This morning while waiting for my car to fill up, I put the time to good use. I read all the hazard warnings.
I couldn't help but think how much better off we might be if there were similar warning signs posted in stores, restaurants and malls warning of the hazards of plastic. ATM, debit and credit cards can be every bit as hazardous to our financial health as fumes, and improper handling of gasoline fuel can be to one's physical health.
The vicious cycle of plastic-induced debt begins subtly. Before you know it, you're knee deep in the accumulation of things, all the while losing something precious called financial freedom.
There is a cure for the plastic disease. Put yourself on a cash diet. Here's my challenge: No plastic whatsoever for the next seven days. Of course, you shouldn't send cash through the mail, but I'm talking about day-to-day living.
Can you do it? Of course you can. I have no doubt whatsoever that in the absence of plastic, your life would go on. Your family would not starve and you would become very creative indeed.
I know what you're thinking. That's too inconvenient — and that's the point. If spending money were not so convenient, maybe all of us would keep more of it.
Experts tell us based on credible studies and statistics that when we shop and live dependent on electronic payments for everything from groceries to gas to the daily coffee — and on and on and on — we simply spend more. It's the convenience factor. It's mindless to just swipe the plastic for everything without engaging and focusing on the true cost of things.
Are you ready to take the challenge? Great. Find a safe place for your plastic and just get it out of reach. Hand it over to a trusted friend or relative. Or freeze all of it in a big block of ice. Nothing will be harmed, your cards will be safe, so no worries there.
As you are able to pry yourself from plastic, you will experience a new sense of well-being and freedom. It's called living within your means, paying as you go, spending only what you have, delayed gratification.
There's something remarkable about living with cash. Suddenly, you're really paying for things — not creating a promise to pay when the bill arrives.
You are touching and feeling the sensation of that thing known as money. You'll intuitively start paying attention to how much that fast-food lunch costs because you'll be handing over currency and coins, not merely swiping plastic while you enjoy the music or exchange pleasantries with the guy in line behind you.
As you cruise the supermarket, the actual prices of things will begin to capture your attention. You'll compare the prices and notice which items are on sale. You'll keep checking your pocket to make sure you have enough to pay as your cart fills up.
Plastic has a way of shielding us from what things really cost. That might feel good at the time, but it's like living in a fantasy world. Paying with cash clears away all the fog and keeps it real.
Let the challenge begin.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."
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