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The well-oiled machine is threatened when we take time to think about a purchase.

Mr. Micah and I were watching tv the other day and that Visa (or is it Mastercard?*) commercial came on. You’ve probably seen it. The well-oiled machine of people just swiping and moving on until someone whips out a checkbook or cash. Oh no! The whole thing collapses.

Mr. Micah turned to me and said, “The well-oiled machine is threatened when we take time to think about a purchase.” I wrote it down because it’s so true.**

I don’t know exactly what the CC company is trying to imply here. That people who use non-credit forms are backwards? That they’re getting in everyone’s way? Or perhaps the simpler message that using credit helps you go faster. That’s true, but I’ve taken classes on semiotics and rarely are ads so benign.

Everyone is threatened by people who pay in cash. Studies say that they spend less money. Credit card companies make money off the transaction and off interest on unpaid balances, so they want you buying as much as you can (and still stay within your limit). They’re guaranteed the percentage of what you paid and the more you ring up the larger your balance is likely to be.

Retailers are right there with them. Because even if they lose a bit of your payment, they want you buying more. Buy more and they’ll be happy.

Some ways to fight the well-oiled machine:

If you spend more with credit, make large cash withdrawls and do the old envelope budgeting method–one for food, one for clothes, etc.

If cash burns a hole in your pocket, then do the opposite–but try using debit instead of credit. Debit feels more like real money.

Make shopping lists before you go. Then you can be part of the well-oiled machine (though if you’re buying groceries on credit there might be a problem, so use debit that works as credit) and still spite the system.

Become a live-off-the-land-hermit. Sometimes it seems like the sanest option.

*Whoever they are, they officially lose 20 points for my not being able to remember who made it. The ad was so catchy that I missed the advertiser.

**And I’ll add the disclaimer that we mute the tv and read/write during commercials. But somebody looked up and was snickering.


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

CatherineL October 18, 2007 at 12:14 am

Great tips Mrs Micah. And so true. I sometimes feel as though the checkout person is looking at me disapprovingly if I use cash. And they seem to hate it when you check through your bag for the right change – they don’t need it anymore because barely anyone pays cash.

Laura October 18, 2007 at 7:03 am

It’s amazing how subtle certain messages can be in commercials. Visa has done a good job of encouraging people to just go ahead and buy.

I use my card more often than cash because it’s easier to track, but I treat it as cash. A tip is to put a post-it on the card with your weekly ‘cash’ budget. As you go spend it, just update the post it. It’s cheesy, but it works.

Andrew Stevens October 18, 2007 at 7:39 am

The weird thing is that credit cards simply aren’t faster 99% of the time, due to having to sign the receipt. The one place I’ve been to where credit cards are faster is the cafeteria at work because for some reason they never ask me to sign anything, so it’s just a quick swipe and leave.

As for retailers and credit cards, it depends on the retailer. I used to manage a convenience store in my beatnik days and, believe me, our feelings on credit cards were decidedly mixed. When people bought gas on a credit card, our entire profit margin could disappear in the merchant fees, especially when the price of gas was high. If we sold more inside sales, then that would be all right, but I was never convinced that we did sell more inside sales (again, especially not when the price of gas was high).

Personally, I buy everything on my credit card, but I have always paid off the balance every month. I’m certain that it doesn’t cause me to spend more (not sure about my wife), but again this is probably because I know I’ll be paying for it as soon as the bill comes due. Had I ever had a problem with credit cards, I would certainly do many of the things you recommend.

Jon October 18, 2007 at 8:47 am

The only time I find cash irritating is at the self-checkout line at the grocery store. The cash scanner is so slow, it feels like it takes ages.

Kyle October 18, 2007 at 11:02 am

Interesting post, I have not seen that commercial yet. I know I spend significantly less when I pay with cash or check only. It was one of my keys to getting out of my big amount of credit card debt a few years ago.

SavingDiva October 18, 2007 at 1:11 pm

I’m a fan of using a separate checking account for my food/fun money. I use the debit card attached to the account, but I have to be careful…I don’t have a lot of money in that account ($300/month) to cover food, utilities, and fun…

mrsmicah October 18, 2007 at 6:20 pm

@ Laura, I use that trick all the time with gift cards. 🙂

@ Andrew, debit is often faster if you’re good with your PIN. Places like movie theatres now don’t seem to require signatures, others too, but the theatres are pretty uniform about that. I guess they know how much it slows down the line.

I like that idea, SD. It’d be too much work for me (but then I have a formal budget) and I’d worry about overdrawing. But then again, I suppose Mr. Micah and I are thinking about having “allowance accounts” eventually which are kind of the same thing.

Fabulously Broke October 18, 2007 at 7:44 pm

I (sort of) don’t have the problem any more with credit cards if I just tell myself there’s a 5 hour rule in effect. If I get it on hold or wait 5 hours before really buying it, then I really wanted it…

My friend doesn’t use ANY credit cards (he’s VERY European), and his answer is: “Cash is king. It’s accepted anywhere.” Hence why he only has $20s or $50s on him…

I’m nervous about carrying cash ever since I got mugged..

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