The trouble with debit cards

We live in a society of instant gratification. Unlike our parents or grandparents – who saved up for larger purchases – we are often tempted to splurge on bigger-ticket items simply because we have a debit card in hand when we head out “window shopping”.

And aside from overspending thanks to the advent of debit cards, consumers are also more likely to dip into overdraft, which ends up costing more thanks to fees and interest that banks charge whenever you spend more than you have in your account.

Basically, a debit card works like a cheque. The only difference is that every time you use it, you’re immediately taking money out of your account. That’s why when you overdraw it’s like bouncing a cheque – only worse because, unlike cheques, you probably don’t keep a record of every debit card purchase you make.

You may even make a bunch of small purchases before you realize you’ve spent more than you have. So before you pay for that coffee or lunch purchase with your debit card, make sure you have enough money in your account to cover it.

Revert to using cash for daily expenses

Cash controls spending, plain and simple. Using cash to pay for everyday purchases such as coffee, transit, lunch and magazines alerts you to the idea that you’re actually spending real money. You just don’t get the same cautionary sense when you haul out plastic, be it a debit or credit card.

There’s a distinct cognitive event that happens when you handle money – it’s called awareness. Over the counter goes the five dollar bill and back comes a loonie, a dime, two nickels and four pennies

Did you just add up the change above to determine how much money you have left? Did you think about what that purchase could have been? You see, you are much more conscious of this imaginary purchase than if you had paid with plastic.

Now, add in the awareness of the bills left in your wallet and you become attuned to your temporary wealth, or lack thereof. At the end of the day, what encourages or cautions many consumers about spending is knowing where you stand from a financial perspective. That’s why cash can help control spending. Using cash to pay for everyday purchases alerts you to the idea that you’re actually spending real money.

By allotting yourself a weekly cash allowance for entertainment and everyday expenses – such as that daily morning coffee or weekly movie – you are building a budget around what you can spend on these purchases. And once the money in your wallet has been spent, you have to ensure you fight the urge to withdraw more cash or resort back to using your debit card.

Be realistic about what you typically spend on these items in a week. If you routinely eat out for lunch or stop at Tim Hortons for coffee, count that as well. If you think you’re spending too much on these items, you can then decide to find a less expensive alternative, such as brown-bagging your lunch or making your own coffee.

Let’s say, for instance, that you start the week off with $50 in your wallet and you began to spend it on your purchases. You will see $50 turn into $40, $40 turn into $25, $25 turn into $15 and so on. Every time you look into your wallet, you will see what’s left over from your original $50 and be aware of how quickly your money is being spent. This alone can make you think twice before making a purchase.

If you have any questions concerning budgeting, contact your Dominion Lending Centres Mortgage Professional.

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