This is why you always run out of money
Like many people I know, I get to the end of most months and wonder where all the money has gone.
I am quite sure I haven’t spent it on anything other than the necessities – mortgage, child care, food, Netflix subscription – yet my bank balance suggests otherwise.
It hovers perilously close to its overdraft limit. It sneers at me for my fiscal failure; it snootily suggests I dip into my savings account, or break open the emergency credit card.
Every month, I am mystified as to what has happened. Is some crook plundering my account? Do I suffer from a rare affliction known as sleep-spending? Am I simply going utterly bonkers?
My bank statement reveals all. No, I am not being defrauded; yes, I really am that profligate. As I scroll down the page, the mystery is unravelled: I am almost unconsciously spending, through apps on my phone, not to mention my contactless debit card.
My money is going into a giant invisible electronic purse that hovers all around me. A taxi ride from Uber here, a nice cosy jumper from ASOS there, and, bloody hell, those lattes at Pret A Manger don’t half stack up (it’s something about the sensation of simply laying a card flat on a reader for five seconds that makes them feel so free).
For the purposes of this column, I went to my Amazon app and had a look at all the “1-click” orders I had made in the last month – things I have bought without leaving my sofa, or in some cases, my bed. Five kilos of Epsom salts (don’t ask); a pop-up ball pit; 100 balls for said ball pit; a Little Tikes four-in-one trike (it was reduced by 50 quid – I couldn’t afford not to!); a Finding Nemo sticker book; some vacuum bags; a Kindle case; eight books for my Kindle; an actual hard copy of Seeing Things As They Are: Selected Journalism and Other Writings by George Orwell (I suppose this one would make me look good were it not a present for my dad.)
I am spending money like it is going out of fashion, which, in a funny way, it is – certainly where cold, hard cash is concerned.
At the weekend it was revealed that the limit on payments for contactless cards will be raised to £30 (€40), with transactions on them more than trebling in a year.
Meanwhile, the average cash purchase dwindles with each passing month – just £9.47, according to the most recent figures from the British Retail Consortium – and it is estimated that the use of bank cards now accounts for three quarters of all spending. You can pay for things with your phone and soon with your smart watch.
Barclays is currently trialling a wristband called bPay, while other banks are creating stickers that can turn any object into a credit card. It is thought that payment keyrings will be made available this summer. In Scandinavia, currency barely exists any more – four out of every five payments in Sweden are made with cards.
Cash is no longer king. It is vulgar, it is dirty, it is untrustworthy. It’s the kind of thing that criminals carry around in suitcases for the purposes of money-laundering. If someone asks me for cash-in-hand, I think I should give the Inland Revenue a call.
In London, you can’t even pay for a bus journey with it any more: the driver just looks at your coins as if they were thrupenny bits, before suggesting you get off and catch a horse and cart back to the year 1857.
And yet I can’t help wondering if the demise of cash is really such a great thing.
Yes, it’s mighty convenient that I can use my phone to buy everything from Epsom salts to ball pits, because I used to find the process of going to a shop and putting my hand in my wallet exhausting, really I did.
But does this convenience come at the expense of common sense? As money becomes increasingly abstract, do we lose our ability to gauge its value?
A financially sensible friend of mine budgets by taking out a wad of cash every Monday. If she gets to the end of it before the week is up, it’s gruel for her until the next self-imposed pay day.
But such a stance will seem alien to children who can now go on their iPads and convert invisible cash into shiny digital tokens to spend on games.
Do you know where else you can convert money into tokens? Casinos, that’s where. Here is an iGeneration inadvertently being taught all the financial awareness of gamblers. If they can’t physically count the pennies in their piggy banks, how can we ever hope for them to be able to look after the pounds?
And for all the talk of the consumer convenience of a cashless society, in reality the people it most benefits are the ones who work for the banks and big businesses. Handling cash is expensive for banks; without it they can do away with more personnel and continue on the road to automation.
Companies such as Amazon can now analyse your spending habits and target you with “offers”. Money is no longer simply a method of paying for goods and services; it is tied into our very identities.
I am not a luddite, and I don’t foresee myself burying all my cash under a mattress. But money doesn’t grow on trees, as my beloved grandmother used to tell me. We would be wise to remember that nor can it be found in keyrings, wristbands or mobile phones.