Bairbre Power: I like paying cash — now I can’t believe I have to get a credit card again just because hotels crave ‘plastic’
I'm reasonably good with money and I once was a saver but, hell, there's little chance of that these days. The nearest thing I suppose is trying to buy Additional Voluntary Contributions (AVCs) to shore up a sadly diminished pension. Unfortunately I now know more than I care about AVCs and my latest conundrum is the Approved Retirement Fund (ARFs).
Now, for a wan who failed pass maths in the Leaving Cert back in the year dot, I'm facing down a firm dislike of compiling balance sheets and financial projections and, to be honest, all this monetary navel-gazing has taken the good out of any spending I do on days off.
I do have my moments of largesse. On pay day weekends, I've been known to indulge in a little self-gifting and if you are out for dinner with me that weekend, I'll probably suggest a round of Aperol Spritz instead of dessert, which is a little indulgence I enjoy even though my waistline is probably going to suffer. However, I can get careful too when I want to. At the beginning of the month, I'll be treating myself to a €19 seat in the Stella cinema in Rathmines, but by the end of the pay month, I'll be going to the cinema with the two-for-one deal.
Now if I was serious about saving money on a daily basis, I'd be downloading vouchers for meals and special shopping codes and I'm sure that will all come in time as I need to hunker down for pension reality.
I have this 'cash thing' now and I'm super cautious about bank cards. By far the worst experience was when the blooming debit card wouldn't work, which was incredibly embarrassing as I was treating a work contact to dinner in London. I still redden when I think of the mortification when the manager arrived with the line "your card does not work, Madame". "Try it again," I suggested, knowing full well it had worked an hour earlier up the road at pre-dinner drinks. Minutes later he returned to our table with smiling eyes and a narrow mouth from which he announced to the entire restaurant in an extra loud voice, "your card has been declined again, Madame".
My gallant dining companion reached for his wallet and took over the job of paying the bill, telling me that it happens all the time. "It's a travelling thing," he said, to ease my discomfort. "Maybe the bank don't know you are abroad," he added. Next morning I checked and the bank account was a healthy shade of black but I vowed to always carry cash when travelling. The following year when we attempted a repeat dinner in London, I brought an envelope of £20 notes and counted them out under the table when the bill arrived. I wasn't taking any risks.
When I signed for the mortgage on my first house, I was so delighted to get the £30,000 from the Nationwide Building Society until I later discovered that if I had borrowed £29,950, just £50 less, the interest would have been a whole one per cent cheaper - but what's a per cent when you were paying a hair raising 15pc interest back in 1983?
Last year I attended a fashion press day in this wonderful apartment on Camden Street. I loved the herringbone floors, the cool kitchen and the devilishly smart roof garden looking down on to the impressive spire of St Kevin's church on the South Circular Road.
And then I looked again and the clock swung back in time and I realised it was the very building where I had signed my life away on that mortgage. Years later, I can still remember the broker's face as he slid the paperwork across the table to us and we eagerly signed.
If I have one catch phrase in life, it's that 'the devil is in the detail' and it was there that day if only we had asked enough questions about the mortgage, but getting on to the property ladder for the first time is so stressful, you just want to bag that house and get the keys, so we discovered the small print later.
The truth be known, I'm a small financial fish. I carry 'brown money' and euro coins for sundries and I most definitely don't have one of those fold-out wallets with a dazzling array of credit, bank, shop and loyalty cards. Just last week someone asked me to send them a cheque and it reminded me of the carnage when an uncashed cheque came back to haunt you months later like a scud missile.
I've often said the lights would be out in chez Power if I didn't have a credit union account which still pays utility bills regularly. Before that, I used to be an awful one for putting bills in the handbag and then piling things in on top and forgetting about them.
It was a big red letter day when I finally paid off the dreaded credit card which had been flashed far too many times during the Celtic Tiger. Well we all did, all powered up with a mañana state of delusion. "Never again," I said as I gleefully cut the old credit card in half and then in quarters for good measure.
However, I'm beginning to suspect that I might have to eat my words and apply for a credit card for the upcoming holidays abroad. It's not that I want to run up bills that will keep me awake at night, but after a series of incidents with hotel receptionists, it's clear that having paid for your room in advance is not enough.
They want to debit your credit card "in case of incidentals" and in the last few weeks, I've been asked for sums of £50, £100, even £150 in advance with the promise that it will be reimbursed over five to 10 working days. For a one night stay? Are you kidding?
I stood my ground in one London hotel last month and refused to comply. "I don't have a credit card," I told her. In the end, she relented and grudgingly pushed across a welcoming cookie at me.
Last week, the receptionist in a flashy suit in a boutique hotel refused to give me a key until I paid £150 in advance on a room that was already paid for.
Opening my wallet, his eyes lit up at the sight of plastic but the smile vanished when he saw it was a debit card. No use, it had to be a credit card.
I got sorted later when my travelling companion who had booked the room arrived, but I was left with the sinking feeling that 'plastic' is as vital to a modern holiday as your passport and a truly great book.
As for the latter, I'm putting my money on Liz Nugent's Skin Deep doing the business.