Carrying cash

If this is a rare experience for you, you must be living in the New South.
If this is a rare experience for you, you must be living in the New South.

There is no amount of wealth that can surpass the all-too-rare occurrence of having a wallet full of cash.

In these days when plastic pays for everything, the times in which I have actual greenbacks on my person are so few that I can’t help but feel special. It doesn’t matter if its $7. Carrying cash makes me feel like I’ve got money, no matter what the bank statement says.

I think it’s another symptom of life in the New South. People used to have to carry cash. How else would you get a “Co-cola” when the impulse arose? Or how would you fill your gas tank without a $10 tucked away in a money clip?

For about the last 10 years, whenever we need cash for an activity, we have to borrow it from our kids. Carla’s Dad always has cash on him. He’s of that generation, and, frankly, it’s one of those attributes in him I admire. I somehow feel less masculine to be penniless and have to pull out a card to pay for something.

He shares this cash with his grandsons liberally. Every time we visit, he concludes his time with the boys by handing them their “Poppy Money.” Hence the reason they always have cash.

A few years back Carla implemented the cash-only Dave Ramsey method of financial management. We tightened our belts and spent less than we ever have, but I felt like Warren Buffet because I always had a wallet-full of paper money.

I never Dave Ramsey without cash. He must be doing something right.
I never see Dave Ramsey without cash. He must be doing something right.

The theory behind Ramsey’s approach is simple: you spend less when you realize how much you are spending. Swiping a credit or debit card doesn’t have the same psychological impact as handing a cashier money. The economic principle of scarcity doesn’t exist when you use plastic because you never really know where the bottom is. With cash, when your wallet is empty, you stop spending.

All the folders and envelopes got to be a nuisance, and we eventually abandoned the plan out of logistics and time shortage, but when it comes to feeling in control of your money, nothing beats having cash.

It used to be that carrying cash made us feel more vulnerable. Someone could grab your purse or lift your wallet, and you would lose money. Today, however, it’s more likely that someone will steal your credit card number or, worse, your identity, and rack up huge charges before you ever find out. In most cases, cash is actually safer.

When debit cards first came into being, we bought the lie of convenience. You don’t want to have to go get money out of the ATM to have cash. Well, if you remember, there was a day, not so long ago, when you received an actual pay check. You took said check to a bank where you cashed it, depositing some into savings and checking to cover the bills you paid with a check. You left the bank with money in your pocket, and you spent that money until it was gone. And when it was gone, you stopped spending. That’s not inconvenience. That’s intelligence.

Debit cards give you access to more of your money than is prudent, and credit cards are a bottomless pit. Besides, I have no relationship with my money anymore. My remuneration is directly deposited into my bank account. I never see it. Bills are paid automatically out of my bank account or are paid with the click of a mouse online. I haven’t conducted the experiment, but I bet I could very nearly abandon cash altogether.

So at the risk of sounding like a Depression-era financial adviser let me simply conclude that cash is a rare commodity in the New South. I don’t know if it is progress or not. The absurdity of paying more than $5 for a cup of coffee surely would sink in if this was a purchase we regularly used cash for.

Do you find that you never have cash anymore? Do you find it as embarrassing as I do to be caught without money? Have you tried or are you still using Dave Ramsey’s cash-based personal financial plan? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. We’ll all be richer for it.

Fiscal cliff

Lately my wife and I have been talking a lot about money.

fiscal cliff ahead road sign
This message may be personal as well as national.

No, not the exciting “What would we do if we won the lottery?” kinds of conversations about money. More of the “If we refinance our mortgage what does our monthly budget look like?” kinds of conversations about money.

During the seemingly never-ending presidential campaign, we heard a lot about the economy, but my hypothesis is that most couples either don’t talk about or don’t like talking about finances, even if they have plenty of money.

It’s definitely a wedge issue in most marriages. Carla and I avoid the subject like the plague. I know; it’s silly. It’s the same principal Carlton employs when he covers his own eyes to “hide” during Hide-and-Seek. Somehow, we think if we don’t discuss it, we have all the money in the world.

Well, when it comes to money, ignorance is definitely only blissful in the short term. Eventually, you have to face reality. Everyone has a fiscal cliff.

It’s interesting that we criticize our government for not being able to sit down and solve our debt crisis without devolving into partisan bickering while at the same time, most of us married couples can’t have a civil conversation about spending.

Like Congress and the President, we wait until there’s a crisis. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? One spouse has inadvertently overused the debit card pushing the account to the brink of being overdrawn. Or maybe an extravagant purchase was made without the consent of both spouses. Or money that was set aside for savings ended up being slowly eroded over time to meet monthly budget overruns or used for something unexpected like a new set of tires. These are the situations that cause most of us to finally sit down and talk about our finances.

Carla and I tend to discuss our finances while driving. It’s just easier to discuss money when you don’t have to look your spouse in the eye. My recent job change has necessitated more of these windshield chats to talk through our budgetary realignment. For starters, I went from being paid every two weeks to once a month. This kind of shock to your system requires conversation.

A couple with a dollar sign in the middle
At first, conversations about money can sound a lot like arguments. You have to get past that phase in order to make progress.

We scheduled a summit – not the kind of summit where we jet off to Sea Island and discuss heady world economic challenges over shrimp cocktail and Dom Perignon.  This was a kind of intentional conversation that allowed for total honesty, no blame and mutual support. The result? We had our personal 10-point economic plan for avoiding a fiscal cliff.

