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Lithium What not having my debit card for a week taught me about my spending habits

Mar. 12, 2019
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Image by Anna Sudit.

I used to think I was pretty smart with my money. I don’t have any credit card debt (on account of me literally having opened up a credit card account only a few weeks ago). I don’t like spending lots of money on expensive things I don’t need. I add at least 20-25% of my paychecks to my savings account religiously. I keep track of my cash flow through the Bank of America app on my phone. In short, I do all the right things a 20-something should do when they’re making and spending their own money. 

But there is one bad habit I have that, truly, I wasn’t aware of until February 1st, 2019—the day I got my debit card information stolen (again.) 

Again? Yes, again. Last summer, my information was stolen and some random company in New York State charged about $150 from my account. The money was put back into my account the next day. And while I’m still confused about it, I got my money back immediately and a new debit card within a couple of days. 

This time, it was different. 

As I stopped at a red light on my way home from work, I remembered that I had just gotten paid via direct deposit. So when I looked at my Bank of America app and saw that my bank account had a $254 charge from Total Wine, my stomach dropped. While I do enjoy a glass of cabaret here and there, never have I ever spent over $40, maybe $60 at a Total Wine in my life. 

So I pulled off the 405 Freeway into a small strip mall to call the hotline number listed on the app. I was pissed, naturally, but I tried to keep my blood pressure and voice level even as I spoke with a wonderfully monotone hotline operator from Texas. We exchanged the information needed, and he told me that a new card would be arriving at my billing address in five to seven business days. 

Which would have been fine. Except for the fact that this mishap happened on a Friday night and my billing address is over 500 miles from my apartment in Long Beach. So once you add the weekend plus the five to seven business days plus the additional time it would take for my parents to mail my card to me, then carry the one—you’ve got me without access to my checking account for over a week. 

And in theory, that shouldn’t be a big deal, right? I had a full tank of gas, a fridge full of food at home, and I had a little cash on me. I should have been perfectly fine.  

But I wasn’t. In fact, I was actually quite annoyed the entire week. I suddenly couldn’t give in to every little urge I had to buy the extra snacks and unnecessary trinkets my little capitalistic ego wanted to spend money on. I was suddenly cut off not from my parents, but from my own hard-earned money. And the whole week was marked by this acute awareness of the things I could have and should have been able to buy and my inability to not indulge in these small, seemingly insignificant vices. 

It’s not like the money I would have spent was excessive—maybe a couple of bucks here and there an iced coffee in the middle of the day, a snack or two during my longer shifts, maybe a cheap face mask from Target. But without that magic little strip of plastic, I was left ungratified and unsatisfied. And also at least $60 richer. But still, being basically told no by my own debit card, or lack thereof, undeniably irked me. 

My takeaway from this? The little things add up, both figuratively and literally. I didn’t realize that this impulsive behavior of mine, however minute it may seem to me in the moment, was also conditioning me to have a certain attitude toward my money. 

I loathed the fact that I couldn’t get what I wanted when I wanted it. I couldn’t even focus on the good things that I did get out of that week—my boyfriend and I went on a nice date to make me feel better and he got to pick up the tab, I spent more quality time with my roommate because I was forced to eat in, and I was somewhere between $60 to $80 richer at the end of the week. 

And yet I couldn’t shake that irritating and melodramatic feeling of being restricted, of having to wait for the things I’ve earned, of feeling...entitlement? Privilege? An unrelenting need to have control of and access to certain things? A combination of all three? 

Regardless, this week made me re-examine my relationship with money and the sometimes unfettered access I, and other people living in the 21st century, get to it. In the age of side hustles, direct deposit, and Amazon Prime, anyone can make and spend money with the tap of a touch screen. Does it have a destructive effect on us that we cannot see?