For years, people have been talking about it — and practising it — but it seemed impossible for us. We couldn’t get by with the use of a debit card and just about a hundred bucks in our wallets. We needed to carry enough cash to repair our vehicle in case of an emergency, allow us to splurge on a new bedspread, should we encounter something that caught the eye, buy a box of cupcakes to binge on if we so desired ... Use a card for all that? Impossible. We believed in hard cash. We hid it in various unlikely places on our person, in our purses and bags — and we felt that if one source was ‘picked’ we could still rely on the other to get us out of a tight situation.
Of course our children would look at us despairingly as we fumbled around in the pockets of our shirts and trousers, handbags and backpacks when the time came to pay at checking counters in malls and movie theatres, cafes and petrol stations. They sighed impatiently through our befuddled toting up of amounts and counting out of small change. It was because of fuddy-duddies like us that we could never progress to a paperless society, their expressions said.
For them it was irrelevant that ‘Pay only in cash’ was something we heard often — and led us to have to clear their bills as well as ours. It was almost their birthright to have us underwrite their expenses, wasn’t it? As much as it was almost a moral obligation on their part to cast aspersions on our way of life, especially the use of cheques and withdrawal slips. “Give the bankers a break!” we were exhorted. ‘Use a card!’
Eventually, we did progress to a card — but we used it only to get cash from an ATM, never for payments. So now there were trips to and from the bank and to and from the ATM as well! Any wonder that we had no time to shop for gifts for each other’s birthdays, our anniversary, Christmas or New Year and we settled for cash gifts or a cheque written with a quick flourish.
Then gradually, over time, a change in lifestyle crept up on us without our noticing it. We got too tired to make those dashes to the bank or ATM more than a couple of times a month. We were reluctant to give or receive cheques because either way it involved a trip to the bank. The cheque had to be deposited, didn’t it – or the cheque book leaves had to be replaced because we used up so many of them on gifts.
Online transfers were suggested to us by our ever-resourceful children. It’s so easy. Just a couple of clicks of the mouse and you’re done ... a cashless transaction, ergo, one step closer to a paperless society.
As always, however, we have trod our own path through this too. Some months ago, one cheque was written — perhaps for a birthday, perhaps for an anniversary — it is tough to recall just which.
Whether out of guilt for the size of the cheque, sheer laziness or just because we had finally achieved a Zen level of want-less-ness, that cheque was not cashed — and on the next occasion, it went back to the originator, with the promise of that and more ...
Soon, a regular back-and-forth double-entry accounting system began — in our heads (we’re striving for paperless society, remember?) — and at the last count we have gifted each other tens of thousands with nothing moving either way.
In terms of transaction time and effort, the overall effect on the environment and the improvement in our level of mental arithmetic, we seem to have come up trumps!
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.