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Blog: A week switching from cards to cash shocked me

Blog: A week switching from cards to cash shocked me

Fin-tech companies would have you believe the future of personal finance is digital, automated and integrated. But a week after losing my wallet, and all my cards, I kind of hope they are wrong.

Anyone can see the direction of travel for personal finance is exactly what the fin-techs predict - many cashiers no longer expect to see cash, while the smartphone apps for saving and investing are increasingly smart and easy to use.

I would argue, though, that this is not doing our relationship with money any good and many would be better off going back to basics.

Changing tracks

My wallet and I parted company permanently one Sunday morning as I made my way across the country by train. It went elsewhere, and is still missing in action.

Luckily I was meeting up with a friend who was more than happy to help out with a 0% interest, short-term loan until I got a bank card again (she leant me some dosh). 

The first task came when she asked me how much money I would need to borrow. Reasoning I would not get a new card until the following weekend, I had a think about how much money I usually spend on food, transport and miscellaneous items on an average day and in an average week.

It is not the hardest thing to figure out but it was not something I tend to consider a great deal. My approach is to spend more sensibly if I need to save money, without getting too scientific about it.

This was a different kettle of fish. This had to be precise. I didn’t want to feel I was taking more than necessary from my friend but definitely did not want to run out either and I was wary of how the cost of transport can catch you out in London.

Before I could get back to the city I had to replace the train ticket which had been in my wallet.

The self-service machine liked one of my bank notes but spat the rest back out at me while also demanding I settle the bill for the ticket I was trying to buy.

I gave up and got a ticket from the ticket man at the barrier who explained which train I should get and how to apply for a refund for the first, now lost, ticket. This was victory number one for old-fashioned payments. Humans, it turns out, can be pretty helpful.

Food for thought

That evening I bought the ingredients for my meals for the week. Where under normal circumstances I would not have embarked on an epic cooking session that late on a Sunday, in this instance the alternative was unaffordable.

Having no contactless debit card meant going back to an Oyster card, making sure it was topped up and essentially keeping closer tabs on how much Transport for London was fleecing me for the privilege of each crowded underground journey.

(As an aside, to the people who lift their hip up to the card reader so the Oyster or contactless card stays safely pocketed, thereby avoiding having to expend unnecessary energy: this is taking convenience a step to far.)  

But it is all about convenience isn’t it? It seems to be a social capital in itself.

Well, for the week at least, I was out with convenience and in with penny-pinching. Sandwiches I would have bought before were an absolute no-go because I could buy the ingredients more cheaply and make it myself in a few minutes, and again for the following two days with the rest of the ingredients. It was a no-brainer.

Had I had no brain up to that point? I had certainly convinced myself the amount I was spending was justified in terms of the time and effort it might save me.

The act of looking in your wallet (or sunglasses case should you happen to have lost your wallet) and seeing how much you have in pounds and pence and seeing that money steadily disappear is a seriously useful exercise if you want to get a better grip on what you have and what you need.

Lost contact

Using contactless for everything is a big part of why many of us have become less disciplined with spending.

A card looks the same before and after the transaction. Your wallet feels no lighter or heavier for the purchase. It doesn’t really feel like spending at all and I, for one, was completely out of touch with my own money.

Apps for impulse saving are all very well and good but unfortunately they work within a wider, somewhat problematic, culture of impulse spending. Clearly, if you have tapped all your pounds away in the blink of an eye any saving or investing proposition you use, automated or otherwise, is going to be of limited help to your financial future. 

The week taught me we can get carried away with convenience.

While savings apps could help redress the balance, I believe it is still worth getting closer to our cash. While a degree of convenience is incredibly valuable, too much can be financially debilitating.

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