I come from the US, which is the land of credit and debit cards. Oh sure, I always kept a twenty dollar bill on hand when running around “just in case”, but almost never used it. Forget about carrying coins around- it was an unnecessary extra weight.
So when I came to Japan for the first time… Whoo boy did that take some getting used to.
Not only was I suddenly expected to carry cash, but large wads of it in case I needed to get a taxi or overstayed my welcome in an izakaya. I couldn’t use checks to pay for rent here- I had to walk the cash up to the office. (I later discovered ATM wire transfers were a thing but shhh.) Credit cards? Haha, who uses those.
Of course some things have changed since I began living here. More and more I see signs for credit cards popping up in stores, especially those catering to tourists. Using ATM transfers, as mentioned above, are extremely common. But on a day to day basis, I make sure I have cash on me so I can get through my day.
Now, here’s something I didn’t expect to come from this:
It’s made a BIG difference in my savings.
At home, I could use my credit card, then go home and check the damage online- usually with some consternation. “Surely I didn’t spend that much on lunch,” I’d grumble to myself disbelievingly.
Now, I grumble to myself a lot sooner- at the cash register as I’m paying for food.
More seriously though, having money physically in your hands makes such a difference in spending habits. I’ve given myself a weekly budget, and 95% of the time I’m able to stick to it. I withdraw just enough to get through an average week and don’t touch the bank again for seven days.
When you have a limited budget and can see it shrinking in your wallet day by day, it reminds you to focus on buying what’s important.
Of course I still have impulse buys- just yesterday I bought some Japanese sweets because they looked like ghosts. But those are rarer than before.
That said, I can’t see myself carrying this habit back over with me to the States. It’s just so much faster to use a card in so many cases, and having to worry about coins and cash, for some reason, seems like so much more of a hassle over there, despite it taking the same amount of effort.
Do you tend to stick to cash or cards when you’re shopping? Does it affect your spending habits?