The Mountain Times

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Cash is king – Let’s give the crown back

The evening news just announced that another large retailer had its computer system hacked. The security breach puts thousands of credit and debit cards at risk. This latest victim was a fast food chain. I know it is a common practice these days, but I am still awed by the fact that people whip out a credit card to buy a burger, fries and shake.

How many of us can remember life pre-credit cards? I admit it; my wallet is bulging with them now. I vowed to stick with just my two bankcards - a Mastercard and an American Express - because I get points for each sale that I parlay into gift cards for Christmas gifts.

But the department stores offer such great incentives these days if you hold their card. There are special coupons, bonus bucks, pre-sales and extra discounts. When I can get a $200 designer dress for $14.95 after the discounts, well it doesn't take a calculator to do that math. So I am a proud holder of Belk's, Macy's and Kohl's cards as well.

But I do fondly remember the days when anything and everything was paid for with cash. When I was a teenager, my funding source was a weekly allowance. There was a huge list of chores in order to earn that five bucks, probably why I still find satisfaction in running a vacuum cleaner even today.

At 14 and 15, allowance typically covered a Saturday visit to Tony's for a slice and then either a movie, roller skating or a new album. At 16, the spend included cigarettes. A pack of cellophane wrapped, red and white boxed Marlboros was 45 cents. There was nothing like getting that fresh pack of smokes. You would rap the box into your palm for five minutes, packing the tobacco which supposedly made the butt last longer. I doubt it, but it looked cool. And it was nice to be able to pay back smokes to those who had fronted you one when you were out. It was ok to smoke then - it was before they put the health warnings on the side of the pack, so it was still safe. Cancer wasn't a popular disease yet.

My first job after college was my foray into the real world. I was making $150 a week and living in an apartment in the city with a roommate from college. We got paid once a week and went straight to the bank to deposit a portion and get a little cash back. Bills were paid either in cash or with a check. Grocery shopping, clothes shopping, eating out - it was all done with cash.

The nice thing about the days of cash was when you ran out, you simply stopped spending. You didn't rack up charges on a credit card convincing yourself you could pay it off with the next pay check.  If you made an impulse buy, it meant something else was going by the wayside that month. New dress = no haircut or not catching a movie.

If you were a wise money manager, you put a portion of each pay check into a savings account right from the get go. And you paid a few dollars into a Christmas Club account so you were prepared at the end of the year to buy presents. Basically, it was the envelope method of managing your money. Funny that people today are paying big bucks for Dave Ramsey's financial plan when it is the same concept!

I know that we have come a long way and many of our accomplishments are good and well-deserved. But there are those times when I look around at the state of our economy, the condition of our lives, the new and improved mores. And I just have to ask, "Was it so bad when dads went to work and moms took care of the house and kids? Was it so bad to have one family car, watch the one television all together in the living room and take family vacations at a destination within a hundred miles of home? Were hand-me-down clothes the worst thing in the world? Was getting excited over the allotted once-a-week can of soda torture? Was being middle class really an affliction?"

When we were kids, living within our family's means was the norm. If you wanted something special - a new appliance, a new car, a new couch - you saved up in a family fund and you made the purchase only when you had the cash to buy it. And you savored it, you appreciated it and then you started a new fund toward the next luxury.

I bought a pink piggy bank for my granddaughter before she was born. Quinn will never want for anything. Her parents work hard, have good careers and provide a comfortable home and lifestyle for both my grandchildren. But I am going to teach her about putting her pennies in that piggy bank and saving up for something special. Maybe it will be a special toy, or a movie or a roller skating outing. Or maybe it will be for a burger, fries and a shake - if fast food restaurants still take cash by then.