Sam Wilson

Mystery money

2005-12-15 10:19

I was out with a friend the other day. We had a pleasant dinner. Then the bill arrived.

"Right" said Friend, picking up the bill eagerly and whipping out her specs - and a mini-calculator. "You had the fish and I had the steak but then you had most of the bottle of wine, say three-quarters so we'll split it at that ratio... you owe R132.70. Oh, and I've added in the tip, based on the same split."

Now, that's fair right? That's exactly, to the cent, how much I did owe. So why did it make my skin crawl that she'd worked it out so carefully? Because I hate to talk about money.

Ignore money...

I, like many people, am embarrassed by money. Money is such a grubby, nasty concept - reducing everything to such base terms - so I spend great swathes of time avoiding the topic, trying to pretend it doesn't matter... when, in fact, the reality is that it clearly does matter. Very much.

Which is why people like me should never have credit cards. In fact, the entire world of banking is bad for me. It allows me to forget that there is actual value attached to the little pieces of plastic I wield so carelessly.

It also lets me ignore that the little numbers on the Internet banking screen, where I move mystery money from my credit card to my overdraft, actually represent money I don't have.

...at your peril

This conceit allows me to fall squarely into the hands of the bankers. Banks WANT you to think in terms of mystery money. They rely on people like me who believe that the limit on a credit card, or the excess in the bond is actually money, as opposed to merely an option to buy expensive debt.

So what's happening while plebs like me are lulled more and more into this false sense of financial comfort - with credit cards, debit orders, cheque books, stop orders and Internet transfers?

The financial world is using exactly the same conceit to move more and more in the opposite direction, where natural resources, such as water and seed, become commodities and you can attach a hefty monetary value to the phrase: "I'm lovin' it."

Fight back

I know what I should do. I should start using more cash so I can feel the money leaving my hands. I should stop thinking of my credit card limit as a target. I should look carefully at my bank statements and figure out if I actually need all those debit orders. I should save.

Basically, I need to realise that money does, in fact, make the world go around.

So, why does that make me feel so... grubby?

  • Sam Wilson is the editor in chief of women24.com. She has, predictably, not got around to buying any Christmas presents yet.

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