Perils of Plastic

Ever since I got a Credit Card (which took considerable effort to acquire despite my fancy MBA degree and long illustrious career), my relationship with money has changed.

Let me dive into history. Please indulge me.

There was a time not too long in past when every rupee I spent, I took from my ma. Even though I was gainfully employed, I liked asking her for money. I'd withdraw a chunk of cash and give her and then I'd ask her for money as and when I needed to spend. I loved it. And I think she liked it as well that I asked her for money. After all when I was still a student, she was the one who handed me my pocket money that was so so dear to me. Every rupee that I got from her was precious. It was hard earned and everytime I spent it, I could see the balance with me dwindling. I had to make tons of sacrifices to be able to ensure that the money I got from her lasted me some time before I spread my palms in front of her.

Now, that I am jobless and away from home (home is where ma and pa are, and some day #sgMS would be), I dont really keep a lot of cash handy. There is no incentive to make those trips to the ATM. There is no one to give money to. As a result I rely more and more on plastic money. My credit card. The one that took effort to acquire. Add on top of it the ubiquity and ease of swiping machines, even with courier companies. Everytime I spent more than a 100 bucks, I would use the card. Suddenly from the actual quantum of money going from my pocket, I was now merely swiping a plastic card through a machine and the transaction would happen. Gone was the need to run to ma or ATM. Convenience, I tell you.

And, and, ever since the proliferation of things like flipkart, cleartrip and amazon, I have this new shiny instrument. Online banking. Where I dont even touch plastic or coins or notes. Its amazing. All I do is enter a number and the transaction is done. Its fast, smooth and intuitive. In my sleep I can rattle the card numbers, security keys and passwords. And I can use it for large transactions. And unlike physical currency that went from my pocket or a mechanical swipe of the plastic, everything happens without a physical interface. What else could you ask for in life! The future of payments could be that I walk to a Starbucks counter, point at the coffee I want and just nod at the cash register. Money would automatically deduce from my profile that Starbucks has that is linked to the movement of my retina (indicating a yes for expense) enabled by a NFC between a kiosk at Starbucks and my phone.

Funny how fast this world of payments and transactions is changing!

So, to summarize, from spending money by hand to swiping a piece of plastic to merely disturbing a few electrons, I have changed the way I (and the world around me) spend(s) money.

Money, to me is now largely a number that rests in an account (which is yet another number). I cant see it. I cant touch it. I cant fathom how little or how much do I have. Its a damn number. And like all numbers, without context, it has no meaning. Maths is boring like that.

If I had 10 lakhs in coins, I am assuming it would be like a river of coins that Uncle Scrooge could take a dip in. If I had it in notes, the wad could be a thick like a book. But on a fuzzy webpage, it looks like a number to me. Every time I spend some money, say 10 bucks, since there is no physical contact involved, I dont realize that I've spent it. All I see is the number reducing from 1000000 to 999990. To me, this small reduction in number is not big. And before I know it, all these small reductions make a considerable dent in the stack. All without me realizing it. Without an inflow, the bucket could soon run dry with these small leaks!

The only way out is to go back to the dark ages of cash and budgets. Stop using the numbers and plastic and start handing notes and coins. Even if it means carrying a thick wallet around. At least I would know what I am spending on and I would know where is the money going.

Starting today, I am going to use lot more cash. A smallChange that would help me get frugal (until I become filthy rich).

P.S.: There are apparent advantages of using plastic. I dont have to lug around a lot of cash. I dont have to worry about running out of it and finding ATMs. I earn points that I could redeem to book free tickets to places that I want to visit. I get discounts at places where these credit card companies have tieups at. I get a monthly printed account statement that tells me where all I've spent my money at! And so on and so forth. But, but, I end up spending lot more than I ought to (or want to) spend. I have to control it. Somehow!

Notes to Self

  • Read the difference between "which" and "that"
  • Restart thinking / working on frugal life

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