another dilemma: Would this be construed as cash or cashless transaction? To be sure, there definitely was no payment involved. Again a grey area.. Well the closet lawyer in my head says this is neither, as long as I do not use my Boloco card to redeem the burrito. Hmmm… but the rules say I cannot use a payment card (My Boloco loyalty card doubles up as a payment card because there is more value in leaving money on it – but that is the subject of another blog – using it would be tantamount to a breach of rules). How do I get around this sticky stipulation and still keep a clean conscience? Simple – all I have to do is print off the email and give it to the Boloco guys! Problem solved!! Now that I have blogged about this, my conscience is clean. Nothing tastes better than a free burrito eaten with a clean conscience!

3rd April, 2pm: Rushing to class, badly in need of coffee. Scene at Starbucks:

Me: Small iced coffee, no milk, pumpkin spice please.
Clerk: That will be $2.68. Cash or card?
Me: Cash please. (How does one pay .68 cents? Do they even make one-cent coins? What a waste of metal! But wait, something doesn’t add up.) Are you charging me for pumpkin spice? I am a Starbucks Gold card member – I get all flavors for free.
Clerk: Certainly sir! Can I have your card please?
Me: (realizing that I left all my cards back at home). No worries. I think I forgot my card. Gritting my teeth as I pay .60 cents extra for the pumpkin spice)

4th April, Noon: Three emails from Groupon, Google Offers, and GILT – all with deals that are right up my alley. One of them is my favorite pizzeria in Manhattan! Total deal value of offers: $100. Total perceived value: $200. This cardless thing is biting into my flesh now… Et tu GILT? Couldn’t you have posted these offers a week earlier or later?

It is hard to refuse a good offer. We are talking three here!  Omne trium perfectum, the saying in Latin goes, (everything that comes in threes is perfect). I begin to feel like one of those kids in the Marshmallow Experiment - only, it is less likely that there will be six such offers at the end of the week if I forego these three.

Unfortunately, there was no way of making these transactions G(U)ILT free. Taking advantage of loopholes is one thing (who doesn’t love doing that!) but cheating is not cool. I won’t do that. Shed three tears (one for each offer) at the opportunity loss of $100.

4th April, 10pm: On my way back from the Ritz Carlton, the Fletcher TFN event, with a couple of classmates and Fletcher alums who I just met. Enter Park Station, the turnstiles would not let me in, and worse, there is no cash machine for me to buy a ticket. I sheepishly stand behind the turnstiles and shout out for help. Fletcher alum bails me out. Me, flushed with embarrassment, (God, now I need to explain to her about this whole cashless/ cardless thing!). “You know… we are a part of this experiment at Fletcher….” Thankfully, she understood…

5th April, 11am: Walking back from an HBS class. Surprising change in my behavior. I usually avoid the homeless man sitting next to Cambridge Savings Bank ‘coz I never carry loose change and I pretend as if I never saw him. This time, I stop and drop a pocket full of change into his bowl. It was a good feeling but then again, was this me being generous or me desperately wanting to offload that annoying weight of small change in my wallet? Not sure.

5th April 3pm: Gotta book a ticket to go to New York this weekend. Man! How do I navigate around this cardlessness? The bus service from Alewife (World Wide Bus) only accepts cards online and on the phone. But wait… I have a Groupon for it. All I have to do is give them the groupon number on the phone and voila. Thank God for grey areas and loop holes! Blog about it and conscience is clean (this blog is now like my confessional! Love it!!) (Note to self: remember to carry cards to New York… Liberation day is near)

5th April 7pm: Dinner with a friend from the cashless group. Fancy new Mexican restaurant in Davis Square. Time to pay the bill, I pull out dollar bills to settle my share. She takes pity on my cardless predicament (said friend knows about my cashless crusading past) and offers to pay for my dinner on her card.

6th April, 7.30pm: In a yellow cab in Manhattan. Quick text to cashless friend “Is this *#% experiment over yet? I need to pay the cabbie in NYC”. She confirms! Ah sweet freedom! May 6th April be forever known as “Liberation from Cardlessness Day”. Taxi pulls over at destination.

Cabbie: “$9.80 please”

By now I was itching to use my card.. and gleefully happy that this weeklong torture has come to an end. Gross it up by a generous 20% tip. Tap my credit card… what bliss!

Cabbie: (Pleased at the tip) Thank you sir!

Finally… I’m back in my cashless utopia – Manhattan!

Purgatory Summary:

Lost value in reward points & cash back: $10

Excess cash paid to MBTA for not using Charlie Card: $4

Lost Level Up credits & sign up bonuses: $20

Lost opportunities of great deals on Google Offers/
Living Social/ GILT/ Groupon etc.:  $100

Total loss owing to Purgatory week: $134

Bottom line: For everything that cash can buy, cashless can buy all that and more!

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