Monday, January 18, 2016

Real Money Versus the Other Kind

I remember 'way back when, as the cashier would ring up my purchases, she (few men were cashiers then) would ask "Cash or check?"

Remember that?

Now, it's "Debit or credit?" Meaning "Which kind of plastic are you using?"

I paid for some groceries with cash the other day and the cashier did a double take. He had to try twice to get the right change, although the cash registers do it for them now.

When I was a teenager, I worked in a drugstore "fountain," where we offered sandwiches and fries along with Cokes and malteds. We rang up sales on the cash register, which opened when we hit the right button. That's all it did. It expected us to supply it with cash and to take out and count back the correct change. To be sure that we did, it would often close of itself as soon as we got the change back. Reopening it without a cash transaction wasn't hard - all you had to do was hit that button again, but it was embarrassing to not get it right the first time.

Those were the days. We used our heads for more than earbud holders. 'Long time ago.... '

It only stands to reason that the more we use technology, the more dependent we become on it and the less we pay attention to the details that can make a difference in how we handle money.

Push your cart up to the grocery store check out, stare at the magazines and gum and candy while the cashier empties your cart, put your debit card in the slot  and you're done.

Have you noticed how few people are in line at the bank any more? Or maybe you're one of those who never go to the bank but do everything electronically.

The trouble with all of this is the way our brains process things. When we don't actually see the money (or shells, or salt, or whatever), the idea of exchanging it for something moves from a concrete experience to an abstract one. An abstract idea, by definition, is not one that truly affects us. We don't see it.

It takes determination and self control to see abstract money the same way we see concrete money.  If you offer a child an intangible reward versus tangible reward, which will the child choose? Tangible, of course. That's the way our brains are wired, so beware when you pull out the plastic, whether it's debit or credit. You're in dangerous territory.

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