It wasn't a time machine that transported me backward half a century. It was an ATM machine.
You know the kind of ATM that sucks your debit card all the way in, instead of just letting you swipe it and return it to your wallet? It was one of those. Let's call it a magic, time-travel ATM, because if you forget to retrieve your card right away after taking your cash, the machine sucks it up permanently for security, leaving you with about as much access to your money as people had in 1968. That's the year before Chemical Bank opened the first ATM in the U.S.
So there I found myself, stranded financially in the Mad Meneolithic era. It didn't help that I'd already stopped carrying credit cards. Now all I had was a little bit of green cash, and a checkbook.
I immediately called my bank to get a replacement card, but when they told me it was going to cost $19, I hesitated (yes, that's how poor I am). I decided to put it off for a little while. That was almost two months ago, and I still haven't ordered one.
Why? Because it's saving me a ton of money.
Have you tried to use a check in a store lately? Not only does it take forever, but you feel ridiculous. People tap their feet impatiently. Cashiers look at you confusedly. A store clerk at a Sunglass Hut actually told me she was going to have to call her manager for help; she'd never seen a check in the six months she'd worked there. I walked out without the new sunglasses I really didn't need anyway. It turns out that nothing takes the steam out of an impulse buy like paying with a check.
It's also been cutting down on all my little unnecessary purchases that were adding up at the end of the month. I'm not going to be whipping out my checkbook at a Starbucks, or a Taco Bell, or for a magazine off a newsstand. Small purchases that I used to justify by saying "it's only a couple bucks" have turned into "I'm not wasting a check for only a couple bucks."
This doesn't mean I've totally cut myself off from caffeine or chalupas, of course. I just buy them with cash, which I get by walking into the bank and withdrawing it. Doing it this way has really helped me wrangle my discretionary spending. I take a little cash out for the week, and when that's gone, it's gone. There's no running to the ATM with that wild look in my eyes to take out more. The bank won't be opening until 9 a.m., sir, long after you've come to your senses.
Okay, so there was one midnight stop at an all-night check cashing place, but some friends were visiting from out of town, and last time I checked bartenders don't take checks.
Another nice benefit is finally being able keep track where I'm spending my money. The month before I lost my card my checking account statement listed close to 100 debits, and I couldn't tell you what half of them were for. Last month I had exactly seven. Two were for withdrawals of $60 in cash. Four were for bills. And one was for a birthday gift for my mother. My statement isn't clogged with an entry for every time I buy a soda anymore. Plus there weren't any more "out of network" fees. I saved $13.75 on those. That was a movie ticket and Junior Mints.
It makes since. The idea is similar to the psychology behind the booming return of layaway programs in stores. Yes, you could just save up the money for that new TV, but if you keep it in a jar in under your bed, it's just too tempting to spend it on other, more pressing things. But it's the same thing with saving in general. The convenience of technology has basically turned our bank accounts into the equivalent of that jar under the bed. Our money is always right there at arm's reach.
Not for me anymore. Not anymore.
The best part of losing my debit card? Walking into the bank and telling them to transfer some money to my savings for the first time in months. I may be techno-financially stranded in the past, but at some point I have to think about the future.
Published by Christopher Spata
Christopher Spata is a freelance journalist based in Tampa, FL. After stints as a soldier and a retail manager, he found his true passion in telling stories. When he's not writing, he's either jogging (slowl... View profile
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