Keeping track of banknotes in the wallet may seem painless to many, but I have always been bad at handling cash. When I lived in Dhaka, I used cash a lot, because 10 years ago, credit cards were not as widely used as they are today. Sometimes I used my debit card at stores that accepted it, but stopped after one giant retail chain charged my card twice for a set of shalwar kameez. I had to have a tedious phone conversation with my bank in order to get my money back. Long story short, 10 years ago, cash was more or less my only mode of making payments.
There were tonnes of troubles with using cash, however. For instance, I once left my wallet on an auto-rickshaw. My wallet had my address inside on a piece of paper, but whoever found it, did not care to return the wallet back. I called my bank right away and closed the debit card, but a few thousand takas of cash I had in there were gone forever.
I also almost always forgot how much money I had in my wallet. So if someone ever stole money from my wallet, they could rest assured that I would never find out that my money was missing.
Keeping track of cash was difficult, so was finding space in my wallet for the Tk 1 and Tk 5 coins. They sometimes fell out on streets and shop floors when I opened my wallet. I despised using cash for another reason — I found it difficult to accept old, dirty bills, and ripped bills that were repaired with tape. My wallet always had to have clean bills.
At the same time, I experienced this urge to wash hands every time I touched money. After all, paper money harbours bacteria, viruses, and even traces of illegal drugs; so of course I needed to wash my hands after I handled cash. But I assure you, I am not crazy, I only happen to have a mild obsession with hygiene.
Right after I moved to the US, I found out that paper bills in America were much cleaner.
Good news! But that did not mean that they were free of microbes. Paper money is dirty anywhere! On top of that, there was the need to keep track of four kinds of coins. No transaction was complete without giving or getting pennies, dimes, nickels or quarters.
Price tags read $11.63, $25.80, $49.99, etc. I was more confused than ever. Because it took me forever to count loose change and pay shopkeepers, I began to collect them in my handbag, and later in a jar at home. I did not use my debit card much because they are not protected like credit cards. If a debit card is ever compromised, the consequences could be severe.
I remember my first credit card, which was from a federal credit union in Minnesota. I never went back to cash after that. Plastic money is what I use now to make payments everywhere. I do carry some cash with me for emergencies, but that's all. I no longer have to worry about dirty or taped bills. I also do not have to calculate how many bills and coins together make figures, such as $56.61 and $104.02.
But the problem with using credit cards is, you often spend without thinking. The total absence of paper money sometimes makes you spend more than you need. Because cash is real and there is a tangible value attached to it, we use it cautiously, unlike a credit card, where your balance becomes visible only when you log into your bank account.
After I missed paying a credit card bill one time and overspent on a few occasions, I told myself that I had to be disciplined if I wanted the comfort of a credit card in my life. So yes, credit cards have taught me about financial discipline. It also saved me from bacteria and other pathogens that came with paper money every day, not to mention the inconvenience of counting coins!