Saturday, June 26, 2010


Having found nothing too pressing on my desk, I gathered together all the little slips of paper that I had piled in the corner and headed out the door. Each was a reminder to drop something off or pick something up: a suit that needed cleaning, some patching material for the edge of the driveway, a piece of some kind of hardware... I wasn't sure what... to fix the loose faucet in our bathroom.

Since it was a nice day, after I dropped off the suit I decided to head a little further a field than the local Mr. Fixit store for the rest. Along the way I spied a gas station with a better than average price. Seeing as how my tank was on the low side, I figured I'd swing in and fill it up. I pulled into the station and stopped at the pump. I hopped out, uncapped the tank and then reached for my wallet. But it wasn't there.

My first instinct was to frisk myself and make sure it wasn't in another pocket: no dice. I stood and thought about it, reconstructing my day. Since I hadn't even taken it out at the cleaners, I went backwards from there, looking for it in any of the freeze frames in my mind. Driving from the garage? Working at my desk? Having breakfast? Getting dressed... ah, there it is. I could see it sitting in the little basket that I throw my keys and money into each night. Not stolen, merely forgotten.

First problem: no license or registration. If a cop stopped me, no doubt about it, I was driving illegally. Nothing I could do, short of scrupulously observing every traffic sign I saw between there and home. I did consider for a moment what I would do if I came to a police checkpoint. After briefly flirting with the idea of pulling a James Bond-like maneuver to get around it, I decided that if that happened I'd best come clean and take the consequences.

Next problem: no cards. No ATM card, no credit card, no Famous Footwear Rewards card. So that there was no way for me to get additional cash, nor pay for a purchase beyond any cash on hand. I did have a couple of twenties in my money clip, and thankfully had remembered to grab that when I got dressed and filled my pockets. But if I suddenly came across a members only two-for-one running shoe sale, I was plumb out of luck.

Little did I know I was square in the middle of a trend. According to recent surveys, payng with greenbacks has become the preferred approach of a majority of the public. Many view this as a reaction to the Great Recession, which resulted in lenders reducing their willingness to extend credit. But consumers also learned the hard way that spending what you don't have can be devastating financially. In either case, the evidence is that people are far more likely to pull out the Benjamins as opposed to the Karls (as in Karl Malden, the “don't leave home without it” spokesperson for American Express).

The numbers paint an interesting dichotomy: it seems that possession isn't 9/10's of the law. While 68% of American adults have a debit card and 67% percent have a credit card, we are taking them out less frequently. The result is that 54% of those surveyed said that they'd prefer to buy with cash as opposed to any other form of payment available to them.

Personally speaking, we use the cards as a convenience, and pay them off in full every month. They work from a business standpoint as well, giving me float for the month, better expense tracking and I don't turn my nose up at the miles and points awarded either. But that option only works if you have them in your possession, a situation I was not in. So back to the flimsy green stuff it is.

I bought twenty dollars in gas and picked up a bucket of patching material. I even found the plumbing thingy I needed; thankfully, it was only $1.25. All in, I was still 2 bucks and change in the black. But that was the end of the line. They say you don't miss something you have until you no longer have it. Usually it's said in reference to privilege or luxury. But my dear Mastercard, I'll never take you for granted again.


Marc Wollin of Bedford uses his cards as long as he gets points or miles. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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