November is "No-Credit Card" month

I have a long-standing argument with J. about using credit cards or cash for local merchants. She pointed out to me that Espresso Royale has signs asking customers to pay in cash for small orders as they paid thousand of dollars in credit cards fees last year. Many places in Ann Arbor still don't accept American Express because of their higher fees compared to VISA or Mastercard.  The opposing view is that when businesses accept credit cards people tend to spend more, so what they may lose in fees, they gain in sales volume. So, my argument with J. has been that it's also necessary to know how much Espresso Royale's sales went up after they switched to credit cards. And who carries a fat wallet of cash anymore?

My reason for using credit cards has been less lofty - it's easier to keep accounts of what went where. The opposite reason of why you use cash not to have a 'paper trail'. The other advantage of using credit cards is that you are not spending your money, but rather the bank's money and in case of fraud or wrong charges, you are safe as long as you complain within 30 days. I have used this to get wrong charges taken off (somehow the fraudsters are always magazine subscriptions departments).


On the flip side, it has been shown that people who use credit cards tend to spend more being more indifferent to pricing. Different areas of the brain light up when you have to dish out cash, as opposed to paying for it in the future using a credit card. The mind also automatically discounts costs that are far away in the future as opposed to immediate enjoyments. I happen to be in the 'dead beat' category - people who pay their credit cards on time, who don't overspend  and are almost never late. Though even the most on top-of-the-game person, as the credit card industry has shown, will also miss on a few payments, or be late and tends to be charged about $30-45 dollars (my recollection of an NPR story) a year in fees/fines.

Then there are my German friends who refuse to use credit cards in general,because they did not want the government to know how they were spending their money.  Big Brother is surely watching and the credit card companies certainly track every single expense. In fact, AMEX makes no real bones of the fact - they provide you summaries of what you spent in the whole year and MINT (not a credit card company, but an aggregator of the information) offers comparisons to what amounts others spent. They don't wholly make clear, or obfuscate how this data is shared and/or sold to interested parties. (Note to self: turn up privacy settings to maximum for credit cards and Mint). 



So, November has been decided as  "Credit-Card Free Month" to empirically find answers to the following:

  • Is it possible to actually live in today's world without a credit card?
  • Does it make it easier to save? by way of making us more conscious of spending ?
  • ... or just by spending less to begin with.

Based on my analysis of past purchases on the credit card the things that I will have to give up for  the next month will be:


  • Amazon purchases
  • Groupon or Living Social purchases
  • Online purchases of any sort - REI, Adorama, etc.

Having to not use a credit card means that we will be forced to shop locally and we will have to use the long-lost art of writing checks at the grocery store.

2 comments:

Radhika Mohandas said...

I saw the 'Give up amazon purchases' bit and gulped out loud. Just this month I made a 5-digit purchase of the website. May your November be richer than mine!
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Jennie Cain said...

For the record, Expresso Royale Cafe, a small(ish) chain lost over a 1/4 million to credit card fees in one year! That seems substantial to me. And with that said guess who didn't have any cash on her today to buy a tea?... J