• December 21, 2014

I like my debit card — maybe a bit too much

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Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014 4:30 am

A few years ago, I stood in line behind a 20-something guy at Starbucks as he paid for his latte with a debit card.

The whole bill came to less than $4, and I snickered under my breath that someone would pull out the plastic for such a small purchase. I couldn’t believe the guy didn’t have a few bucks in his wallet to pay for the drink.

Well, flash-forward to the present, and I have become that guy.

Though I try to have a small amount of cash on hand, it doesn’t always happen. In fact, a few weeks ago I went the better part of a week without a single dollar bill in my wallet.

How the heck did this happen, I wondered?

It’s simple, actually. Debit cards are just easier to use than cash. You can use them for either debit or credit, you don’t have to mess with change, and they’re accepted just about everywhere.

Of course, if you really need cash, you can use them at an ATM or just click the cash-back option at the register after a purchase. What could be easier?

One problem with my heavy reliance on a debit card is that I’m not as careful with my spending as I used to be.

In the old days, I would write checks for most purchases and immediately enter them in my check register. I’d also use my ATM card to withdraw cash — usually $60 or $80 at a time to last me several days — and I’d enter those amounts as well.

When the checks started flying out of my checkbook and those ATM withdrawals began to mount up, I knew it was time to take a step back on the spending.

But now, I just whip out the debit card, pocket the receipt and more or less forget about it. I haven’t used my check register in months — and there’s a reason for that. The last batch of checks I ordered didn’t even come with one. I guess no one is using them anymore, so the check companies aren’t including them with the orders.

Speaking of checks, I can’t remember the last time I wrote more than four or five of them in a month. All my transactions now are by online bill pay, credit card or debit card.

In the time it used to take to write out a check, fill out the payment coupon, put them in an envelope, affix a stamp and take it to the post office, I can pay four of five bills online. I’m guessing most people are thinking the same way.

No wonder the post office is running a deficit.

But anyway, the upshot of all this is that I’m not really paying attention to my spending habits.

Go out to dinner? Whip out the debit card. Buy a cart full of groceries? Swipe that debit card. Fill a prescription? Get an oil change? Pick up a pizza? Debit, debit, debit.

It’s not until my bank statement arrives at the end of the month that I realize how active that little card has been. I’m surprised it doesn’t have some scorch marks on it.

That old adage is true — out of sight, out of mind. And when I don’t watch my bank statement online each week, I just don’t think of how much I’m spending.

I think if I kept a weekly tally of debit card expenditures, I’d be more than a little shocked. And maybe I’d scale it back somewhat.

Of course, it’s not an easy task. I mean, it’s so much more fun to go out to dinner than to drop by the grocery store and buy food to cook at home.

And it feels good sometimes to just grab that shirt, pair of shoes or DVD when you feel like you owe yourself a little present --- even if you don’t really need it.

It’s obviously something I need to work on.

But fortunately, I haven’t used my card to buy a beverage at Starbucks — not yet, anyway.

Dave Miller is deputy managing editor of the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at dmiller@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7543.

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