I am not a marriage counselor or a certified financial planner. That said, I humbly share five tips to help you and your spouse talk about your finances:

1.) Whatever it is, it’s both of you. If the money is flowing in and your problem is how to spend it, it can’t be just about one spouse or the other. Even if you maintain separate bank accounts, your collective largesse or indebtedness is a financial reality that must be owned and shared by both of you. If you take credit or assign blame, you will kill any dialogue before it starts.

2.) Start with the big picture. Most couples are penny wise but pound foolish. It’s easier to begin the conversation by talking about overall assets and liabilities than jumping down into the details of expenditures. This also helps set the stage for shared ownership of your financial situation.

3.) Neutralize your language. Speak in realities without assigning blame. “You” and “yours” must be “us” and “ours.” Avoid loaded phrases like “your spending” or “my salary.” It’s more helpful to talk about household income and expenditures.

4.) This is a private conversation. If you share too many of the details with your loved ones, you will find yourself talking about your spouse instead of to them. If you talk in front of your children, you may find your name on the church prayer list under “financial concerns” because your child mentioned what they overheard in Sunday School. Seriously, it freaks kids out to hear their parents arguing about money. It’s not very sexy, but if you must, plan a date night to have “the talk.”

5.) Schedule regular updates. This can’t be a once-every-six-months conversation. You need to write into your calendars consistent, monthly meetings to help you get over the awkwardness and conflict. Like any habit, it’s gets easier over time.

For what it’s worth, this is what I think. We live in a New South that isn’t as financially stable as it once was. Marriages have many points of conflict, but we all know money can be one of the biggest.

If Congress can do this, surely you can.

What tips would you offer to help couples discuss their finances more openly? What has been your experience that others may find helpful? Leave a comment below and channel your inner-Dave Ramsey.

Working moms

Carla drove our white minivan down Oak Road toward Snellville as I sat in the passenger seat, dreading the cost of the repairs to our 11-year-old Volvo station wagon.

Then she ventured to bring up a subject that interjects stress into all marriages.

Revenue.

Specifically, how we could increase our household income to be able to better absorb unforeseen expenditures and live debt free.

Dave Ramsey
Next time Dave Ramsey starts handing out cash, we need to be in that line.

I’m no Dave Ramsey, but increasing revenue seems pretty simple on the surface. I rambled for a few minutes about the possibilities of freelance work or looking for another job, but she wanted to discuss the idea of going back to work outside of the home.

Like the phases of the moon, this conversation resurfaces cyclically, but unlike the moon which influences tides, this reoccurring phenomenon is connected to the ebb and flow of our cash.

This topic always makes me a little nervous because I don’t know what to say. It seems self-serving for me to weigh in on either side, so I usually default to “What do you want to do?”

Carla is a capable, well-educated woman with skills and experience that would be employable in the marketplace. For the past 9 years, she has chosen to concentrate on managing our household and raising our three boys. I am grateful for her choice.

As we talked about the benefits and challenges of her returning to work full time, I couldn’t help but hear the “mommy wars” playing out in our discussion. Forgive my generalizations, but women who choose to work outside of the home tend to be defensive about how much time they spend with their children. Women who choose to not work outside of the home tend to be defensive about how they spend their time period.

I usually excuse myself from that debate by saying “Everyone makes choices.”

I know that men are just as capable of making the choice to work in the home so their wives can work outside of the home, and I have several friends who have made that choice. In our situation, it just so happens that right now we are following the more traditional scenario in which I am the one in the workforce.

Working moms face a lot of pressure. My own mother worked while I was growing up, taking time off to be with each of her three boys for a couple of years or more when we were born. Her career as a computer programmer then high school math teacher was interrupted several times, but each time she was able to find a good job and land on her feet. That’s the model I am used to and perhaps even unconsciously assume could work for us.

When Carla gets ready to go back to work outside of the home, she will have no trouble. But she still struggles with a sense of identity and self-esteem that comes from getting dressed up, going to another location, working hard and being rewarded for her effort with compensation and affirmative words.

The rewards of being a stay-at-home mom are often less tangible.

working mom image of Rosie the Riveter with a baby
All moms work. It's just a matter of location.

But moms who work in the home face a lot of pressure as well. When the economy takes a downturn and your health insurance premiums eat up any cost of living increases you get over the course of several years, all-the-while your children are growing up and your overall living expenses increase, moms can feel like they need to contribute financially to the bottom line.

The question women face of “to work” or “not to work” outside of the home has been with us for decades, but it does seem to have higher stakes in the New Economy in the New South. Having two incomes feels necessary to survive.

But is it?

I tried my best in the span of the 10 minutes left on our car trip to affirm Carla’s choices. I don’t miss the things we can’t afford because we live on one salary, and I enjoy the order, organization and overall tranquility her presence at home provides.

We are just now entering that phase of life when our children’s activities have us going different directions during the week. This will only get worse for the next few years. Our need for flexibility will only grow as we have multiple kids involved in Scouts, music lessons of some variety, sports or other school activities.

“All moms work,” I told her. “If you don’t need to work outside of the home for personal fulfillment right now, then I say keep working at home. We’re all a lot saner because of it.”

So are we the only ones who struggle with this? Do you question whether or not you should be working outside the home? Have you contemplated going back to work? What was your reasoning? How do you balance work outside of the home with family time? Take a minute to share your experience.