Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Friday, November 16, 2007

If You Can't Afford it...

Doing Without, by David Ray

It's an interesting
custom, involving such invisible items
as the food that's not on the table,
the clothes that are not on the back
the radio whose music is silence.
Doing without
is a great protector of reputations
since all places one cannot go
are fabulous, and only the rare and
enlightened plowman in his field
or on his mountain does not overrate
what he does not or cannot have.
Saluting through their windows
of cathedral glass those restaurants
we must not enter (unless like
burglars we become subject to
we greet with our twinkling
eyes the faces of others who do
the lady with the fishing pole,
and the man who looks amused
to have discovered on a walk
another piece of firewood.

I still keep open a bank account in my home town, although there is an ocean between myself and it now. I have no access unless I am at home. From time to time my mother lets me know that a piece of mail arrived, addressed to me. Usually it is from my bank; it will, generally, be a statement or a letter describing how they are changing or expanding and I will most certainly benefit if I 'act now.'
On most occasions the information is of absolutely no use to me and is merely an annoyance.
A couple of days ago, however, my mother opened my mail while I was on the phone with her, and read out the latest information. It seems that my account, for which my plastic card has only ever served as a means to withdrawing money from an ATM machine, is all going to be amended in the new year.
As well as being my ATM card it now will function as a debit card. I can walk into a store, for instance, and flash the card to get whatever I want- subject, of course, to the state of my bank balance. It negates the need for cash withdrawal and apparently is more convenient.
I remarked to my mother that I would pass up this golden opportunity and keep everything the same as it had been since I opened the account.
"You can't," came the reply. "It's all going to change in January. You don't have an option."
I then did some research. It emerges that it is all true. My account, whether I wish it or not, is being altered behind my back. No, I do not consider a letter of notification any kind of 'warning' as it came with no alternative.
I say this now: I do not wish my ATM card to double as a debit card. I have always felt distinctly uncomfortable with credit cards and similar things that encourage a person to want, and seek out, that which they cannot afford. I loathe the idea of making the act of purchasing any easier, particularly when it comes to non-essential items. It is, I think, all too simple already.
I wonder what on earth ever happened to "I can't afford it today. Perhaps next time, then."
I cannot easily say that we are all 'victims' for it is entirely up to each of us to be strong and resist excessive consumption of shiny objects: but still, somewhere deep down I know that we are being targeted. People are admittedly weak at saying no to things they think they would like and are pressed to get a third credit card, or another loan, or, and this one burns me up every time, "now that you have saved so much on your car insurance, you can take a trip to somewhere sunny." Forgetting, always, that it was our hard-earned money to begin with.

Speaking as a couple who have accrued no debt whatsoever, I can safely say that my Spouse and I are not the sort of people that banks are very fond of. Bright items do not catch our eye when we venture out; we like books but always are aware that libraries are a short trip away, as are numerous thrift stores if we are so inclined. Yes, sometimes we root out things we might like, but it is always accompanied by the thought, 'will it make me any happier?' That might sound tedious and too time consuming for some ultra-shoppers but we are very happy. It means that, when we do finish clearing our apartment, we will love and appreciate everything we own. It means that there will be no excess and no 'guilt' items such as the kind hastily taken out and dusted off when the gift-giver pays a visit and expects to see the ornament on the shelf.
If one is diligent about money, there should be nothing to worry about. A family member who I believe to be of the utmost prudence went into a grocery store some months ago to buy some food for dinner. He intended to pay with cash. The assistant told him that the total came to a particular amount which he felt was 50 cents higher than it ought to be. When the assistant double checked, she saw that he was indeed correct, and the amount was reduced. This person went home with his groceries. How did he know it was 50 cents over the limit? Because he had, in his pocket, the exact change for the items and had not a cent more. He bought what he could afford, to the cent. Somebody foolish or with excess of money might not have noticed but he literally could not fork out that extra money because he did not have it. How easy, if one has a credit card, to inadvertently make a mistake.

My Spouse and I are not alone, of course, in believing that if you cannot afford it in real money then you cannot have it. I personally will never use my ATM card as a debit card if I travel home. I suppose any day now it will become a credit card also, or my ticket to a mortgage. It is up to me to watch out but I greatly resent the change.

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