Sunday, June 14, 2009

Carrying Cash

I’ve given my credit cards the month off, and I’m paying with cash this month. I got more cash than I’m used to when I took my pay check to the bank last week, and I’ve had to carry more cash when I go out to cover the things I buy.

Different people have different experiences with carrying cash. Some just can’t do it — if they have cash, they spend it all, and then they have nothing to eat at the end of the week. For others, it is the opposite — they are reluctant to spend actual cash, but if they have a credit card, they spend as if the credit card balance did not translate into real money.

I am too financially self-conscious to fall into either pattern, but I still feel a difference between carrying cash and carrying a credit card. I feel more powerful with cash. The printed images must have something to do with this. Cash says I have friends who are legendary national leaders with famous faces and names like Lincoln, Jefferson, Jackson, and Grant. A credit card says I can call a toll-free telephone number, printed in small print, that is answered by a small army of trained customer service representatives in India. Not to slight the power of the network that lets people I’ve never seen solve my problems from half a world away, but it is somehow more impressive to have, in my hand, a slip of paper that says I have a friend in Washington. The credit card just has my signature on it. The paper money is signed by someone like Robert E. Rubin. Which signature says more about where I stand in the world?

Suzanne Garland is also using cash instead of a credit card this month, but she found herself using a credit card several times when, after her car failed, it was difficult for her to get to the bank. It’s a difficulty anyone with a 9-to-5 job might have, if the bank is not right next door to their work place. She finally found a gap in her schedule late Friday afternoon when she could get away to the bank and, she says, she got “plenty of cash.” Yesterday morning she noticed how much more careful she was being in her shopping when she had a large amount of cash on hand:

I am much more present when I’m using cash. Credit cards are so easy.