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Relearning the Value of a Dollar

Making a habit of using credit and debit cards over cash can lead to a financial pitfall

Don't let increased plastic use desensitize you to the value of a dollar (Image: Thinkstock)

Like any other day, I moved about without a single bill in my wallet. It’s an unfortunate habit I developed during my college years when nearly all necessities—my bookstore account, meal plan, library card, etc.—were reduced to a piece of plastic: my college ID. (For added cushioning, I made sure to throw my debit and credit cards somewhere in my oversized bag.)

I stopped into a store to pick up one or two items. Oblivious to the card minimum sign, I began placing the items onto the counter. When I moved to hand the cashier my debit card, he nonchalantly waved it off, pointing to the small sign plastered in front of the register—“…$10 minimum.” I could have just picked up one more item to meet the mark as I sometimes do, but instead I went for the more financially responsible move (if that’s even possible in this situation) and left the two items in the store. Since I didn’t need them, I opted not to run to the nearest ATM.

A few hours later, I dropped into a local restaurant to order a plate of food. When I approached the register, it was like déjà vu.

“Our machines are down. We’re only accepting cash right now,” said the young cashier. Not again, I thought.

This food looked too good to let go, so I walked three blocks to the nearest Chase to make a withdrawal. Then, I backtracked to the restaurant to pay. Although the whole endeavor took less than 15 minutes, I was fed up with myself at this point. What happened to my mother’s age-old policy that I should have at least a [Andrew] Jackson in my possession? After realizing I’ve become comfortable adding items onto my checkout and questioning storeowners why they have a cash-only policy or card minimum, I’m publicly admitting I’m addicted to the swipe (the first step is admission, right?) and have slowly started working to curb my plastic dependency.

Apparently, I’m not alone. According to First Data Corporation, debit now ranks as consumers number one method of payment, accounting for 42% of all purchases last year.

Its convenience and accessibility makes it appealing, while its intangible monetary connection makes it so easy to continue spending beyond your budget. When not monitored, credit and debit card use can result in a vicious and pricey cycle.

I’ve heard both the pros (i.e. you can keep better track of your spending habits) and cons (such as, if you run into a problem with your card, how will you access your funds?) argument for using plastic, but I think it’s fair to say it’s okay in moderation. It’s not necessarily the act of swiping your card that’s bad, but that coupled with poor spending habits will have you tumbling into a financial pitfall.

Post-graduation was when I really began paying close attention to my spending habits; although I’ve had a slip-up here and there, I’m steadily working towards financial fitness (thanks in part to working at Black Enterprise).

Recent graduates, what  financial habits did you pick up in college? Share your stories below.

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